Great Bookie robbery
A well-organised gang of six stole what is widely believed to be from $14 to $16 million (2011:$88 million) from bookmakers in the Victoria Club, which was located on the second floor of a building in Queen Street, Melbourne. The true figure for the amount stolen has never been confirmed, as the Victoria Club quoted the missing figure to police as only $1 million to avoid the attention of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The men, who included Raymond "Chuck" Bennett who is believed to be the mastermind, Ian Carroll, Laurence Prendergast and Norman Lee, rented an office several floors above and hid the money in that room's safe before coolly walking out of the building and onto the street.
The identity of the robbers was widely known in the underworld and Bennett became the target of standover men (who included Brian and Leslie Kane) and corrupt police demanding part of the proceeds. The Kane brothers were particularly violent psychopaths who wanted 'their cut' and were willing to torture, mutilate and kill to get their own way. After being told that the Kanes intended to kill him, Bennett, Prendergast and Vincent Mikkleson murdered Leslie Kane on 19 October 1978 and went into hiding. The three were later arrested for Leslie Kane's murder but as the body was never found the charges were dismissed. With Brian Kane threatening to kill him, Bennett was arrested on a minor charge in 1979. While being escorted by police from the courthouse holding cells to the courtroom he was taken up a flight of stairs into the path of a man disguised as a barrister. This man shot Bennett several times in the chest, he tried to flee but collapsed on the courthouse steps and died a short time later. Although Brian Kane was suspected, circumstantial evidence suggested a conspiracy to kill Bennett which included senior members of the Victorian Police, most notably Brian Murphy, with whom Bennett had a long-standing feud. No one has ever been arrested for Bennett’s murder which was in effect, an execution.
The money was never recovered and although Norman Lee was charged he was later acquitted. None of the other members of the gang were ever convicted. Prendergast had disappeared in 1985 and apart from Lee, the rest of the gang had all been murdered by the end of 1987. In 1992 Lee was killed by police during a heist at Melbourne Airport. Lee's lawyer Phillip Dunn, QC, later revealed the details of the crime, including the identities of all those involved.
As no-one was ever jailed or convicted, the Great Bookie robbery remains technically an unsolved crime.
|The Great Bookie Robbery|
|Written by||Phillip Cornford|
|Directed by||Mark Joffe
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of episodes||3 x 2 hours|
|Original network||Nine Network|
|Original release||15 November – 17 November 1986|
In 1986 a miniseries of three 90 minute episodes was released depicting the robbery. Lee participated in the production as a consultant, and even used his own residence in Verity Street, Richmond as the shooting location for the house of one of the gang. Lee was still living there at the time of his death.
This mini series started filming on 26 August 1984.
Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities
A highly fictionalised version of the crime was also depicted in one episode of the 2009 miniseries Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities. In this version, Bennett pulls off the crime with the assistance of Robert Trimbole, without the Kane brothers. The Kanes are tipped off after the event by Chris Flannery, setting off a turf war. Neither Trimbole nor Flannery were actually involved in the real heist. The heist is mentioned in another episode of this same series, after two men allegedly rob a courier allegedly working for the Kane brothers who has just done a change over of money for drugs. This initiates a war when threats are made on both sides, leading to the murder of one of the Kane brothers in 1978.
The 2002 Australian feature film The Hard Word draws on the Great Bookie Robbery for its major crime scene. In this version a number of people are killed during the robbery.
- "Robbery with realism", Cinema Papers, November 1984 p46
- Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p200