Three Crooked Kings

Three Crooked Kings

by Matthew Condon

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Journalist and novelist Matthew Condon has crafted the definitive account—a searing story of greed, crime, and corruption—of an era that changed Queensland society; an impact that reverberates across the country to this day. In 1949, a young Terence Murray Lewis graduated from the police academy, ready to start his career in law enforcement. Over the next four decades, he rose to the pinnacle of power as the knighted Commissioner of Police in Queensland before his spectacular downfall and imprisonment after the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the late 1980s. This book follows Lewis’ journey through the ranks, as he becomes part of the so-called Rat Pack with detectives Glenn Hallahan and Tony Murphy under the guiding influence of Commissioner Frank Bischof. The alleged suicide of prostitute and brothel madam Shirley Brifman in the early 1970s provides the turning point for a culture that reigned unchecked for several decades. It was part of a grand narrative teeming with murder, pay-offs, political machinations, drug heists, assisted suicides, police in-fighting, and a complicated system of corruption that ultimately collapsed under its own weight. Based on unprecedented interviews with Terry Lewis and access to his personal papers, this book is the missing piece in the puzzle of the story of Queensland’s endemic generational corruption.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780702249112
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Publication date: 04/01/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Matthew Condon is a prize-winning Australian novelist and journalist. He is currently on staff with the Courier-Mail’s Qweekend magazine and previously worked for leading newspapers and journals including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, and the Sunday Age. He is also the author of 10 books of fiction, including The Ancient Guild of Tycoons, Brisbane, and The Lulu Magnet, and The Trout Opera.

Read an Excerpt

Three Crooked Kings

By Matthew Condon

University of Queensland Press

Copyright © 2013 Matthew Condon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7022-4911-2


The Probationary

The storm blew in from the west around 6.10 p.m.

It had been a humid Sunday, and the wind and rain roared over the tree fringes of Mount Coot-tha and down into the bowl of the inner-Brisbane suburbs of Bardon, Rosalie and Paddington, strafing the ridges and gullies and the suburbs' timber and corrugated iron houses. Other dangerous cells were ranging across greater Brisbane, throwing lightning to earth.

Trees were felled. Rectangles of roof iron lifted off and sliced through electrical wires. Flower beds were beaten down.

By 6.30 p.m. the storm had passed, and residents of the city's inner west, their evening dinner interrupted, emerged to inspect the damage. It was 16 January 1949.

Up on the neighbouring ridge of Petrie Terrace, 110 young police cadets, in training at the police depot – an imposing brown-brick edifice and its attendant two-storey wooden sleeping dormitory facing the Brisbane River and the wild pubs and bordellos of South Brisbane – had had their tea in the ground floor canteen.

For nine weeks the recruits, young men from all over the state, had lived shoulder to shoulder. Most had little formal education. Some had worked as post office boys, or on the land on the family property, or behind the counter in grocery stores, before entering the machine of Queensland's postwar constabulary.

The Americans had left Brisbane a few years earlier, and the town had settled back into its quasi-rural mediocrity. Pike Brothers menswear in Queen Street no longer had a need for its specialist military cutter, and orders for 'Imperial' winter coats dropped to nothing.

In the wake of war, Brisbane was forced to stare, once again, at its own face – plain and unremarkable; a sub-tropical tableau that, for a few years in the 1940s, had doubled in population with the arrival of the US military, and become something resembling glamorous. The city – all ox-blood iron awnings, sandstone banks and the Salvation Army Band playing in King George Square – was inexplicably at the forefront of things that mattered in the world. And it was crawling with US military men in their expensive and beautifully made salmon-hued uniforms. Hollywood no longer belonged on the screens of the Regent and Her Majesty's and the Metro. It was living and breathing on the streets of Brisbane.

Then the chic evaporated, and Brisbane went back to being Brisbane, and in the residue of a city once bristling with wartime strength and force and protection, and missing some of its young women, caught in the slipstream of the Americans' departure, came an inevitable vacuum. The Queensland capital needed to firm up its local police force.

