Crime in Sydney
has been part of the city since the earliest days as a prison colony. Some have argued Sydney
's population has maintained a scepticism towards authority. The Rum corps
, a moniker for several successive British
regiments that served as prison guards, were probably Sydney's first taste of organised crime
Sydney's development into a major sea port, with the combination of various penal institutions, corrupt authorities, gold rushes and increasing wealth encouraged the growth of a criminal element.
Early 20th century
Thanks to endemic police and political corruption, organised crime activities grew and flourished in Sydney during the 20th century. One of the most notorious and lucrative criminal operations in the early part of the 1900s was the legendary Thommo's Two-up School
, a vastly profitable illegal gaming operation, based on the Australian coin-tossing game "Two-up
" that operated continuously in various locations in Sydney until well after World War II. Although Thommo's was known and frequented by hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders and that it operated for decades, in the late 1960s the then New South Wales Commissioner of Police
, Norman Allan (believed by many to have been corrupt), was still publicly denying the fact that Thommo's existed.
Illegal gaming houses
and "sly-grog shops
" (illegal alcohol outlets) operated freely in the inner city throughout the 1900s, thanks to on-going protection by corrupt police. One of the most notorious gambling clubs of the postwar period, the Forbes Club, located in Forbes St, Darlinghurst
, conducted its business with impunity for years, even though it was openly signposted and was located only metres from the Darlinghurst Police Station.
In the late 1960s, following the 1965 election of the Liberal
state government headed by Robert Askin
, there was a drastic realignment of criminal activities as the old networks dissolved. One of the most controversial claims about the Sydney crime scene at this time, reported by crime writer David Hickie
in his book The Prince and the Premier
, is the allegation that Askin was corrupt and that he regularly received huge cash payments from illegal gaming operators like Perce Galea
in return for political and police protection. Many still dispute this allegation, but after his death it was revealed that Askin's multi-million dollar estate was worth vastly more than he could have legally earned, and this has been seen by many as confirmation of his corruption.
During 1967, as rival gang leaders fought to gain control of Sydney's crime industry, there was a series of highly-publicised murders including infamous brothel owners Joe Borg, who was killed by one of Australia's first car bombs, and Richard Gabriel Reilly, who was shot to death in broad daylight in his car as he was leaving his mistress' home in Double Bay.
The Reilly case became a cause celebre for investigative journalists, and David Hickie claims that Reilly's kept numerous highly detailed diaries, which were found after his murder. The diaries reputedly contained the names and details of all Reilly's criminal contacts, as well as those of many police, politicians and prominent Sydney society figures with whom he had dealings. According to Hickie, these diaries would have blown the lid off the Sydney organised crime scene and its connections to public corruption, but he alleges that at Commissioner Allan's direction, the diaries were carefully scrutinised and their contents relayed to him and Premier Askin and then deliberately suppressed to keep their explosive contents secret.
One of the main beneficiaries of the Gang Wars of 1967 was Sydney's so-called "Mr Big" of organised crime, Lenny McPherson. He is generally thought to have masterminded the killing of several rivals, including Reilly, and from the late 1960s onwards he became the most feared and powerful crime figure in the city. Most significantly, it is widely believed that McPherson initiated contacts between Australian crime figures, Asian crime syndicates and the American Mafia. One of the key events in this process was beginning the McPherson-sponsored visit of Mafia financier Joseph 'Dan' Testa in 1965, 1969 and 1971.
The purpose of the 1971 visit was to arrange the purchase of slot machines manufactured by The Bally Manufacturing Company, an American slot-machine manufacturer that was Mafia-controlled, and to arrange the purchase of Bally slot-machines by Sydney clubs, often through threats of violence.
From this beginning, McPherson and his allies are alleged to have laid the groundwork for Mafia infiltration of the Australian illegal drug trade and the vast expansion of heroin trafficking in Australia and South-East Asia that took place in the 1970s. McPherson's opening of connections with the Mafia is also thought to have been a pivotal action in the ongoing campaign to introduce poker machines (slot machines
) into NSW, and this is reinforced by persistent claims that some of the leading poker machine manufacturers were controlled by the Mafia.
