Guess who’s coming to dinner? Gangsters at the Webb’s dinner table.
How involved was Charlie Webb with the older criminals who were part and parcel of his family? As a young man might he have marvelled at the toughness of his brother Roy’s father-in-law Joseph Gavey and his stories of wild times in Melbourne. Perhaps he met Gavey’s accomplice Charles Alsop, heard boozy tales of their criminal escapades with Squizzy Taylor. Hold-ups. Shootings. Armed robberies. Race fixing. Imagine Charlie and his brother Roy sitting at the Christmas table listening to those mug lairs who the more they drank the louder they became.
Melbourne criminals styled themselves on American gangsters in both appearance and breadth of interests, Taylor himself (on the left with crutches) was dapper little man who earned his income from armed robbery, prostitution, the sale of illegal liquor and cocaine, race-fixing, sly grog and protection rackets, he was also adept at fixing juries and as a result was rarely convicted.
How easy it would have been for young Charlie to succumb to their influence? We know as an older man he had a violent streak and liked to gamble, we also know two prominent baccarat players thought it was Charlie’s image in the Melbourne paper when they published the picture of ‘The Unknown Man.’
Identified by two men, both prominent players. They both said he was an un-talkative fellow who worked in the illegal club for 10 weeks before disappearing without leaving a word. Ten weeks, that’s plenty of time for a couple of regular players to see and remember Charlie Webb.
We know the man on the other end of the Adelaide phone number found on the back cover of Webb’s ROK had a criminal background and was on record as warning a woman he had defrauded not to go to the police about an un-named Melbourne business partner of his because ” he’s not the kind of person you go to the police about.”
This same man only a recent arrival in Adelaide as well and who appeared to have had little trouble in installing himself in the motor trade, handling individual car sales for the modern day equivalent of between $40,000 to $50,000 – and in those days not many in that particular business were willing to wait four days for a cheque to clear.
The motor vehicle business by all accounts was ripe for the picking post-war and here’s Charlie arriving in town with a variety of tools in his suitcase that were well suited for the business of appropriating somebody else’s locked vehicle.
Header pic is Squizzy Taylor in October 1922, five years before the deadly shoot-out in Carlton, arriving in court on crutches after being shot in the leg in an earlier incident (Photo: HWT library).
“Far from the sharply dressed, big spending, ultra-salubrious, Great Gatsby crooks of Chicago, Melbourne crooks stuck to the crumbling, poverty stricken buildings and communities within the inner city. There was no real concern with empire building, but more an operational push to be rich, to maintain status, to squash rivals, and to get even with double-crossers.”
STRALIAN STORIES: Snow Business – the thrills and kills of Squizzy Taylor
Getting even with double-crossers eh?
I can’t picture Carl Webb as a gangster, I can picture him as someone sorrounded by people with no moral values simply interested in money and power… But then I couldnt picture Joan of Arc starting a war against the English. People and circumstances change but I expect to SEE more evidence before I make an asumption Charlie was a gangster specially knowing his SPORT past and him not drinking alcohol. I think he discovered what scum his family really were and was disgusted.
Well there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. Doffs divorce decree paints a picture of a pretty umm savoury character. He abused his wife , he’s known to police, he been fingered as a “nitkeeper” in illegal card games, he’s been known to threaten people , his closest brothers got very close gangland connections and he’s connected to the very dodgy Prosper Thomson.
I’ve always had trouble with what a nitpicker does in an illegal baccarat den. A cockatoo is a lookout, a bouncer is a bouncer etc … seems that a nitpicker might be a gambling term for how Webb played the game .. ? What do you reckon?
Nit pickers are mentioned here – mathematically literate enforcers who keep the punters in line…
Thanks for that … how do you see a situation developing that would warrant a nitpicker to interfere with a gambler’s game?
My feeling is that Roy and Charlie weren’t major players in the Melbourne underworld but likely on the fringes of what may have been left of a Prahran scene and associates of older criminals such as Joe Gavey – especially Roy. I have been trying to find where Joe Gavey lived on Greville Street; mainly for general interest as I’m in the area frequently and some family members lived there. I haven’t been able to find a street number and he may have lived in an apartment. Interestingly there was a chiropodist there in the 1930s and 40s (Fryer at 195). The baccarat nit picker sounds more and more like Charlie even in terms of timelines if it was for ten weeks around 1947. From Derek Abbott’s FB page it looks as though Charlie may have gone to Cottesloe WA. Interestingly there was a thriving street betting scene there with a big clean up operation in 1948 – 16 people arrested. Another theory came up about Jessica which I think is plausible – that she may have been quietly selling pharmaceuticals on the side – eg ether.