So on that Sunday night, in the aftermath of the storm, the city cleansed and steaming, the police cadets at the depot returned to their quarters – a long, rectangular dormitory crammed with steel cots and lockers.

Some of the men were nervous. From this night on, there would be no more lectures from former school teacher Senior Constable Merv Callaghan. No more marching with old rifles on the parade ground. No more memorising and tests.

For those several weeks they had risen at 6 a.m., made their beds with precision, attended classes on policing and the law, performed physical training exercises, and retired to their cots by 9 p.m.

They were not permitted to socialise, despite the Christmas and New Year season. They could not catch a quick tram into town and buy yuletide gifts for their families, their girlfriends. They had to sit through fifty-two lectures before their training was done.

As the storm headed out into Moreton Bay, the men joked and smoked, or contemplated the view of the parade ground through the lattice on the verandah of the dormitory. They had, the day before, been issued their navy police uniforms: two pairs of trousers, two shirts, four detachable collars, a tunic, a tie, a white helmet and a pair of black boots. Each was also handed a wooden baton and a pair of handcuffs, some so ancient they didn't function.

On that weekend, they made sure their collars were starched at the local cleaners. That Sunday night after tea, a young cadet, Terence (Terry) Murray Lewis, twenty, sat on his bed and buffed his new boots.

Just a few months earlier, he'd been manning a counter at the Main Roads Commission's Liquid Fuel Control Board office at the corner of Adelaide and Turbot streets. And before that he'd worked as a messenger boy for the US army, Small Ships Branch, Water Transport Division, across the river at Bulimba during the war. And prior to that he'd manned another counter, at Pike Brothers menswear. And another, at Greer and Jamieson clothiers, before that.

Lewis had been looking for direction, for some semblance of a career, since he left school at the age of twelve following the separation of his father and mother. By chance, at the Liquid Fuel Control Board, opposite the Roma Street police station, he'd found one.

He'd got to talking with former detectives and constables who worked with him at the Fuel Board, and they suggested he join the police. Young Lewis was a little in awe of one of the men – Walter (Wally) Wright. Walter had been a detective. Another was Stewart (Stewie) Willis, a constable based at Nundah police station who'd retired early due to injury.

'Why don't you go up to the police depot and join?' they suggested.

'They're desperate for keen young men,' they told him. 'If you can breathe in and out, you'll qualify.'

Lewis was tall, over 180 centimetres, and weighed in at 67 kilograms. He was living in Hawthorne with his mother and stepfather, though he would never think of him, let alone refer to him, as his stepfather. Lewis played no sport. He had few, if any, male friends. As a child of the Depression, he was tight with his finances. Recently, though, he'd met a pretty young woman, Hazel Gould, who had come into the Fuel Board for the motor loss assessor she worked for.

He was tired of his living arrangements, and of working on the busy counter. He saw no future for himself. But he did quite literally see the Roma Street police station every day when he came to and left work. And suddenly it made sense. The police force. It was structured, and its administrative demands – record-keeping, diaries, logbooks, charge sheets – would complement his fastidious nature. It was regular pay. It would take him away from counters.

And there was Hazel, sixteen, who would soon become his first ever formal girlfriend, to consider.

So colleagues Wright and Willis took Lewis up past the rail yards to the depot on the Petrie Terrace rise, where he met two sergeants and lecturer Callaghan, and had his medical. He was a little underweight, but they needed new recruits. Although he was twenty, he had the face of a hurt, vulnerable boy. And about him, too, was a vague aura of disappointment. He'd already been out working in the world for eight years, and it seemed to have prematurely wearied him.

He was estranged from his father, who was still living in Ipswich after his wife abandoned him. Lewis's mother – originally from Brisbane and a part of the large Hanlon family, prominent in the city's horse training and racing circles – never took to Ipswich. It was devoid of glamour. It was too far from the charmed racing suburbs of Ascot and Hamilton and, specifically, the Doomben and Eagle Farm racecourses.

