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Carl Webb, the lookout.

Carl Webb was recognised as a nit keeper – a lookout for an illegal baccarat den in Lonsdale Street Melbourne and identified as such by ‘two prominent players’ (see link) who unsurprisingly preferred to remain anonymous. That being so Webb would have been a trusted employee of criminals and who was paid to spot undercover police, police informers, known cheats, competing gangsters, signs of an imminent raid, players known to use counterfeit notes, previously banned players, men known to carry guns, men known to carry knives, local politicians on a mission, men intent on robbing the take, known drunks, unwanted drug dealers, cadgers, journalists, bludgers, troublesome professional women, standover men, drug addicts, pickpockets, crooked dealers and other unwanted and unsavoury characters.
However it wasn’t unknown for Salvation Army cup rattlers to gain entry.

Webb would have been paid to keep his eye on the street as well as inside the rooms and his local knowledge of the men and women who thronged Lonsdale Street would have been valuable. His presence at those times when a player’s emotions got the better of him would also have been required and he would have been a useful hand when it came to chucking out a bad loser. Perhaps he used the facilities of a local gymnasium to improve his strength and build up muscle tone as he wasn’t a big man.

And no doubt the credentials he brought with him in order to secure the job included a subtle recommendation from his brother’s father in law, Joe Gavey, a friend and accomplice of Squizzy Taylor, one of Melbourne’s very hard men and reputed owner of more than one illegal baccarat den himself, possibly the one where Webb was employed.

As it’s always best to keep such things in the family.

Header pic is George Lane, Little Lonsdale

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/130242462?

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. thedude747 #

    All the circumstantial evidence including the timing , location , family connection , Carl’s known interest in cards/gambling and the TWO witnesses have Webb beyond reasonable doubt was the nitkeeper and this lead should have been properly investigated at the time. However in all fairness I can’t imagine the Vic cops at the time having their best men on identifying a John Doe from another state.

    November 30, 2022
    • a lurker #

      How exactly do you investigate such a claim? Any witnesses would deny they play cards, let along cooperate with police and identifying people who were there – and as you mention the Vic coppers probably didn’t overly care (not really even sure the SA ones did until much later).

      December 1, 2022
  2. dude47 #

    Interesting to read about the unsolved murder of international conman James Coates over the turf wars in mid 1947 Melbourne for control of the illegal baccarat dens. Coates had his finger in many pies including his suspected control of ? you guessed it a major car thieving ring.

    November 30, 2022
    • That bloke’s life history is almost unbelievable …

      https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coates-james-5694

      November 30, 2022
    • Tallulah #

      James Coates’ Walsh street home (number unknown)was 15 mins walk from Charlie’s apartment. The playground/vacant lot where he was shot is very close to where Joe Gavey lived, near the corner of Greville Street & Punt Road… Wad it ever established who shot Coates and why?

      November 30, 2022
    • Tallulah #

      J Coates – 161 Walsh Street – corner of Domain Road and Walsh Street South Yarra. C Webb – 63 Bromby Street South Yarra

      November 30, 2022
    • Tallulah #

      James Coates’ Walsh street home (161?) was 15 mins walk from Charlie’s apartment. The playground/vacant lot where he was shot is very close to where Joe Gavey lived, near the corner of Greville Street & Punt Road…

      November 30, 2022
  3. Clive #

    thedude747: I wonder if the Victorian cops heard whispers about his disappearance, and the thinking was, it’s in SA, not our problem?

    November 30, 2022
  4. dude47 #

    Ive no doubt that was their attitude Clive.
    Finding a body is a pretty regular part of policing. Its only through the passage of time that SM became the great mystery because he was never identified. Prior to being known as “The Somerton man” he was referred to in so e articles as “the stranger”
    The interest has increased 10 fold since the early 2000’s

    Anyhoo my point is some contributors seem to assume that he was the subject of a major , Australia wide investigation at the time and its a myth. The local plods assumed he was your garden variety suicide and the responses at the were perfunctory. So much so that conspiracy theories have developed. “why didn’t the cops follow up” this or that???? BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T GIVE A SHIT !!!

    And Melbourne plods , they cared even less IMHO.

    November 30, 2022
    • Webb had a ticket in his pocket that lead straight back to the railway station and not one of the SAPOL geniuses bothered to have a sticky, but not a word of criticism about that investigative failure from the venerable Feltus.
      He knew. Must have. But he said nothing.