GAVEY. —On August 13, at 29 Greville street, Prahran, Joseph, deary beloved husband of Clara, loving father of Ernie, Ivor, and Ruby, father-in-law of Jessie, Jean, and Roy (deceased), grandfather ofJohn, Leslie, Teddy, Joyce, Beverly, and Brenda, aged 80.
GAVEY. —On August 13, at 29 Greville street, Prahran, Joseph, deary beloved husband of Clara, loving father of Ernie, Ivor, and Ruby, father-in-law of Jessie, Jean, and Roy (deceased), grandfather ofJohn, Leslie, Teddy, Joyce, Beverly, and Brenda, aged 80
There’s a couple of things worth noting about this lead. The fact that two witnesses claimed to recognise Carl as the “nitkeeper” adds more weight. Also the fact that the identification was in Melbourne where we now know Carl lived. The description of him being quiet , talking to few people matches Doffs account . He was a card player and had the mathematical skill to carryout the role. Also the two “prominent ” men coming forward were risking exposing themselves to being involved in illegal activities but came forward anyway hence they must have felt pretty certain. We’ve also got an established criminal connection through brother Roy.
Nit keeper or nit picker .. do you reckon that might have been a job that needed muscle?
I would imagine that Carl had the right ‘credentials’ for being a nit keeper/picker, his height and body shape probably ensured any complaints, from punters, would have been dealt with business in mind.
Carl had muscle as we know which may have been advantageous in that kind of gig.and he dressed pretty smooth. Evidently he got into a scrap on or around the day he expired as well.
Yeah to all of that, but how would a scrap have evolved in a room of baccarat players? Apart from a few pisspots playing up. Nit picking has got something to do with an argument over winning odds and after spending a short lifetime watching players in casinos, I don’t know how a blue would have erupted.
“mathematically literate” – I guess fits in with the engineering studies I guess….
Does make you wonder a little about the ‘code’. I think others have mentioned elsewhere (and possibly here) that they’re the doodlings of someone trying to solve a puzzle. Am I stereotyping too much to think that braingames and puzzles might be something a mathematical type (who can ‘cite the sixth decimal’ enjoys? But other than a crossword, what sort of word puzzles might be in the papers in the 1940s (we know, of course, that Bletchley Park used crosswords to find crypto-thinkers during WWII) ?
Doubling down on this….suppose Charlie has arrived in Adelaide on the overnight service from Melbourne. What do you do on a long (8-10h) train journey? Granted some trains might have a sleeping class, but even so you’re not asleep the whole journey. Possibly looking for a crossword or cryptogram (or similar puzzle) from one of the Melbourne papers on the 29th (or possibly from the preceding weekend paper – the Weekend Argus had an insert that had a cryptogram, but I’ve not noticed anything similar to Charlie’s page (and it’d be a bit embarassing if Naval intelligence failed to solve a cryptogram that had been in the paper))
I think he had arrived from the West, as suggested by the newspaper ad found by Lachlan Kelly, over on Derek Abbott’s Facebook page. (Lawyers finalising sister, Gladys May Scott’s will in 1958 – looking for Carl Webb formerly of Cottesloe). Port Augusta train?
possibly one could try looking up crosswords on relevant newspapers a day or two before his death to corroborate?
Jo: If Carl was living in WA, it’s possible that he was heading to Melbourne, got off the train at Adelaide to meet Prosper? Good ideas about the crosswords and newspapers, but didn’t Chemist Freeman state that the book had been in the car since about 20th November, the time of the airshow at Parafield?
I once thought the reason Webb’s body was dumped so close to Moseley Street was as a warning to Prosper from the established Adelaide villains that he and his Melbourne mate should keep their distance … but when you have a look at PT’s ongoing local deals that doesn’t look like the case. So if Webb was murdered it may have been done by an out-of-towner who knew where to find him. Maybe?
We know he bolted from that baccarat den in Melbourne without saying goodbye to anyone … and those places dealt with large quantities of cash. Webb worked in one. Maybe he had access to the money.
Know what I mean?
A bloke wouldn’t like one of Joe Gavey’s mates after him.
Here’s another SM coincidence probably or maybe more. Remember one time SM candidate H C Reynolds? here he is in 1947 Melbourne as a victim of a sophisticated car thieving ring. Thieves had the tools too fabricate a new key so obviously smarter and more organised as your average joy rider.
The interesting part about the article referenced in my previous post apart from the coincidence regarding the victim being named H C Reynolds (Exact same name as once touted Somerton man candidate) is the description of the planned car theft by a gang in 1947 Melbourne. Witness advises Reynolds that “they already have a duplicate key”
So PB tell me Im dreaming but here’s what’s in my head.
A while back there was a lot of excitement about the mysterious H C Reynolds ID match made by so called expert Marcel H. The ID was produced from memory by XLAMB who claims that it was the property of the deceased individual found on Somerton beach that we now know to be Carl Webb, which somehow her father came into possession of and it had been hidden for years in his home all ok so far?