Lewis, then ten years old, came home from school one day to find his mother and only sister, two years younger, had simply disappeared. He waited alone until his father came home from work at the Ipswich Railway Workshops.

The boy was offered no explanation as to the absence of his mother and sister. It left him feeling bemused. Rejected. 'I realised it would have been her fault, not his,' Lewis reflects on the separation and subsequent divorce. 'I can't even remember her [ever] kissing me, actually. I can't remember it.' A year later he, too, made the decision to leave his father behind, and joined his mother in Brisbane, where he was relegated to a cot bed on the side verandah in Hawthorne.

Lewis had a confused concept of family, until the police took him in. He entered the police depot as a probationary constable on 8 November 1948.

The staff at the Fuel Board farewelled him with the gifts of a travelling bag and a wallet.

Those weeks of training and cramming and neatly making his bed at the police depot eventually paid off. On 7 January 1949, he sat his probationary examination in law and police duties. (Define 'offence'. Define 'assault'. Define 'arrest'.) Lewis secured fifty-seven and a half marks out of eighty. He came third in his class.

On the night of the storm, at lights out, Lewis knew that when he woke the following day he would be stepping into a new life. On a Monday morning in mid-January, he and his fellow recruits would be formally sworn in as officers of the Queensland police force and issued their official officer numbers, fitted on their epaulettes.

His ambitions at that moment may have extended no further than to one day work in plain clothes – like former Detective Walter Wright from the Fuel Board – down at the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) headquarters in a cluster of old church outbuildings at the corner of Elizabeth and George streets, the city.

There, bracketed by the state's grandiose Treasury and Executive buildings, once stood the Cathedral of St John, demolished in 1904. The cathedral's outbuildings, a rectory and church institute built in the 1890s, were soon seconded by the CIB, and detectives for decades had toiled away in their brick and VJ-boarded warrens, cold in winter and sweltering in summer. In this one-time holy place, with its narrow arched windows and arched doorways, came and went the city's underclass: prostitutes and their bludgers, petty thieves and the occasional cross-dresser, murderers and vagrants. Any notion of sacred soil was scotched in 1930 when a new bylaw decreed that no public meetings or preaching be held in the vicinity of the Executive Gardens – fashioned on the grounds of the former cathedral and abutting CIB headquarters – without written permission.

Lewis, if he'd been allowed to leave the police depot that stormy Sunday night, might have strolled down to CIB headquarters and come across Anthony (Tony) Murphy, twenty-one, a tough and ambitious officer from Brisbane's working-class Yeerongpilly.

Murphy also left school early and worked as a telegram boy in the post office at Amberley RAAF base, eight kilometres south-west of Ipswich. In the early 1940s 'Amberley Field' was a hive of activity – constructing and repairing aircraft, training, hosting US troops. And the post office was authorised to issue money orders and old age and invalid pensions and handled personal mail that went out all over the world.

In one instance, the alert Murphy noticed that money was missing from a particular envelope and he established that a work colleague was forging his signature. The police were called in. It was a turning point in Murphy's life.

Shortly after, Murphy stopped off at a barber shop for a trim one afternoon and he noticed in the newspaper an advertisement for police cadets. He decided to join up. It was 1944. By 1949, after a stint in the Photographic Section, Murphy was already a rising star in the force.

Lewis might also have encountered the locally famous Sub-inspector Francis (Frank) Bischof, forty-four, a huge, imposing figure both in the corridors and hutches of CIB headquarters and among his men.

At 188 centimetres and 102 kilograms, Bischof had been a part of the CIB since 1933 and had a habit of positioning himself at the forefront of the city's major criminal investigations. Wherever there was murder and death, there was Bischof.

Born on the family dairy farm at Gowrie Junction outside Toowoomba, up on the range 127 kilometres west of Brisbane, the 'Big Fella', a Mason, was working on a fatal house fire and the mystery of a corpse found on Stradbroke Island as Lewis prepared for his induction up at the police depot.

