Publish only after the crooks we’ve exposed have turned to dust
by Clayton Wehner - September 9th, 2012
‘Mike, a lot, sometimes rot, has been written about me. Please hold this, my real story, to edit and present to a new generation, after I and the crooks we’ve exposed have turned to dust’ – Darcy Dugan to Michael Tatlow
Bloodhouse is the extraordinary and brutally honest story of career criminal Darcy Dugan (1920-91), who became famous for his uncanny ability to escape custody.
So good was he at his craft that Dugan came to be known as ‘Houdini’ by the Sydney press.
In all, Dugan escaped from prison six times (and almost escaped a further 5 times), in situations where no man was ever expected to escape. On one occasion he went through the roof of Long Bay Jail in Sydney and escaped over the outer wall, only 30 metres away from an armed guard, and only 25 minutes after being incarcerated.
On another occasion he sawed a hole in a moving prison tram to escape. After yet another escape, Dugan reportedly left behind a note scrawled on the wall of his cell which read, “Gone to Gowings”, a department store of the time. Dugan’s escapades proved to be great fodder for journalists and sub-editors and his deeds were often carried on the front pages of Sydney’s newspapers.
The title of the book, Bloodhouse, is the nickname of the notorious prison at Grafton in the north of New South Wales. Grafton Jail was renowned for its brutality and was the home of the most ruthless and unwieldy prisoners, dubbed ‘intractables’ by the state. Despite never committing murder, Dugan spent a record of eleven years of torture in the Bloodhouse. Ironically, the New South Wales Government announced earlier this year that Grafton would close, despite protestations from employees and the local community.
Dugan’s story has only now been published after he secured a guarantee from former Daily Telegraph journalist Michael Tatlow to release the book only once he and his enemies had passed away. Dugan had smuggled his manuscript out of prison to Tatlow on the express promise that the book not be published until corrupt enemies, among them Sydney’s Mr Big of Crime Lennie Macpherson, had ‘turned to dust’.
McPherson once held a gun to Tatlow’s head warning him never to reveal what Dugan had told him about corruption in the New South Wales police force and state government. McPherson’s cronies also made several failed attempts to find and destroy the biographical manuscript, which was safely locked away in a bank safe deposit box.
The corruption that Dugan was privy to centred around McPherson’s links to the notorious Sydney detectives Fred Krahe and Ray ‘Gunner’ Kelly; links that rose as high as the New South Wales premier of the time, Bob Askin. McPherson betrayed Dugan to police on numerous occasions to get him behind bars, and then conspired to keep him in custody to stop his public accusations of high-level corruption – corruption that was later proven in royal commissions. Betrayals of Dugan and convictions for crimes he did not commit added 17 years to his prison terms.
Perhaps the most costly betrayal occurred when police informed newspaper baron Sir Frank Packer that Dugan planned to kidnap his grandchildren, James and Gretel Packer, and that Michael Tatlow, a Packer employee, was aware of the plot. Packer believed the tip off and sacked Tatlow. With Tatlow’s sacking went The Daily Telegraph’s public support for Dugan’s plight, which had until that time been championed in the paper.
An exponent of countless hold-ups, Dugan deserved much of what he got – and he admits as much in his book – but he was not deserving of the extra jail time that he was forced to serve as a result of betrayals by his corrupt contacts, nor the beastly treatment that he endured at the hands of prison guards.
What fascinates me about criminals like Dugan are the contradictions, the polar extremes of their personalities and the internal struggle between good and evil – Dugan was willing to bear arms against innocents in his many robberies, he made plans to kill prison guards in cold blood, and he was uncompromising in inflicting harm upon challengers in prison, yet he demonstrated a ‘soft’ side that saw him speak with great tenderness and yearning about loved ones and his ailing father. The book also details instances where he gave up his own time to teach a young child how to swim; he provided literacy lessons to fellow prisoners; he worked as a counsellor at a chapel upon his release; and he showered generosity upon Tatlow’s children.
Dugan was, at his core, a good person, but was mired by a childhood of petty crime, that escalated into armed robbery and a life behind bars. When he earned his freedom and was serious about going ‘straight’, circumstances and corruption conspired against him to send him back to prison.
This is an excellent read and highly recommended for true crime buffs and historians alike.
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