Simmo on the run

Back in 1959, one man had the attention of most Australians.

A marathon manhunt was underway for daring Long Bay Gaol escapees Kevin John Simmonds and Leslie Alan Newcombe. Newcombe was soon recaptured, but Simmonds, aged 24, remained on the run for five weeks before being found near Kurri Kurri.

Kurri Kurri

By that time, the grimy, shoeless, starving and exhausted young criminal had achieved folk hero status as a will o’ the wisp, eluding the most costly pursuit in the state’s history by hiding out in swamps and leech and tick-infested country.

Simmo had a penchant for fast cars and a reputation as a sharp dresser, crocodile skin shoes and black satin shirts were a big part of his pre prison wardrobe, plus he had a ‘lethal haircut’,  guaranteed to make women weak at the knees.


He and Newcombe escaped through a chapel ventilator shaft, scaled a wall and hot wired a car parked outside Prince Henry Hospital. They spent their first free night crouched in a freshly dug grave at Botany Cemetery then hid for a week in the pig pavilion at the Sydney Showground.

Cemetery at Prince Henry Hospital

An anti-establishment group known as the Libertarians printed a poster of the odds facing Simmonds “One man versus 500 fearless coppers and 300 righteous civilians armed with submachine guns, pistols and teargas.”


Schoolgirls confessed he had replaced Elvis as the subject of their teenage dreams, housewives left bottles of milk on their doorsteps after it was reported to be his favourite drink. Sydney eccentric Bea Miles claimed to be arranging a passport for him.

Bea Miles

When he was finally captured, fans bearing gifts and chocolates mobbed the courthouse at Wyong chanting “We Want Kevin”. The judge was unimpressed and convicted him of the manslaughter of a prison guard who had been killed during the escape. Thousands of cards and letters were sent to his parents after his sentencing, several of these included offers of marriage.

Sadly, Simmo did not fare well in prison and hung himself in 1966. His sister Jan wrote a book about him and 14 years later, in a strange coincidence, married Darcy Ezekiel Dugan, Sydney’s most notorious prison escape artist who spent more than 40 years behind bars.

On 4 March 1946, Darcy Dugan escaped from a prison tram which was transporting him between Darlinghurst Courthouse and Long Bay Gaol. As the tram passed the Sydney Cricket Ground, Dugan used a kitchen knife to saw a hole through the roof, through which he escaped. The tram is still kept today at the Sydney Tramway Museum.

Darcy Dugan

Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 8:37 am  Comments (47)  
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gift of the muses

The Greek word for ‘gift of the muses’ is Musidora. French actress Jeanne Roques used it as her stage name.


Beginning in 1915, Musidora began appearing in the hugely successful Feuillade-directed serials Les Vampires as Irma Vep, a cabaret singer, opposite Édouard Mathé as crusading journalist, Philippe Guerande. Contrary to the title, the Les Vampires were not actually about vampires, but about a criminal gang cum secret society inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang.

Irma Vep found here

Les Vampires’ success was due in great part to the character of the head villainess, whose name is an anagram of “vampire,” – Musidora (who occasionally posed naked) virtually defined female beauty for the decade, and her character, identified mostly by her black tights and black mask, slinking down corridors and escaping over rooftops, defined the popular archetype of the super-villainess femme fatale for decades to come

After her career as an actress faded, she focused on writing and producing. Her last film was an homage to her mentor Feuillade entitled La Magique Image in 1950, which she both directed and starred in. Late in her life she would occasionally work in the ticket booth of the Cinematheque Francaise — few patrons realized that the old woman in the foyer might be starring in the film they were watching.”

image found here

The Bonnot Gang was a criminal anarchist group operating in France and Belgium from 1911-12.

They had the dubious honor of being the first to use an automobile to flee the scene of a crime, presaging by over twenty years the later methods of John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. Automobiles were not yet common so the gang usually stole expensive cars from garages, not from the street.

Bonnot Gang found here

In March 1912, gang member and would-be leader Octave Garnier sent a mocking letter to the Sûreté – with his fingerprints. In those days, the French police did not yet use fingerprinting. On March 25, 1912, the gang stole a de Dion-Bouton automobile by shooting the driver through the heart. They drove into Chantilly north of Paris where they robbed the Société Générale Bank – shooting the bank’s three cashiers. They escaped in their stolen automobile as two policemen tried to catch them, one on horseback and the other on a bicycle.

French bicycle found here

On April 28, police had tracked Bonnot to a house in Choisy le Roi. They besieged the place with 500 armed police officers, soldiers, firefighters, military engineers and private gun-owners. By noon, after sporadic firing from both sides, three police officers put a dynamite charge under the house. The explosion demolished the front of the building. Bonnot was hiding in the middle of a rolled mattress and tried to shoot back until Lépines shot him non-fatally in the head.

