Raymond Patrick Chuck Bennett
ONE of the most dashing crooks of his generation, the armed robber and gunman was born Ray Chuck.
Smart and personable, he was a member of the famed “Kangaroo Gang” in Europe and famously planned the Great Bookie Robbery of April 1976 while in jail in Britain.
After pulling the then massive $1.4million robbery with a handpicked gang, Bennett and his accomplices were hunted by rival gangsters, including the Kane brothers, Brian and Les.
As tension mounted, Les Kane hid with his family in Wantirna but was shot dead in a pre-emptive strike in 1978 by Chuck Bennett, Vincent Mikkleson and Laurence Prendergast, who were charged with Les’s murder. In the absence of a body, they walked. .
A gunman – believed to be Brian Kane – shot Bennett dead in the Melbourne Magistrates Court in late 1979, almost certainly with the help of bent cops.
Murdered: November 1978
Bennett was the man behind the “Great Bookie Robbery” of April 21, 1976. The crime netted him almost $3 million and made him the envy of the underworld. Bennett was shot at close range as he was being transferred from a holding cell to the Magistrates Court. The gunman escaped in the ensuing chaos.
Bennett, Raymond – The Criminal Mastermind
Raymond Bennett was many things – a thief, a killer, a violent standover man, a Painter & Docker, a charismatic charmer and definitely a Tough Nut. Bennett’s criminal associations run over a space of 30 of the most dangerous and deadly years in the history of the Australian underworld, and his reputation speaks for itself. Bennett was respected highly by all he worked with or came up against. Bennett’s command of respect extended to police as well. Brian Murphy was one of Victoria’s Toughest cops in the 1970’s, regularly facing off with Melbourne’s criminal elite. One incident stuck with him however; his encounter with Ray ‘Chuck’ Bennett in a Melbourne pub one evening. Two men on either side of the law stood off and while no-one was injured, Murphy would later go on to say that he was lucky to walk out of the pub alive that night, and that in all his years of policing the only man he ever feared was Raymond Bennett.
Ray Bennett’s life will probably be remembered for two main reasons: the now infamous AJC Club Robbery in 1976, and his dramatic and controversial slaying in front of a Melbourne courthouse. The two incidents are etched into Australian criminal folklore, and are undoubtedly linked as part of the complex and intriguing fabric that made up Bennett’s life.
Evolution of a Tough Nut
Ray Bennett cut his teeth in the criminal world as part of the Painters & Dockers Union in the 1950’s. Bennett was involved early on with a practice called ‘ghosting’ – fabricating timesheets for such notable underworld figures as Freddy ‘The Frog’ Harrison, allowing criminals to receive a steady pay check without actually doing any work. This entry-level role put Bennett in touch with all the contacts he would need for a career on the wrong side of the law.
Bennett migrated to England in the 1960’s, having graduated to become a rather skilled and organised burglar. His reputation preceded him in the mother-country, and upon his arrival he was approached by the ‘Kangaroo Gang’; a group of Aussie ex-pats who run an organised crime and theft syndicate. Bennett declines their advances however, preferring to work alone. After spending a brief spell in an English prison for armed robbery, Bennett returns home to Australia to plan his greatest criminal accomplishment.
Ray Bennett had enjoyed a comfortable career as a burglar, but in 1976 he decided to aim a little bit higher than previous ventures. Despite already being known as the thief who would take on jobs others would never dream of, Bennett set his sights on the Victoria Club, home of the AJC (Australian Jockey Club). Bennett knew he would most likely need help with a job this large, so recruited a team of six, himself included. Some names of note involved include Ian Carroll, Laurence Prendergast, Brian and Leslie Kane and Norman Lee. The gang would target the club so that their break-in would occur just after the bookies had met to settle up with the AJC for the weekend’s trade. The six broke into the offices of the AJC and were staggered by the amount of money they found. Different figures have been thrown around, but it is widely thought that the gang were able to steal anywhere between $14 million and $16 million – an absolutely mammoth sum for 1976; the biggest robbery in Australian History at the time. The real reason that the true figure has never been confirmed is that when it came time for the AJC to admit to police they had been robbed, they quoted the missing figure as only $1 million as they feared that claiming a larger amount would attract unwanted scrutiny from the tax office – an indictment on the operations of the AJC in itself. As was Bennett’s meticulous way, the extraction of the cash had been ingeniously thought out. The thieves had rented an office just a few floors above the AJC offices just weeks before the robbery, and they transported their loot to a safe in this office immediately after removing it from the crime scene. However, at the same time, other members of the gang were downstairs loading decoy bags into a van which then made a swift getaway in public view. The money has never been recovered, and none of the gang of six has ever been convicted of the crime.
Out of the woodwork
The ‘Great Bookie Robbery’ as it has since been called was truly a stellar theft, and sent massive shockwaves through the Australian criminal community. It would appear to the layman that after having such a payday, a crook like Ray Bennett would not have another worry for the rest of his days – quite untrue. Just because Bennett was never charged or convicted of the theft doesn’t mean no-one knew he was responsible; on both sides of the law. Ray Bennett’s life was from this point on a constant struggle to fend off a barrage of wannabe standover men and wised-up crooked cops always wanting to claim a piece of the AJC pie.
Ray Bennett would eventually tire of being ripped off and his reaction drove him to murder. Les Kane, rumoured to be one of the gang involved in the AJC robbery was a violent standover man. After continuing to exert pressure on Bennett to pay up in 1978, Les Kane found himself staring down the barrel of three silenced machine guns. Ray Bennett and two other masked men entered Kane’s home while the standover man and his wife and family were out for the evening. Hiding in the bathroom, they revealed themselves upon the family’s arrival home and dragged Kane into the shower stall where he was filled with bullets by the assassins. Kane’s wife and family were only metres away in the living room, but could do nothing as the killers dragged Les Kane’s body outside. Bennett and his associates loaded the body into the boot of Kane’s pink Ford Futura and drove away – the car or body has never been discovered. Ray Chuck Bennett, Vincent Mikkleson and Laurence Prendergast were charged with Les’s murder. But in the absence of a body, they walked.
Safe in custody
The killing of Les Kane would eventually come back to haunt Ray Bennett however. It was widely known in the Melbourne underworld that Ray had killed Les Kane, and it was just as widely known that Brian Kane, Les’ brother, was now gunning for Ray Bennett. It is possibly for this reason that when Ray was arrested in 1979 for a rather insignificant charge relating to a bank robbery in western Melbourne, he doesn’t apply for bail. Ray Bennett believes he will be safer in police custody than out on the streets, and he is right – up to a point. It is while he is being led from the police lockup to a Melbourne courthouse, on foot and in handcuffs that a moustached and bearded figure dressed in a suit like a lawyer steps out of the media throng surrounding Ray Bennett and fires a number of shots into the burglar’s hand and chest. Bennett tries to escape, attempting to flee custody, but is fatally wounded, and collapses on the courthouse steps where he dies a short time later. Immediately the finger was pointed at Brian Kane as a revenge killing for the death of his brother, but circumstantial evidence later suggests a conspiracy to kill Ray Bennett which spreads much wider than just Kane himself – even senior members of the Victorian Police are implicated. Despite this, no one has ever been brought to justice for Ray Bennett’s killing.