      November 30, 2022
      • a lurker #

        But I think that’s thedude’s point – there was nothing particularly interesting about SM. The interest grew as he remained unidentified (and then as the Rubaiyat was found). By the time the defectives in the police farce were interested, much of the evidence would no longer be available.
        If at this point they realised they’d not been thorough enough, I’d imagine their focus is:
        1) Butt covering – preparing reasons why things weren’t properly investigated/recorded/etc
        2) Not bringing up stuff that should have been investigated, because it risks highlighting the fact you dropped the ball

        I’ve seen a lot of people getting caught up on specific ways things were reported in the press, and apparent contradictions/anomalies in police records (and then come to whimiscal conclusions about what went on), but it’s important to realise that early on the police were expecting a swift resolution (bodies appear, then they’re identified, and we never hear of them again). Meanwhile they interpret the media – whose job is literally making the mundane sound exciting – as having 100% factually reported evidence they probably barely even understood. The most obvious example of this is “what about the other businessman who brought in a Rubaiyat that day?” – this to me reeks of a journalist getting his wires crossed….

        December 1, 2022
  5. dude47 #

    Yep true that. No disrespect meant for GF and his book. its full of well researched factoids and historical information but my two criticisms are , one his lack of imagination and two , his many deliberate exclusions in an attempt to protect the innocent , the guilty and the incompetent.(maybe some of his old colleges) Lets face it by the time he published I think we would all have gathered he just came clean.

    November 30, 2022
  6. Jo #

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/22701107/1716444

    I wonder whether Constable Carter, referred to here by his boss as an ineffective gaming constable, is the same Constable Carter who attended Charlie and Dorothy’s apartment & agreed with Dorothy that Charlie could be quite dangerous and urged her to have him bound over? Dorothy also refers to a Constable Coleman who already knows Charlie.

    November 30, 2022
    • Jo, thanks, if I had a whiteboard there would be another connecting line to be added.

      December 1, 2022
  7. dude47 #

    #Talullah No the Coates murder remains unsolved, the reasons are many.and the cops were hardly going to blow the budget on finding the culprit when the general consensus was that Coates was a pest and his demise was for the greater good.

    There’s every chance its the same Carter #Jo and it makes sense.

    He was hated for double crossing his partners and suspected of being a fizz for the coppers. Maybe old constable Carter leaked this to one of his many enemies.

    Coates was running baccarat dens and suspected of sabotaging those run by the others. This on top of his car thieving ring and other crimes and misdemeanours.

    December 1, 2022
  8. Clive #

    Jo: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/205686381?SearchTerm=Constable carter
    Interesting newspaper report about Constables Carter & Buggy+baccarat+cleaning toilets. (Aubrey Harold Carter)

    December 1, 2022
  9. Clive #

    Also “The Age” 25 Nov 1948 Page 3.
    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/205679300?SearchTerm=Constable carter Buggy & Carter would seem to be maverick cops?

    December 1, 2022
  10. Those three articles are too good to be true … and I remember the para in Doff’s divorce petition where she says that in June 46 she ‘called in Const Carter of St Kilda police’ …. and she went on to say that Webb said very little to him after he arrived only that I (Doff) imagined things and was quite mad. Nevertheless Carter advised Doff to have Webb bound over*, agreeing with her that he could be dangerous.
    What strikes me is that it appears Doff knew where to call constable Carter and what station he worked, not only that, despite Webb having very little to say when confronted, Carter told Doff he thought Webb could be dangerous.
    So …. As per Jo who thought of it first …..
    If Doff’s St Kilda Carter was the same constable Carter as in the three articles sent in by Clive and Jo, ie a member of the police gaming squad specialising in illegal baccarat dens, perhaps his opinion that Webb could be dangerous was backed up by witnessing him working as a strong-armed nitkeeper …
    Makes sense?

    * similar to an AVO, apprehended violence order.

    December 1, 2022
  11. Clive #

    Sorry, 1st TROVE item was in “The Argus” 26 Nov 1948 Page 3.

    December 1, 2022
  12. dude47 #

    Wow! So bent coppers constables Carter and Buggy are doing very nicely taking slings from the the baccarat dens.

    The nit-keepers job is running interference between the baccarat schools and the coppers . So logic says part of that gig could be the handing over of the brown envelopes to Carter and Brown.