One of the most revealing cases concerning the connections between NSW police and organised crime came in the early 1970s with the so-called Arantz Case. Phillip Arantz was a NSW Police Detective Sergeant and computer expert who was charged with overseeing the computerisation of police crime statistics. During the course of this program it became obvious to Arantz that the police were persistently under-reporting serious crime incidents and it soon became evident to him that he had uncovered a systematic program of suppression of information, the obvious aim of which was to protect corrupt police who were involved in or being paid off by Sydney organised crime networks.
Arantz reported his suspicions to the then Commissioner, Norman Allan, but his claims were dismissed and he soon discovered that Allan had no intention of allowing Arantz's findings to become public. Frustrated by this official obstruction, Arantz became one of Australia's first "whistle blowers" when he leaked details of the disparities between the actual and reported crime statistics to the Sydney press. As a result, he was targeted by Allan in a deliberate campaign of harassment and vilification -- he was suspended, subjected to a forced psychiatric evaluation and eventually dishonourably discharged from the force. It would be almost twenty years before Arantz could finally clear his name, by which time Allan and Askin were both long dead.
Whilst enjoying a relatively low crime-rate by world standards, the city is a noteworthy crime spot in Australia, with a significantly higher crime rate than Melbourne (see Crime in Melbourne) or other major cities.
Nearby Newcastle, New South Wales has similar crime-related issues, (see Crime in Newcastle).
Criminal behaviour remains a problem in many parts of Sydney today. The major changes in criminal behaviour have been in the patterns of crime -- most notably, the incidence of violent crimes decreased markedly during the 1900s as living standards rose, despite persistent media claims to the contrary. However there has been a major increase in drug-related crime, principally property crimes (burglary and theft) caused by the massive increase in drug trafficking since the 1970s. A rough estimate is that as much as 90% of property crime in Sydney is drug-related.
Despite the general fall in their incidence, Sydney has witnessed a long string of sensational violent crimes. One of the most enduring crime mysteries is the Bogle-Chandler case
, still unsolved, in which the naked bodies of a CSIRO
scientist and his lover were discovered on the banks of a river. In 1960 Sydney was the scene of Australia's first kidnapping, when schoolboy Graham Thorne
was kidnapped and killed after his father won the Sydney Opera House Lottery
. This was followed in 1965 by the still-unsolved murders of two Sydney schoolgirls at Wanda Beach
in Sydney's south. In 1968 one of Australia's first hostage sieges took place in the outer southwestern suburb of Belfield
, when Wally Mellish
held his de facto
wife and child hostage at gunpoint for several days. Other notorious cases in more recent years include the Strathfield Massacre
, the infamous North Shore Granny Murders
, the disappearance of Bondi
school girl Samantha Knight
, the insanely savage rape, torture and murder of Anita Cobby
and the Backpacker Murders carried out by psychopathic serial killer Ivan Milat
Perhaps the most notorious place in Sydney in terms of criminal history is Kings Cross
. Located in inner eastern Sydney, "The Cross" has a long history of prostitution, illegal gaming, sex clubs, drug dealing
, "shooting galleries" (places frequented by intravenous drug users), police corruption and murder. It was the backdrop for the mysterious and famous disappearance in 1975 of Juanita Nielsen
, an heiress who opposed high-rise development there. A NSW Royal Commission into gambling in the 1970s estimated that the annual turnover from organised crime in NSW was far in excess of the total NSW state government budget. The Wood Royal Commission
into police corruption in the 1990s found widespread corruption amongst the various police units at Kings Cross, resulting in several long-term changes to policing in New South Wales
Other problem areas
Other problem areas in Sydney include: the western suburbs of Cabramatta
(which became notorious in the 1990s for illegal drugs being openly sold in its streets and at its railway station by juvenile drug dealers, and for the political assassination of John Newman
in 1994);Mtdruitt postal area (MountyCounty), Punchbowl
(focal points of much ethnic tension and ethnic-based crime 
); and the southern inner city suburb of Redfern
(known for a politically-sensitive failed indigenous housing development called 'The Block', drug-related crimes
and an infamous riot in February 2004).
In the winter of 2000 a series of four gang rapes occurred, in which gangs of up to 18 men abducted and violently raped women. These incidents led to harsh new sentences for gang rape in New South Wales.
Over the Past few years Gang Activity has continuously grown in Sydneys West and Southwest including the areas of Liverpool, Campbelltown and Fairfield.