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (38)  
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the red rose apology

Jo Attia was France’s most colourful criminal until his death in 1972.

image of Jo (second from right) found here

***He was raised in a convent until age twelve, when he was sent to earn his keep on a farm. Out of the hard grind came the magnificent physique that would become his underworld trademark. But by age sixteen he’d had it with farm life. He headed to Marseilles and joined a gang of youths. Within a year police caught him red-handed in a break-in. He was sent to North Africa with a penal batallion. There he learned to box and to kill, and became a close friend of Marseilles gangster Pierre Loutrel.

image found here

During the war Attia worked with the French resistance force, the Maquis. His main contribution was to confine his thievery to Germans and their French collaborators. But he allegedly also helped hundreds of Jews to cross the border to Spain.

Following the war Charles de Gaulle appointed Jo Attia to the Legion of Honor. Still, a hero’s glory buys no bread. Jo thought of entering the boxing ring, but the first manager he approached broke up at the sight of Attia’s tattoed body. “We’re looking for a boxer,” he said, “not a roadmap.”

magazine cover found here

By chance Attia ran into his old friend from the penal battalion, Pierre  Loutrel who had become one of Paris’s leading crooks, “Pierrot le Fou” (the crazy). He joined Pierre’s gang only to be nearly caught by the police in September 1946. There followed an exchange of fire in the classic Chicago tradition.

Pierre’s gun found here

When the sound of gunfire reached him, Loutrel sprang into his brand new armored Delahay, not to flee, but to rescue his pals. At top speed he swung through the bullet shower at the hotel entrance and jammed on the breaks long enough for Attia to jump in. He then floored the gas pedal and disappeared. The gendarmes were left gaping. Another gang member, by hiding in a water barrel and breathing through a hose, also managed to escape. When the police left the scene, he emerged.

unarmoured Delahaye found here

Their luck ran out a few months later when they assaulted and shot a jeweler. Carrying the take to the car, Pierrot le Fou stuffed his pistol under his belt. It fired, stopping him in his tracks. His partners buried him on an island in the Seine. Attia took over, but some of the wildness had left him and he opened a chain of bordellos and nightclubs.

image from Vee Speers Bordello series found here

In 1949 Attia was sent to prison for four years for concealing a body (that of Pierrot le Fou) and illegal possession of weapons. The prosecutor, charging Attia with murder, had asked for a life sentence. But Attia got off lightly thanks to the intervention of one Colonel Beaumont, whose life Attia had saved during the war. Behind bars in Fresnes in 1952, Jo married the mother of his daughter, Nicole.

***This is an extract from a fascinating book, The Great Heroin Coup by Henrik Kruger translated by Jerry Meldon and found here. If you were intrigued by this, I recommend you click the link and read more. Or buy the book!

I found it when researching French actress Martine Carol who was briefly kidnapped by Pierre Loutrel. He apologised the next day by sending her a bouquet of red roses.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 7:12 am  Comments (44)  
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a prince, an assassin and a duke walk into a bar….

Prince Michael Romanoff was really an amiable American conman by the name of Harry Gerguson.

image found here

A short, debonair, mustachioed gentleman with an Oxford accent, walking stick and spats, he claimed to be the half brother of Czar Nicholas, or sometimes he was a cousin to the Czar, and more often than not, the Czar’s son. At other times he proclaimed himself to be a descendant of British Prime Minister William Gladstone, of a British Army officer, or of the man who killed Rasputin.

image of Rasputin’s assassin found here

The prince sported a carefully waxed moustache and usually dressed in a frock coat and gray striped trousers, carried a malacca cane and sometimes wore a monocle. In 1939 a group of his Hollywood buddies loaned him $7,500 to set up a restaurant. They didn’t expect it to become a success, but Prince Mike surprised them. He designed an eatery as flamboyant as himself.

Hat check room at Romanoff’s 1954

In 1945, Life Magazine wrote an article about him

“Under one alias or another Mike had cheated the tradesmen of two continents out of choice food, rare wines and luxurious lodgings. He once sold a priceless old master for $1500 while it still hung on the walls of a museum and made a fine art out of passing worthless checks. He was tossed out of England for ‘impersonating and marauding’ but the people he duped became very fond of the dauntless impostor and it was considered almost a privilege to be bilked by him.

image of Sinatra and Mikey found here

Although at his restaurant he moves skillfully from table to table, he treats many celebrities to nothing more than a good look at his retreating back.  Others, like the movie executive that displeased him or the lady columnist who irritated him and got kicked in the shins, are banned forever. Recently mentioned as a candidate for Mayor, he claims to be too restless for civic office and wants to sell his business to a proper party.  Already Mike has counted out the Duke of Windsor as ‘lacking the background’.

image found here

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 8:44 am  Comments (32)  
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best dressed

Inmates at the Colorado State Penitentiary were employed in many activities.

image of Warden Best found here

“Carpentry, blacksmithing, shoe cobbling, clothing repair and general maintenance offered the principal activity and labor outlets for prisoners in the first decade or two of prison operation in Colorado. They were also employed in building walls, repairing prison buildings, and in farm and garden work. In the period of 1899 – 1900 about 2,200,000 pounds of farm produce was raised by prisoners.

