Melbourne gangster Squizzy Taylor died after a shootout in Carlton. What happened to the house?

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Melbourne gangster Squizzy Taylor died after a shootout in Carlton. What happened to the house?

Little Barkly Street in Carlton.

Lawrence Mack moved from Melbourne to Sydney some years ago, but never lost interest in Melbourne’s true crime history.

“The true crime stories were always much more incredible than the made-up stories,” he said.

Mr Mack was reading about the 1927 shootout in Carlton that resulted in the death of notorious gangster Squizzy Taylor.

“I always wondered what happened to the house? Is it still there?”

Curious Melbourne set out to find out.

‘The Underworld Dandy’

Joseph Theodore Leslie “Squizzy” Taylor was a key figure in Melbourne’s criminal underworld in the 1920s, and one of Australia’s most infamous gangsters.

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Squizzy Taylor’s mugshots through the years

His criminal career started early, with a group of troublemakers police dubbed the Bourke Street Rats.

Taylor’s convictions ranged from petty larceny to armed robbery — his first conviction, for theft, came when he was just 17.

But police suspected his involvement in much more serious crimes they could never secure convictions for, including murder.

Victoria Police Superintendent FJ Piggott described Taylor as “an underworld will-o’-the wisp” whose influence on his criminal underlings was “hypnotic”.

He was also known for his vanity and penchant for expensive suits and cars, leading some to dub him “The Underworld Dandy”.

Snowy Cutmore

A mugshot of Snowy Cutmore.

Depending on which account you believe, John Cutmore earned his nickname “Snowy” either because of his thick blonde hair or his reputation as a peddler of cocaine — otherwise known as snow.

He had been part of the so-called Fitzroy Gang in Melbourne and a rival of Taylor’s before moving to Sydney in the early 1920s.

There, he enhanced his criminal reputation as part of the notorious Razor Gang, committing violent robberies and dealing drugs.

He was known in horse racing circles to be in the habit of giving cocaine to horses.

Cutmore was linked to the murder of another member of the Razor Gang, Norman Bruhn, who was gunned down in an alleyway in Darlinghurst.

Bruhn was an ally of Taylor and police believed Taylor had vowed revenge against the men who killed him.

The Barkly Street shootout

The bedroom of 50 Barkly Street in Carlton, where there was a shoot-out between Squizzy Taylor and John Cutmore.

Snowy Cutmore had returned to Melbourne to escape the heat over the death of Bruhn, and was holed up in his mother’s house at 50 Barkly Street, Carlton.

It was there that Taylor finally caught up with him.

Cutmore was laid up in bed with influenza when Taylor paid a visit on the evening of October 27, 1927 and what happened next remains the subject of conjecture to this day.

At least a dozen shots were fired in Cutmore’s bedroom — five struck the gangster as he lay in bed, killing him.

Cutmore’s mother was also struck in the shoulder.

Taylor was shot in the side and fled, later succumbing to his wounds in St Vincent’s hospital.

A Metropolitan Board of Works map showing Barkly Street in Carlton

Witnesses reported seeing at least one other man leaving the house, and police said three guns had been used during the shootout.

One was found in Taylor’s pocket, another was found in nearby MacArthur Square, and a third was found wedged in a toilet cistern in the backyard of the Cutmore house.

An inquest delivered an open verdict and, it has been speculated, police were not that interested in getting to the bottom of the matter as they were just glad to see the end of Taylor.

Years later, Superintendent Piggott was quoted as saying it was “a happy day for the police department when Taylor passed”.

The house

The expression “if these walls could talk” has never been more apt.

Cutmore’s mother, Bridget, rented the house at 50 Barkly Street, where her son would die a violent death on his sickbed.

The house was one of five cottages in a terrace known as Barkly Terrace, built in the 1860s.

The floor plan of a house in Barkly Street, Carlton.

The houses were not luxury accommodation by any stretch of the imagination.

A plan of the property submitted as part of the inquest into Taylor’s and Cutmore’s deaths show a small four-room house backing onto an alley-way.

In 1895, the probate files of then-owner William Michel described the five dwellings as “old and always being repaired”.

By then, they had already been home to their fair share of ne’er-do-wells.

Police visited 52 Barkly Street in 1894 and, according to The Argus, found the resident “enveloped in steam and in the very thick of whisky distillation”.

Police believed the resident, a German named Carl Strohmeyer, was the principal illicit still maker in the city and said his set-up was “the most ingenious that has been brought under their notice”.

In 1915 they came to 50 Barkly Street to arrest 15-year-old Stanley Banbury for stealing a suit and a gold watch.

A year later, Banbury would be sentenced to a year’s hard labour for stealing postal articles.

In April 1927 — just a few months before the infamous Barkly Street shootout — police visited number 52 and found “an out-of-work Italian” lying on the floor of his bedroom with his throat severely cut.

The scrapheap of humanity

An historical photo of a row of houses in Carlton in the 1930s.

The Carlton of the 1920s and 1930s was a far cry from the Carlton of today.

The area around Barkly Street was home to a cross-section of immigrants and working-class poor, living in what was generally accepted as a slum.

In the early 1930s, social reformer F Oswald Barnett began documenting the area as part of his thesis, which would later be published as a booklet titled The Unsuspected Slums.

Barnett took dozens of photos to illustrate his argument that there were pockets in Melbourne that could rival the worst slums of London.

Barnett highlighted the density and poor quality of housing in Carlton, and the destructive effects of alcohol — particularly the notoriously potent “rot gut” — as he campaigned for the slums to be torn down.

One-sixth of the area’s men, he claimed, were “derelicts”. He described them as “degraded, drunken, abandoned, the scrapheap of humanity”.

The women, he wrote, were “slovenly” and “quite incompetent to look after children”.

Sepia-toned historical photo shows two mothers living in Calrton in the 1930s.

Barnett’s thesis — although criticised by some as overstating the slum issue — drew a considerable public response and prompted then-premier Sir Albert Dunstan to inspect the slums for himself.

Shocked by what he saw, the premier established the Slum Abolition Board, which would later recommend the establishment of the Housing Commission.

So, what happened to the house?

50 Barkly Street

Getting back to Mr Mack’s question, what happened to the house at 50 Barkly Street?

The Housing Commission began to clear out the slums in the late 1930s as part of the so-called “slum reclamation” project.

A block of units at 50 Barkly Street, Carlton as it is today.

Properties that were deemed “insanitary” were bought by the Government and knocked down.

The terrace houses in Barkly Street must have fit the bill, but somehow survived until the late 1960s, when they were demolished and a block of flats was built on the site.

Curious Melbourne spoke to one resident who had lived in the flats for 30 years and heard stories of the shootout many years before but decided they were “probably bullshit”.

A lane behind 50 Barkly Street, Carlton as it is today.

Today, the area around 50 Barkly Street is a sought-after location with a median house price well over $1 million.

If you take a walk through the lanes behind the buildings you can get a sense of what the area must have been like when Squizzy Taylor fled through them 90 years ago, mortally wounded and having just ended the life of Snowy Cutmore.

Who asked the question?

Lawrence Mack sits in front of his computer at a desk in his home.

Lawrence Mack lived in Melbourne for most of his life, before moving to Sydney some years ago.

He was always interested in Melbourne’s true crime history, particularly that involving notorious gangster Squizzy Taylor.

Lawrence wanted to know what happened to the house where Squizzy Taylor was shot by his rival Snowy Cutmore.

Do you have a question for Curious Melbourne?

Topics:

crime,

law-crime-and-justice,

history,

community-and-society,

carlton-3053,

melbourne-3000,

vic

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