    A particular copper in the same area of the same rank named constable Carter knows Carl and is aware that he could be dangerous. How would he know that if not from having dealt with him either directly or indirectly ? It seems plausible that this is the same Carter.

    Whist all this is going on James Coats is running baccarat schools as well as a car thieving ring and dabbles in a bit of fraud and extortion as a side line.

    Coats is causing friction amongst the various operators of the baccarat dens and is rumored to be grassing to the gaming squad. The competition gets wind of this somehow (through some bent coppers maybe?)

    Coats winds up dead in South Yarra around the corner from Carl’s place. No suspect is ever arrested.

    December 1, 2022
  13. 1945 ..Two prominent baccarat players remember Webb being employed as a Melbourne baccarat den nitkeeper about this time.
    1946 September .. Webb’s wife leaves him and her Melbourne home.
    1947 April … Webb deserts his wife.
    1947 July … Coates shot dead in in Melbourne.
    1948 November … Webb found dead under suspicious circumstances in South Australia.

    December 1, 2022
  14. Jo #

    The 1945 date for the nit picker’s service comes from “about four years ago” as reported by the baccarat players – it’s nice and vague.

    I wonder whether Charlie had become caught up in the wrong baccarat group?

    Coates lived very close by – on the corner of Walsh Street and Domain Road. His body was found near St Kilda Junction – near a baccarat den. This is also close to Joe Gavey’s Greville Street home – although Gavey is quite old by 1947 and there is nothing really to connect him to the case…

    Charlie’s relationship with Doff is terminated in January 1946, although they continue to live together. He attempts suicide in March 1946. He tells Doff in September 1946 to “Just get out while you’ve your life to do so”. The visits by Constables Coleman and Coates are in 1946.

    Coates had been receiving threats by phone before his death in July 1947, being accused of being a police informant. He had erected wire over his balcony to stop missiles being thrown in.

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/22444943

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/168780872?searchTerm=balcony%20james%20coates%20home

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/243840414?searchTerm=balcony%20james%20coates%20home

    In March 1947 Doff began action against Charlie for maintenance payments. An order was made in on 1 May 1947 and was last complied with in June. From here Charlie may have gone to Cottesloe WA (according to the 1958 newspaper notice found by Lachlan Kelly – see Derek Abbott’s Facebook site). Had he left Melbourne by the time Coates was murdered in July?

    There are lots of articles about Coates, under his alias Mark Foy, in relation to the death of Robert Walker – “The Robert Walker Story” serialised in the Argus in 1954.

    December 1, 2022
  15. dude47 #

    Carl could have worked for either Gavey or Coats as both ran baccarat dens. He’s connected geographically to Coats and through family to Gavey. Word was that Coats was in the habit of double crossing those who trusted him.
    You could choose to read a lot into Carls disappearance around the time Coats gets bumped off.

    December 1, 2022
  16. Clive #

    Perhaps both Gavey & Coates, were suspicious of Carl’s activities, and Carl decided to ‘jump ship’, so to speak. Carl may have had second thoughts about sticking around in Melbourne, as nobody trusted each other

    December 1, 2022
  17. Jo #

    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/63410902/frederick-william-harrison

    “Freddy the Frog” Harrison is suspected of killing James Coates. (Although in this write up it mentions Coates travelling by car, whereas in 1947 reports his wife says he caught a bus). Harrison himself was killed in February 1958. In October 1958 a notice appears in the newspapers seeking Carl Webb, possibly living in Cottesloe, in relation to his sister’s will (she died in 1955). I have been on a public records waiting list for several weeks waiting to view the will & probate documents. Did Carl go to WA because Melbourne was potentially becoming dangerous for him? Apart from benefiting from his sister’s will, is the message a sign that it is safe to return? In both this notice & Doff’s he is referred to by his formal name, Carl, rather than Charles.

    December 2, 2022
  18. Jo #

    I don’t suppose anyone knows where the Punt Road baccarat school was? I’m wondering if it was a building at St Kilda junction, formerly a Chinese restaurant, then a backpackers, I think currently owned by Danielle Maguire (Tony Mokbel’s former partner).

    December 2, 2022
  19. Clive #

    Coincidence that the 3 newspaper articles appeared less than a week before Carl was found dead?

    December 2, 2022
  20. Clive #

    “Truth” 18 Jun 1944 Page 15 on: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/16875841?SearchTerm=Baccarat at Punt Road%3F

    December 2, 2022

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