On March 1909 Thomas J. Tynan was appointed to the office of warden. He made it possible for every man who was willing to work to have employment. Road camps were set up and unguarded prisoners worked away from prison walls for days at a time.

Prison boxing team found here

In 1925 the penitentiary purchased a canning factory and ninety acres of fruit trees, berry plants, vineyards and truck gardens The canning venture proved highly productive. Fruits and vegetables processed and canned included apples, apple butter, apricots, beets, green beans, catsup, cherries of all kinds, corn, peaches, Italian prunes, puree, pumpkin, plums, spinach tomatoes, and tomato juice.

In 1934 a sock-knitting machine was installed at a cost of $29,000, capable of producing one thousand pairs of socks per day at a cost of four cents per pair. Civilian clothing manufacture included suits, dress pants, dress socks, and white shirts. Soaps of all kinds, scouring powder, cold cream, vanishing cream, skin softener, lotion, shampoo, furniture polish, sweeping compound, bluing, ink, and flavorings were manufactured in quantities sufficient to supply all state institutions.

images found here

Warden Thomas J. Tynan went on the assumption that putting men in stripes for ninety days, the usual practice on entering the prison, was the wrong psychology. Beginning early in 1911 he put all new arrivals in blue and made them “convicts of the first class.” If they made good and followed prison routines, they were never subjected to the wearing of striped clothing.

image of prisoners forced to work in drag found here

By law in 1940, a prisoner upon discharge was given $5.00, a suit of clothes, and a railroad ticket. In 1995, a prisoner upon discharge was given $100.00, a suit of clothes, and a bus ticket.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 7:07 am  Comments (45)  
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ducks, boars and goats

Australia’s early settlers were mostly a bunch of criminals transported here against their will. When they had served their time many chose to stay on but some set sail for cities such as San Francisco

Not before or since had the Americans seen a criminal element so vicious or all powerful as the Sydney Ducks, the blood stained streets of Prohibition era Chicago tame by comparison to the terror these Australians unleashed on San Francisco.

read about Sydney’s Duck Fashion show here

Two of the more infamous pubs were ‘The Boar’s Head‘ and ‘Goat & Compass‘, the first run by former NSW convict George Haggerty who attracted crowds by getting one of his prostitutes to have sex with a boar on stage. The second, owned by another Sydney ex-con, paid down and out Aussie prospector ‘Dirty’ Tom McAlear to eat and drink excrement to entertain crowds. McAlear made a living eating anything people gave him for 10c, when he was arrested in 1852 for bizarre public behavior he told police he had been continually drunk for seven years and hadn’t bathed in that period of time either.

image found here

According to the reverend Cogham Brewer, writing around 1900, much of a nation’s history, and more of its manners and feelings, may be gleaned from its public-house signs. Here are a few of the more interesting ones….

Bosom’s Inn. A public-house sign in St. Lawrence Lane, London; a corruption of Blossom’s Inn, as it was later called, in allusion to the hawthorn blossoms surrounding the effigy of St Lawrence on the sign.

The Cat and Fiddle. A corruption of Caton Fidele i.e. Caton, the faithful governor of Calais. In Farringdon (Devon) is the sign of La Chatte Fidele in commemoration of a faithful cat, Without scanning the phrase so nicely, it may simply indicate that the game of cat (trap-ball) and a fiddle for dancing were provided for customers.

The Cock and Bottle. By some said to be a corruption of the ‘Cork and Bottle’, meaning that wine was sold there in bottles.

The Cow and Skittles. The cow is the real sign, and alludes to the dairy of the hostess, or some noted dairy in the neighbourhood. Skittles was added to indicate that there was a skittle ground on the premises.

“Soft Serve” by Dan Lydersen

The Hole-in-the-Wall. So called because it was approached by a passage or ‘hole’ in the wall of the house standing in front of the tavern.

The Queer Door. A corruption of Coeur Dore (Golden Heart).

The Ship and Shovel. Referring to Sir Cloudesley Shovel, a favourite admiral in Queen Anne’s reign.

Have my English readers got any they want to add?

Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 7:39 am  Comments (40)  
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