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The Hay Street Heist Part One: The Killing of Edgar Arthur Whitfield

26 May 2018

Matthew Walsh, a twenty-three-year-old barman; Stanley Thomas Flynn, a twenty-year-old labourer; and ‘Brickey’ Cyril Brennan, a twenty-six-year-old electrician, would meet at the Savoy Billiards Room to pool together their stolen goods. The local fence, Charlie Silverman, a forty-four-year-old tailor, would buy from them in bulk for his clients all over Australia. As petty thieves, the three men were mildly successful, but very ambitious. At Savoy’s Billiards Room they were discussing the multiple robberies of the Warner’s Jewellery Store in the Royal Arcade when Silverman approached them. He told them his buyer was no longer interested in small time jobs. If he was to continue fencing their goods, then they had better come up with more, a lot more.

The men were cat burglars. They dealt in small time jewellery robberies from residential houses and small businesses. As far as they knew, that was as big as the game got in Perth.

“Wait a week and I’ll look into a certain place on Hay Street. You’ll know the place, it’s the one with the new window. Go down and have a look, see what you think. I think you’ll like it.” Silverman grinned at them.

Walsh replied, “I don’t think you’ll get a man in Western Australia to take it, there is between £11,000 and £12,000 (over $1,000,000 today) worth there.”

“Well, I’ll go and see if he’ll be prepared to pay for it then.”

Four days later, Silverman met Walsh alone at Savoys Billiards room. “What would you be prepared to take for what is in the windows?” Silverman said.

“£1800 – £1900 I would think.”

“So where do I come in then?” Silverman asked.

“You leave that to me. You’ve never been left out of it yet; you’ve always got your share of it.”

Walsh always felt rage welling up inside him when Silverman would question him. His temper was volatile and it made Silverman back off. They made their deal and Silverman left Savoys to make the necessary arrangements

Walsh then approached Brickie Brennan and Flynn, told them the details, and the three men began scoping out the Caris Brothers Jewellery Store on Hay Street. They would meet at Savoys every other night to discuss possible ways of breaking in, and then walk down to Caris Bros to observe the building, look for patterns and gather information. They noticed the shop closed up at 6pm, but usually workers would stay back late. They also noticed that behind the tall fence, there was a balcony with a light that stayed on till 11:30 every night.

The men concluded there must be a night watchman, and Walsh told Silverman to find out who they were up against. Two days later, Silverman came back with the good news, the night watchman was a little old man — 5’9”, 57kg, sixty year old, Edgar Arthur Whitfield.

“I’ll get a gun,” said Walsh.

Brennan objected, “No, what if you shoot the old man?”

Walsh smirked at him “No need to worry about that, I won’t load it.”

“But what it he sings out? Wouldn’t it be a better idea to get him and tie him up?”

“I could stop him from talking quick.” Flynn agreed with Brennan.

After some discussion, all three agreed that tying him up was the best solution. On the night of the 5th February, Walsh and Flynn met out the front of Caris Brothers at 7:45pm, but Brennan was nowhere to be seen. As the spotter, they believed he had been spooked by police or suspicious onlookers, so they went back to the Savoy Billiards Room and sat on the footboard of a car to smoke and drink with other men out the front. At 8:45, Brennan showed up at the Billiards club. He had decided to get a milkshake before the heist and had lost track of the time. Walsh was furious with him. He told Brennan he’d blown it, that it was too late for the heist and that they would have to come back another night. Brennan and Flynn, however, saw no reason to call off the heist and argued the case with Walsh that it was best to just “get it over with”. Walsh wanted to call it off, but Brennan and Flynn pressed the matter and convinced him to get on board. So, at 10:10 pm, they walked back to Caris Brothers Jewellers and made their preparations.

For Edgar Arthur Whitfield, the night of the 5th February started out like any other. He locked the doors and began to clean the jewellery store. At 9:30, he let out his two friends, Charles Utley and Leonard Buchols — two watchmakers who were finishing off a ladies wristlet watch. After letting them out through the side door, Whitfield returned to his bedroom.

For seven years, Whitfield had been doing the same thing each night. He would refresh his shaving towel to keep his neck cool, collect his revolver, put on his gloves so he didn’t mark the highly polished jewellery, carefully put each piece into its corresponding cushion, and place those cushions into the safe. But Whitfield would not make it out of his bedroom to collect the jewels.

