Notorious gangster Neddy Smith has died in jail after spending most of his adult life behind bars.
Smith, whose crimes spawned an award-winning television series and made him at one time the most infamous crook in the country, took his final breath in Sydney’s Long Bay jail on Wednesday.
He was 76 years old.
His death after struggling with Parkinson’s disease for decades leaves only a few of the major participants in Sydney’s 1980s gangland wars still alive.
At his physical peak Smith was a frightening figure, standing about 198cm (6’6″) tall but the once fearsome street fighter had in recent years become a shuffling wreck.
Smith’s last and longest stretch in prison spanned more than 30 years as he served sentences for two 1980s murders he always denied committing.
He spent a further decade behind bars during three stints in the 1960s and 1970s. Now after more than 40 years in custody his time is finally up.
A complex chapter in the annals of Australian criminal history has closed with the death of notorious gangster Neddy Smith (pictured with daughter Jaime)
Smith, whose crimes spawned an award-winning television series and made him the most infamous crook in Australia, was serving life for murder. Smith (left) is pictured with ex-wife Debra and brothel keeper Harvey Jones, who he was convicted of having murdered in 1983
Smith was a major heroin distributor in Sydney when the city’s streets were awash with that drug. He once claimed to be a cash millionaire. While dealing narcotics he was also pulling off brazen armed robberies worth hundreds of thousands of dollars
Most of Smith’s criminal contemporaries of the 1970s and 1980s died before him. In the 1990s he was charged with sending seven of them to their graves.
Smith, who once claimed to be a cash millionaire, was a major heroin distributor in Sydney when the city’s streets were awash with that deadly drug.
He once told a judge he had never met a heroin addict while he was dealing the stuff and claimed not to know how to steal a car.
While selling massive amounts of narcotics Smith and a series of partners also pulled off brazen armed robberies worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time.
His legacy is more complicated than that of a typical career criminal. The man who wreaked havoc across Sydney as a young thug also helped reform the New South Wales Police Force from inside jail.
In the early 1990s Smith agreed to give evidence at an ICAC hearing into the then complicated relationships between Sydney’s cops and criminals.
Smith’s revelations at the ICAC inquiry damaged the reputations of several NSW detectives he claimed had given him the ‘green light’ to commit major crimes.
Smith (right, with former partner in crime Graham ‘Abo’ Henry) had been in prison for more than 30 years, serving sentences for two 1980s murders he has always denied committing. He spent a further decade behind bars during three stints in the 1960s and 1970s
Tony Martin (left) as Neddy Smith and Peter Phelps as Graham Henry in Blue Murder. In this scene the pair tears up the Broadway Hotel in Sydney during a vicious Anzac Day pub brawl
Some of those allegations were examined again in the mid 1990s during the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption which Smith also assisted but in a less public way.
His long relationship with the disgraced detective sergeant Roger Rogerson helped bring both men down and was depicted in the award-winning television series Blue Murder.
[Smith loudly complained that the actor who played him in Blue Murder, Tony Martin, was too short. Rogerson, portrayed by Richard Roxburgh, was annoyed he was shown smoking].
Smith maintained Rogerson had been his silent partner in armed robberies and other crimes; Rogerson insisted Smith was simply a valuable informer.
It was Smith who in 1981 drove drug dealer Warren Lanfranchi to an appointment with Rogerson at which the policeman shot Lanfranchi dead.
Rogerson, now 80, is serving a life sentence in Long Bay for the 2014 murder of 20-year-old student and wannabe drug dealer Jamie Gao.
Smith was a major heroin distributor in Sydney when the city’s streets were awash with that drug. At the same time he was pulling off brazen armed robberies which netted him millions more dollars
Neddy Smith and Graham Henry, who is alive but retired from crime, were a formidable team, reaping millions of dollars between them out of heroin distribution and payroll robberies. Henry (far right) is pictured at the 2019 funeral of their friend Henry Charles ‘Danny’ Landini
Smith’s final downfall began in October 1987 when he and another criminal killed tow truck diver Ronald Flavell during a road rage incident at Coogee.
He was granted bail but in December the next year was arrested with two others outside Botany Council preparing to snatch its Christmas payroll drop.
With Rogerson by then out of the force and his other police friends no longer able to help him, Smith was refused bail and spent the rest of his life in jail.
While in custody Smith was charged with the 1980s murders of drug dealers Danny Chubb, Barry McCann, Barry Croft, Bruce Sandery and Lewton Shu.
He was also accused of murdering brothel keeper Harvey Jones and prostitute turned police informer Sallie-Anne Huckstepp, who had been Warren Lanfranchi’s girlfriend.
While on trial for Jones and Huckstepp’s murders Smith would sign copies of Neddy for court staff and journalists with the inscription ‘Walk tall and f*** ’em all.’
Smith was convicted of the Jones murder and acquitted of killing Huckstepp after the Chubb, McCann, Croft and Sandery cases were dismissed at committal. The Shu case was no-billed.
Former detective and onetime Olympic rower Murray Riley (pictured standing) helped give Smith (left) a start in the heroin trade in the mid 1970s. Riley continued to suggest various money-making schemes to Smith in later years, most of which never paid off
Those charges were based on supposed confessions Smith made to a junkie cellmate dubbed Mr Brown who Smith claimed had been set by police to keep him locked up.
Smith maintained he was simply ‘talking s***’ to the informer Mr Brown but tapes of their conversations helped convince a jury he had murdered Jones.