So we have Carl in 1947 on the ropes , he’s left Doff , selling of anything he can to make a buck , not paying any support to Doff and falling of the radar.
In December 47 HC Reynolds has his car stolen from out the front of his pub in Flinders st Melbourne by a “gang” who were able to create a duplicate key.
Not a random joy rider an organised gang. Now I couldn’t create a duplicate key if my life depended on it would think creating a duplicate key would be a simple task for a properly equiped tool maker.
So we know the theft was successful and H C Reynolds is running around with egg on his face , cos he was warned and didn’t listen and he’s offering 50 quid reward for the return of his wheels.
So its not a stretch to suggest that Reynolds may have had some Perone items in. his car such as an ID card yeah?
So given the proximity, the timline, the relative sophistication of the job could it be that Carl was the culprit or one off with his tool making skills who got away with Reynolds car and helped himself to the ID card in the glove box. Would be pretty handy for a guy who wanted to go off the radar and for all kinds of reasons .
Maybe Carl did have the ID with him in Adelaide and maybe it was taken from him as XLAMB suggested. The H C R photo isn’t Carl but in black and white its a passable resemblance
If you brought a car second hand from some dodgey black market dealer, you wouldn’t know how many sets of keys there were. Once the sale has gone through, the details (name, address,etc) are known and the funds to buy the car clears… what’s stopping the crooked dealer using the kept set of keys to steal it back for a rebirth? And being honourable crooks why not give a gentle warning to the temporary new owner so they have time to remove their personal effects prior to it being boosted?
Didn’t sound like Mr H C Reynolds went to the Vic police to report the crime… looking to provide reward outside of the law.
Thats what I suspect Prosper Thomson was up to Sly. Selling re births and with a reciprocal deal marking his own recently sold vehicles to be liberated by his partners team either with a duplicate set of keys or by a guy with the tools and skills to boost a car within a minute or two.
Dodgy dealer provides legit papers for the accomplice who drives car back to Squizzys workshop for a quick re birth and wouldn’t hurt the accomplice to have a fake ID Just in case he pulled over.
The only issue with the HC Reynolds ID is that I think it was from 1918? So quite old by 1948… We need Misca on the case to see if it was the same bloke!
I was trying to find car links prior to the information surfacing that Charlie worked for the Red Tool Company. The closest find was that there is an informal car repair yard immediately to the rear of 63 Bromby Street. It was run from a house around the corner in Arnold Street & operated until recent times. I think it was probably there in the 1940s, judging by a garage at the rear of the yard. There was also a formal car workshop “Motor Works” around the corner in Arnold Street. There are also two decent sized garages at Bromby St – one with a possible Charlie era hand made” Keep Out” sign!
Another tenant at Bromby Street was a mechanic and racing car driver who was a founding partner of a major Melbourne car dealership (he was removed as a partner in 1951). His tenancy may have overlapped the Webbs. I checked his NAA airforce file to see if he had served with Jack Keane. He hadn’t, he was a airforce mechanic with very solid reports.
Incidentally, Joe Gavey’s grandson didn’t follow his grandfather’s lines of work, he became a decorated RAAF squadron leader who died earlier this year, aged 95!
Jo, what squadron was Gavey in?
Peter – RAAF 032115 according to his obituary from May this year. His NAA file isn’t open as it runs until 2002 (NB – this is Joe’s grandson, he has the same name as his father, Joe’s son!)
Thanks Jo, I’ll try another way.
For what it’s worth: Hubert Cyril Reynolds, 4 Flintoft St, Toorak.
Also for what it’s worth: the ID card is believed to be for a man named Horace Charles Reynolds. See https://ciphermysteries.com/2013/03/15/sorry-but-the-unknown-man-is-almost-certainly-not-h-c-reynolds
The Sly Dog: I wonder why H.C. Reynolds didn’t report his stolen car to the police? Possibly, because he knew the police wouldn’t have much chance of recovering it or, it would be ‘easier’ to deal direct with the thief? Then again, perhaps he didn’t want the police to look too close into his own background?
The fact that the newspaper story doesn’t explicitly cite a police report as the source doesn’t mean that there was no police report. Offering a reward and letting the police pursue the case are not mutually exclusive. He was the owner or part owner of a hotel, so he probably wasn’t much concerned about casual contact with the police. (Was insurance against things like the theft of a car common in those days?)
If you buy a car from the black market and wanting to stay squeaky clean (don’t know about back then, but a publican or at least the liquor licence holder these days needs a clean record) you can’t really go to the police.
As Henry Hill describes in good fellas : that’s what organised crime, like the mafia, is force; a police force for wiseguys.