Image courtesy of State Library WA

Walsh walked around the back of the store and into the alley, he climbed over the high, locked gate, stacked some boxes up, and climbed the rail outside of Whitfield’s bedroom. He then gave the signal for Flynn to come, and the pair entered the open window and laid wait in the room. When Whitfield walked back into his room to collect his gloves, gun and towel, the pair jumped him. Walsh put his hand over Whitfield’s mouth and told him to keep quiet. Whitfield bit Walsh’s finger who then grabbed him by the throat. Whitfield pleaded with the men not to hurt him. As Walsh stood over the small man holding him by the throat, Whitfield whimpered “please, please do not hurt me. I will do what you want”.For seven years, Whitfield had been doing the same thing each night. He would refresh his shaving towel to keep his neck cool, collect his revolver, put on his gloves so he didn’t mark the highly polished jewellery, carefully put each piece into its corresponding cushion, and place those cushions into the safe. But Whitfield would not make it out of his bedroom to collect the jewels.

Walsh held Whitfield down and Flynn began beating him. He punched him so hard in the jaw that, after the third punch, his jaw was broken in two places —it was so badly broken that the first officers to arrive on scene would report it as a gunshot wound. With a blunt object, Walsh then repeatedly bludgeoned Whitfield, opening the top of his head, and then smashed him into the mirror above his dressing table. When this did not subdue Whitfield who was in a full blown panic, Walsh put him in a fronton headlock. Walsh being a third his age, and double his weight, easily over powered Whitfield and snapped his neck in the scuffle, severing his spinal cord.

Walsh and Flynn left Whitfield bleeding out and unconscious on the floor. Unsure if he was still alive, Walsh went from window to window and removed £5000 ($477,770) worth of diamonds and other precious stones from the window displays, and put them into cardboard boxes. The two then went their separate ways. Flynn ran to the corner of Milligan and Murray Street to seek shelter in the Milligan Hotel where his mistress, Pearl Waters, had a room. Walsh went home and, on February 8th, boarded the HMAS Westralia, bound for Melbourne.

Courtesy of State Library WA 102288PD

At 10:55, Constable Wilson of the Central Police Station received an anonymous tip off “I just passed Caris Bro’s and heard a crash inside. I think there is some doing in there.”

“Who is this and where are you from?” asked Wilson.

“It’s Weekie, North Perth.” And the caller hung up.

Constable Wilson alerted Constable Lamb of the wireless patrol unit, who was onsite at the Caris Brothers store in minutes. At the rear of the building, he saw some boxes stacked on one another and an open window. He climbed up on them and, as he looked into the window, he saw the old night watchman’s empty bed and a man lying face down in a pool of blood, surrounded by pieces of smashed mirror glass, with his head battered in, and what he thought was a gunshot wound to his mouth.

The managing director, George Ledger, arrived shortly after the police and found his old friend brutally murdered and £5000 worth of jewellery missing.

The reward prompted John Patrick McGovern and Afghan night patrolman, Dost Mahomet, to come forward. They claimed to have seen something ‘curious’ in the window of Caris Brothers at around 10:24 pm. They claimed that the man who was emptying the store’s window displays was wearing a loose, long sleeved button down shirt and no gloves, and rather than packing the jewels into their protective cases, he was putting them into cardboard boxes.The nature of the murder, and the scope of the crime, shocked the nation. Police were unsuccessful in making any arrests, and it was believed that the criminals had fled the state. The insurers, Benni S. Cohen and Son Ltd., on behalf of Caris Brothers, offered a £500 reward for information that would lead to the recovery of the jewellery and/or the capture and conviction of the thieves responsible.

Detectives working the case supplied every pawn broker in the state, and then every metropolitan pawn broker in the country, with a list of the missing 164 items. Pickets were stationed at Fremantle harbour, with special scrutiny being placed on the HMAS Westralia, and officers were instructed to thoroughly search every outbound, and inbound ship. Interstate, police were asked to inspect each and every train, and every passenger on every train that passed through their stations.

By Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12344963

As the police search continued to turn up no results, the premier, Phillip Collier, offered an extra £500 on behalf of the state to catch the murderers, but nothing showed up in Western Australia for months.

Part Two – Coming Soon…..