1920s Melbourne was a dangerous place to live. Home to gangs of bootleggers, the city’s underworld was constantly shifting and fighting for control over the gambling, housebreaking and extortion rackets in Melbourne. Our Victoria Prison Registers detail not only the main men in this dangerous initiative, but their associates and nemeses throughout their criminal exploits.
Melbourne's Kingpin: Henry Stokes
The main man of the Melbourne mob was Henry Stokes. Stokes was known in Melbourne as the ‘Two-Up king’ for the number of gambling houses he ran that specialised in the game. Stokes himself was arrested a number of times by the Australian authorities for these activities, though his record is rather light! He and his gang had a reputation for jury fixing and witness intimidation. One example is a conviction for attempted murder that resulted in a paltry 6 month prison term, which Stokes never served.
Sidekick Squizzy Taylor
Squizzy Taylor’s early criminal exploits were not very successful. He was in and out of prison for a string of minor crimes between 1907 and 1912, and even while incarcerated managed to commit infractions to add to his criminal record.
From the moment Squizzy signed his alliance with Stokes and they eliminated some of their main competition in 1921, Squizzy’s criminal career rapidly took off. Stokes and Squizzy became allies through convenience, as each could take a stake of each other’s profits whilst combining forces to protect both businesses. Men like ‘Tankbuster’ MacDonald were instrumental in this protection – though not wholly successful, and Squizzy was shot and killed in a gunfight with rival gangsters in 1927.
Macdonald is often remembered as the roving gun of both Squizzy and Stokes. Macdonald, whose nickname came from his service in World War 1, was a childhood friend of Squizzy and more or less became his bodyguard and enforcer in the later years of Squizzy’s rise through the underworld. MacDonald’s record is again very light considering the crimes he was implicated in.
Stokes & Squizzy made a number of enemies on their way to the top, the most famous of whom was Joseph Cotter. Squizzy and Cotter had met, but never worked together due to differences between the two of them which degenerated into open warfare. He attempted to kill Squizzy more than once, and when this didn’t work took to gunning down his associates in the streets. His criminal record states ‘Military’ next to his name in red pen, a reference to the many infractions he incurred whilst a serviceman during World War 1, and as a warning to any Prison Warders that he was considered particularly dangerous.
Were any of your family racketeers, bootleggers or gangster’s molls? Have a look in our criminal records and uncover your skeletons.