Standing at 6ft 6in, Arthur “Neddy” Smith – the infamous standover man – had a menacing aura. He was a leading underworld figure during the mid-1980s Sydney drug wars. And he drove fear into all he encountered.
Today, the 72-year-old former armed robber and heroin dealer is serving two life sentences in Lithgow prison and his health is ailing.
The crimes that sent him away
Smith began his current stint in prison in 1989, after being arrested trying to rob Botany Council of its $160,000 Christmas payroll deposit. And his bail was revoked due to a murder charge from the previous year.
On October 30 1988, Smith bashed truck driver Ronnie Flavell to death. Smith -inebriated at the time – flew into a rage after Flavell flashed his lights at him. It was Australia’s first high-profile road rage case, and Neddy was convicted two years later.
A life in crime
Arthur Smith was born in Sydney in 1944. The son of an Australian mother and an American serviceman, whom he never knew, Neddy dropped out of school at the age of 14 to follow his criminal passion.
After doing a series of stints in youth detention centres, he went onto serve three prison sentences during the 60s and 70s for increasingly serious charges, including gang rape.
It was in the 1970s, that Smith started getting a reputation as the standover man for drug dealer Murray Riley. But Neddy soon moved into heroin trafficking himself. And in the 80s he rose to the top of Sydney’s underworld, making millions and intimidating those that stood in his way.
In the mid-1980s, Smith’s gang was having a dispute with a crew led by Barry McCann, the owner of the Lansdowne pub in Chippendale. One evening Smith turned up at the bar and knocked out McCann’s oldest son.
He then lined up five of the bar’s bouncers at gunpoint and took to each of them with a baseball bat until they fell to the ground.
Bragging in his cell
The NSW police believed Smith held the answers to a string of drug-related murders that took place throughout the city over the 70s and 80s. These included the deaths of heroin dealers Danny Chubb and Barry Croft, and bookie Mick Sayers.
So the police bugged Neddy’s Long Bay prison cell and recorded his conversations with his cellmate “Mr Brown.” During the conversations, Smith boasted he’d been involved in seven more murders. Although, he later claimed he’d made it up, as he knew he was being recorded.
At his committal hearing, he was cleared of five of the killings, but went to trial for two. One was for the murder of Sally Anne Huckstepp, a Sydney sex worker turned whistle-blower, whose body was found in a Centennial Park pond in 1986.
Neddy was acquitted of this murder, although many suspect he was involved.
Smith was convicted of the murder of brothel owner Harvey Jones in 1998. Mr Brown testified that Neddy told him he’d shot Jones in the cellar of an Alexandria hotel in 1983. And then took his body to Botany Bay and dumped it in the water.
Killer turned whistle-blower
Neddy later became a whistle-blower himself. In 1992, he appeared as a star witness at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), along with his former bodyguard Graham “Abbo” Henry.
The pair revealed that former NSW police Armed Holdup Squad detectives had supplied information that enabled them to commit a series of holdups in the 1980s, which netted millions of dollars.
The ICAC commissioner of the time, Ian Temby QC found that Neddy and corrupt former police detective Roger Rogerson had a “notorious” relationship. “Rogerson’s dealings with Smith brought discredit on the Police Service, and must be described as scandalous,” wrote Temby in his report.
Smith refused to name Rogerson during the hearing, but admitted he had an association with former detective Lance Chaffey, and that this allowed him to source information about police operations. And it was alleged that Chaffey used Rogerson to pass on the information.
The other side
However, Neddy is said to have a very different side. He’s known to be a charming family man. His former wife Debra – who regularly visits him in prison – said that he’s a good father. And that they shared many warm moments throughout their marriage.
The pair met when Neddy was 34 and they married while he was in Long Bay prison. During their marriage they had three children.
Never to be released
In June this year, Smith was rushed to hospital after suffering a heart attack, and then collapsing and smashing his head on the ground.
The now elderly inmate survived, but his health has been suffering for years. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1980 and is now wheelchair-bound.
Neddy pleaded for a mercy release in 2010, so that he could die at home. “I’m not guilty, my health is not good, and I’ve done my time – 23 years is enough,” he said through his legal team.
At the time, he’d instructed his lawyers to find specific evidence that would prove he couldn’t have killed Harvey Jones. This evidence, he claimed, had never been formally produced by the authorities.
However, retired assistant police commissioner John Laycock remarked that, “the only time he should come out is if he is horizontal.” Laycock – who headed Task Force Snowy: an investigation into 14 gangland murders linked to Smith – added that that Smith hadn’t given his victims the chance to die at home.
Sydney’s most infamous killer also went onto write two books about the city’s underworld: Neddy and Catch and Kill Your Own. The former went onto be the basis for the ABC mini-series Blue Murder.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.