Another former Toowoomba boy, Glendon (Glen) Patrick Hallahan, also the son of a dairyman, was at that moment working as an aircraft apprentice at Wagga Wagga RAAF base, 452 kilometres south-west of Sydney.

Within two years he would abandon the apprenticeship, return to Queensland due to a family tragedy, and take up odd jobs before joining the police force and becoming one of the state's most celebrated detectives alongside Bischof, Murphy, and Lewis.

Down in Adelaide, thirty-three-year-old police detective Raymond (Ray) Wells Whitrod was having a busy Christmas and New Year. Whitrod had been a South Australian detective before the war, and after serving as a navigator in the RAAF in Europe and North Africa, he returned to police duties in Adelaide.

As new recruit Lewis was performing drills on the Petrie Terrace parade ground, Whitrod was involved in high-speed police car chases across the City of Churches, and investigating the drowning suicide of a young Australian digger who had left a note, his great coat, and shoes at the end of Henley Jetty.

And up in Atherton, on the elevated tableland inland from Cairns in Far North Queensland, a young, petite, athletic brunette called Shirley Emerson was celebrating her thirteenth birthday. She loved ball games and fashion. She was a Girl Guide. She was one of thirteen Emerson children.

But for all her external vivacity and obsession with clothes, she struggled through an impoverished and itinerant childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and several of her older brothers could look forward to run-ins with the law. And her mother, the child of a relatively well-to-do family from the coast south of Brisbane, would look at her lot in Far North Queensland, and her pitiful husband, and wonder where she took a wrong turn.

Shirley Emerson's life would intersect spectacularly with those of Bischof and Murphy, with Hallahan and Lewis and Whitrod. But not yet. In January 1949, she was just a child enjoying a Christmas holiday, a girl on the brink of adolescence, during which she would become Atherton's belle of the ball, its princess, chased by suitors and sartorially imitated by her female peers. All that beauty, before she ran away to nearby Cairns and made a singular decision that would determine her destiny and tragically shorten her life.

And just a month after Lewis started his police training in late 1948, the first-term Country Party state member for Nanango – Kingaroy peanut farmer Johannes Bjelke-Petersen – refused a parliamentary salary rise and to join the parliamentary pension scheme. He said the pension, in particular, 'savours too much of feathering one's own nest'. 'I would not touch it with the proverbial forty-foot pole,' Bjelke-Petersen reportedly said.

Back at the police depot on Petrie Terrace, Terry Lewis, son of a railway storeman, rose by 6 a.m. on Monday 17 January, and dutifully made his bed. He had breakfast in the canteen then dressed in his constable's uniform.

Later that morning, the new recruits entered the lecture room of the police depot and were asked to take the oath by Chief Inspector John Smith. (Even the cadets had heard the rumour that Smith had changed his name by deed poll from 'Schmidt' after the war.) The men were told that each and every one of them had an opportunity to rise to the top of the Queensland police force. There was no casual banter or congratulation. With that, the chief inspector left.

'Get down to Roma Street,' they were ordered.

The new constables proceeded outside to Petrie Terrace. Across the pubs and shopfronts, residents of Rosalie and Bardon and Paddington were cleaning up after the storm, gathering broken branches, inspecting damaged roofs and attempting, in vain, to right fallen flowers.

Lewis – daunted, conspicuous in his new uniform (the trousers were a little baggy, the jacket too tight) in the punishing humidity – and his colleagues hopped a city-bound tram – no fare, police officers travelled for free – and went directly to Roma Street police station, in view of Lewis's old counter at the Liquid Fuel Control Board, and reported for duty.

Within moments, Constable T.M. Lewis (No. 3773 on his uniform; No. 4677 when mentioned in any correspondence) was walking down Albert Street and into the crosshatched streets and noon shadows of Brisbane city's heart. He was officially on duty.


Excerpted from Three Crooked Kings by Matthew Condon. Copyright © 2013 Matthew Condon. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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