Jones’s body was found in 1995 buried on Foreshore Drive at Botany, 13 years after his disappearance, in sand hills long suspected of being Smith’s own killing field.
Mr Brown said in evidence: ‘He told me that Jones was crying and he said, “I’d die for you, Ned”, and Ned said, “Well, you’re about to, ya c***”.
“Ned told me then that, “I blew his heart out with a big 357”.’
For Jones’s murder Smith was jailed for life in 1998 without the possibility of parole.
While in prison Smith penned two popular books. There was an autobiography written with Tom Noble called Neddy: The Life and Crimes of Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith and Catch and Kill Your Own, which detailed unsolved gangland murders.
Smith was played by Tony Martin (pictured) in the ABC television series Blue Murder. The show screened in most Australian states in 1995 but was banned for years in NSW while Smith’s murder charges moved through the courts. Smith said Martin was too short to play him
Among the murders described in the latter book was that of Brian Alexander, who Smith was depicted in Blue Murder throwing off a boat while the law clerk was chained to an Early Kooka stove.
Smith was never charged with killing Alexander. The murders of Chubb, McCann, Croft, Sandery, Shu and Huckstepp all technically remain unsolved.
He was also a suspect in the murder of model and cocaine dealer Mark Johnston, who disappeared in 1986 and whose remains were found in 2007 not far from those of Jones.
Arthur Stanley Smith was born in Sydney near the end of World War II. His father was an American serviceman he never got to know.
Smith grew up in Redfern, briefly attended the nearby Cleveland Street Boys High School and had been known since childhood to friends and family as Ned.
Young Ned took to crime early and spent stints being brutalised in boys’ homes before graduating to adult prisons including the infamous intractable section at Grafton.
Smith married Debra Bell in Long Bay jail in 1980 (pictured) and the couple had three children. They eventually divorced but Debra has remained a loyal ex-wife. She has previously said she was horrified to learn her husband was a drug dealer
While working as a medical orderly at Parramatta in 1974, Smith saved the life of prison officer Willy Faber after he was bashed with a hammer during an attempted escape by armed robber Ray Denning and others.
Smith’s good deed did not win him any friends among his fellow inmates. Faber died more than a year later from his injuries.
When at large Smith was prone to occasional extreme acts of violence – particularly when drunk – but could be charming company, even in his terrifying prime.
In his heyday he socialised publicly with senior police, judges, prominent businessmen and well-known entertainment figures.
Smith married Debra Bell in Long Bay jail in 1980 and the couple had three children. He had several other children from previous relationships and he and Debra eventually divorced but she remained a loyal ex-wife.
Debra, who has been writing a book about her life with Smith, has previously said she was horrified to learn her husband was a drug dealer.
‘There were the good sides and the funny sides as well as the bad sides of Ned and no one knows the real Ned like me and our children and he has never kept the truth from them,’ she has said.
‘I’m not about to say that Ned was the devoted father or husband, or that he was innocent of all crimes.’
Smith was a intimidating presence in his prime but could be charming company. In his heyday he socialised publicly with senior police, judges, prominent businessmen and well-known entertainment figures
‘As funny as it may seem, Ned has always been as honest as he can.’
Smith had been a huge drinker in his day, downing at least 30 middies in a typical session before switching to Jack Daniels. Keeping pace was fellow armed robber and drug dealer Graham ‘Abo’ Henry.
That pair and their companions could regularly be found in inner-city pubs such as Alexandria’s Iron Duke and Star hotels, the Captain Cook at Millers Point and Chinatown’s Covent Garden.
Smith and Henry – who is alive and retired from crime – were a formidable team, reaping millions of dollars between them out of heroin distribution and payroll robberies.
The pair later fell out and Henry wrote disparagingly of Smith in his own memoir Abo: A Treacherous Life.
Smith was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1981 and his health has been deteriorating ever since.
It was reported more than 15 years ago his paralysis from Parkinson’s was so advanced he could not write, climb stairs or brush his teeth without an electric toothbrush.
Smith’s long relationship with the since disgraced detective sergeant Roger Rogerson caused both men ongoing difficulties and was portrayed in the award-winning television series Blue Murder. Rogerson (left) is serving life for the murder of 20-year-old drug dealer Jamie Gao
In recent years he had been confined to a wheelchair or hospital bed and suffered from dementia. Sometimes he did not recognise his ex-wife.
A fanciful media report in 2017 stated Smith had tried to escape from Prince of Wales Hospital, a claim mocked by those familiar with his physical state.
‘He’s in a wheelchair,’ Debra Smith told Daily Mail Australia at the time. ‘So how’s he going to escape?
‘He can hardly stand up. He can’t even walk, let alone run. If he was going to escape they’d have to have an electric scooter to get him to the car park.
‘I don’t think he’s got any more friends out there anyway. It’s bull****.’
Smith was taken back Prince of Wales Hospital In October 2019 to be treated for an infection and his condition rapidly deteriorated.
Doctors were unsure of the exact nature of his illness but it appeared then he was in the last stages of Parkinson’s disease and had given up on life.
He was having trouble breathing and refused to take medication. ‘He’s just over it,’ a prison source said a the time.
‘It’s been more than 30 years. He’s just given up. He’s not going to last the rest of the week. He won’t get back to the jail.
‘It’s just a waiting game now.’
Debra Smith (above with Smith and daughter Jaime) was horrified to learn he was a drug dealer. ‘But there were the good sides and the funny sides as well as the bad sides of Ned and no one knows the real Ned like me and our children and he has never kept the truth from them’