June 2013

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Squizzy Taylor & Snowy Cutmore

As mobster murders tend to go, it lacked any vestige of glamour. A couple of violent thugs plugged each other in the back bedroom of a slum boarding house. They were both nasty pieces of work and there were more sighs of relief than tears of grief at their mutually inflicted demise.

But out of such unpromising material many a legend has sprung and the lurid light of melodrama has long flickered over the names of Squizzy Taylor and Snowy Cutmore.

The facts are pretty clear. Taylor was a runt, a thief and extortionist. Cutmore was a beefy bruiser, a hold-up man who once branded a reluctant prostitute with a hot iron. The two men were rivals in crime. Their gangs were engaged in open warfare. In short, there was bad blood between them. On 27 October 1927, Taylor and two of his henchmen went looking for Cutmore.

After an afternoon scouring the pubs of Carlton, Taylor found Cutmore at home in bed with a dose of influenza, tended to by his dear old mum. Cutmore, who had just returned to Melbourne to avoid a murder rap in Sydney, had a gun under his pillow. The confrontation was brief. Squizzy drew, bullets flew and Snowy died on the spot, nicking his mother’s shoulder with a stray shot in the process. Taylor fled, mortally wounded, and expired soon after in nearby St Vincent’s Hospital.

Taylor’s strutting prominence in the gang vendettas of the 1920s had made him a household name in Melbourne and his notoriety could not be allowed to go to waste. Two decades after his death, Frank Hardy inserted him into Power Without Glory, thinly masked as Snoopy Tanner, and falsely fingered him for the fatal shooting of a copper during a break-in at Trades Hall. By 1976, his life had become a radio opera, the title role sung by Colin Hay. In 1982, he was impersonated in a bio flick by sprightly hoofer David Atkins. The film got a thrashing but it is hard to keep a bad man down, and when the Underbelly franchise ran out of more recent criminality to dramatise, it was time to dust the cobwebs off Squizzy and Snowy and ride them around the block once again.

If nothing else, the imminent resurrection of the tale will provide a timely reminder to get your flu shots.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.


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