Bassett Road machine gun murders

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The Bassett Road machine gun murders were the murders of two men with a .45 calibre Reising submachine gun on 7 December 1963, at 115 Bassett Road, in the Auckland suburb of Remuera in New Zealand.[1] The crime received considerable media attention and captured the public imagination for many years. Although the weapon was set to single and not rapid fire for the killings, word spread quickly of a "Chicago-style" gang murder previously unheard of in New Zealand.

Crime[edit]

Frederick George Walker, a 38-year-old commercial traveler, and Kevin James Speight, a 26-year-old seaman, were found shot several times with large caliber bullets at the Bassett Road house. The house was not solely a residential property, but used as a "beerhouse", given that until 1968, New Zealand pubs were forced to close for the night at six o'clock, resulting in either hurried consumption of alcoholic beverages as the time neared, or else visits to a beerhouse to continue alcohol consumption. Given their quasi-criminal operation, many beerhouses were operated by criminal figures and their associates[2] At the time the murders occurred, Walker and Speight were believed to be illegally trading in liquor at their premises as a beerhouse.[3] Although illegal, the beerhouses were regarded as a form of petty criminality and tolerated until referenda in New Zealand made it possible for licensed pubs to open past six o'clock and made beerhouses obsolete in 1968. During this illicit period, beerhouses served as a meeting place for beatnik modernist poets and musicians, figures from the boxing and rugby league sporting community, affluent community members who "slummed" with the underworld, drug addicts, alcoholics, borderline or criminal practitioners of gambling in New Zealand and hardened criminals. They also served as early distribution points for Cannabis in New Zealand and other illegal recreational drugs during the forties and fifties.[4]

Investigation and trial[edit]

Scientific investigation identified the weapon used as possibly a .45 calibre machine gun. At that time, New Zealand's firearms control legislation was lax, as many returned service personnel had residual weapons from their Second World War service period. The foreign firearms trade was also served by lax border regulation of potentially offensive weapons. Two notable figures within the New Zealand Criminal underworld, John Gillies and Ronald Jorgensen were arrested on 31 December 1963 and stood trial starting 24 February 1964. Although Jorgensen had been easily caught, Gillies evaded arrest for several days [5]

Formerly a sailor, Jorgensen had just finished a two-year stint in prison, although he had served time in Borstal beforehand. As a young offender, he met John Gillies in that context in 1951. Crewing on naval vessels, they maintained intermittent contact over the next decade, until they met one another in Auckland in 1962. Born in Kaikoura on Upper Canterbury's eastern coast of the South Island to an authoritarian Danish father, Jorgensen had a history of assault and theft in Christchurch, New Zealand. As for John Gillies, he also originated from the South Island. In 1956, he had fled trial on a number of criminal offences to neighbouring Australia, until a further prison stretch in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison led to his deportation back to New Zealand in October 1963.

Both men denied charges of murder, although Gillies admitted acquiring a machine gun for his own protection. Both men were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.[1]

Aftermath[edit]

While in prison, Jorgensen took up painting and sold a number of his works. He was later paroled under strict conditions, including that he must remain in Kaikoura living with his father for an indefinite period. Jorgensen vanished in mysterious circumstances in 1984, after his car was found wrecked at the bottom of a cliff.[6] Police initially suspected that he faked his death, but later declared him legally dead.

In 2010 an episode of TVNZ's The Missing directed by Tom Reilly[7] traced the life and disappearance of Jorgensen and uncovered several eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen him in Perth in the late eighties and early nineties. The makers of the show concluded that there is strong evidence Jorgensen faked his own death and fled New Zealand in 1984. An historical account of the crime has since been written. Involved on the periphery of these issues at the time were two New Zealand National Party politicians, Rob Muldoon (a future New Zealand Prime Minister) and John Banks, whose father Archibald was involved in the beerhouse/sly grog milieu and sent his then-teenage son out to provide cleaning services for his father's clients. As for Gillies, he was paroled in the late sixties, but although he had learnt technical drawing within prison, he soon got into trouble with New Zealand's criminal justice system once again and served further periods behind bars before his final release from prison in 1987. Still alive[dubious ], he currently lives under a new identity in Wellington, New Zealand.[8] Many New Zealand Police personnel involved in the investigation and trial testimony went on to rise high within the police hierarchy over the ensuing decades, although many have now died.[9] Many of Jorgensen and Gillies' criminal associates from that period are also deceased, or have left behind their earlier involvement in organized crime.[10]

See also[edit]

Coordinates: 36°52′00″S 174°47′03″E / 36.8666°S 174.7842°E / -36.8666; 174.7842

Further reading[edit]

  • Scott Bainbridge: The Bassett Road Machine-Gun Murders: Auckland: Allen and Unwin New Zealand: 2013: ISBN 1877505285

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "[http://www.police.govt.nz/operation/machinegun/ Machine gun murders, 7 December 1941 ] Archived June 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.", New Zealand Police.
  2. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 8-9
  3. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 37-64
  4. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 12-16, 19-25
  5. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 163-165
  6. ^ "Killer's art adorns Picton B&B". The Marlborough Express. 20 August 2007.
  7. ^ TVNZ's The Missing - Desperately seeking Ron Jorgensen
  8. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 253-4
  9. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 268-273
  10. ^ Bainbridge, 2013: 255-267