Boarding House Blues

Crime "Down Under"

1 March 2023

I’m just back from three weeks “Down Under”, so I thought I’d post about the notorious gangsters of Australia’s Roaring Twenties.

1920s Melbourne wasn’t all that different from New York or Chicago when it came to crime. Gangsters abounded, and their criminal endeavors kept the police jumping and Victoria Prison full.

The US had Al Capone, George “Bugs” Moran, and Meyer Lansky, but Melbourne had Henry Stokes, Joseph “Squizzy” Taylor, and

Henry Stokes was known in Melbourne as the ‘Two-Up King’ (and later as the Baccarat King) for the gambling houses he ran. He was also notorious for his alleged jury fixing and witness intimidation. In fact, he received only a six-month prison term for his conviction on attempted manslaughter — a sentence he never served.

In 1921, Stokes agreed to a partnership “of convenience” with “Squizzy” Taylor, a local hood whose career to date had been lackluster. Taylor’s criminal career took off as, together, the two began eliminating their competition while protecting their own businesses which included bootlegging, bookmaking, prostitution, and extortion. For a while, the two controlled most crime in Melbourne. Taylor’s luck didn’t change however and in October 1927 he died after a shootout with rival gangster Snowy Cutmore in Melbourne. Cutmore died in the same shootout.

Stokes, on the other hand, continued to do business as usual. In 1935,  he was sentenced to 4 years in jail for conspiring to steal AUS$100,000 (AUS$2M today) from the Ballarat branch of the Commonwealth Bank. He died a millionaire in 1945 of natural causes.

Note: Two-up is a traditional Australian gambling game, involving a designated “spinner” throwing two coins   into the air. Players bet on whether the coins will fall with both heads (obverse) up, both tails (reverse) up, or with one coin a head and one a tail (known as “Ewan”)

Interesting fact: Nathan Page, who starred as Inspector Jack Robinson in the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, played Squizzy Stokes in TVs Underbelly series.

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