ON THIS DAY – February 6, 1958
13 SOUTH WHARF, MELBOURNE
“This is yours, Freddie” was the last words the once-feared gunman and standover man, Freddie Harrison, heard before he was executed at 13 South Wharf, in Melbourne. The gunman, by all accounts, was well known to his victim. It has been said that just days earlier, the killer had been with Harrison on an interstate pig shooting expedition. The blast from the 12-gauge shotgun struck Harrison behind the right ear, removed an inch of spinal cord, and blew away his jaw. Not surprisingly, he died instantly. It was a professional killing, and had been a long time coming. Harrison had attracted many enemies over the years. Along with fellow pig shooter John Eric “Jack” Twist, Harrison had been a major force in Melbourne’s crime scene during the 1950s. He and Twist and their criminal cabal effectively controlled the Melbourne underworld. Harrison, nicknamed “The Frog”, was a violent and unpredictable presence. At his height, he was a man to be feared. In the late 1940s, he earned a considerable income providing protection for Melbourne’s illegal baccarat and two-up games. He also escorted the winners, flush with cash, from the game venue and out of harm’s way. In 1945, he was suspected of involvement in the shooting of Leslie “Scotland Yard” Walkerden, who two nights earlier had dished out a beating to Harrison. Walkerden was leaving a baccarat game when he found his car tyre was punctured. While bending down to change it, shots rang out, leaving Walkerden with an almost severed arm. His stomach had also been torn out. He died the following day. In 1947, Harrison’s reputation was sealed when he killed an underworld rival, unpleasant conman James Coates. Coates was shot four times from behind after being pursued from his car. He was cornered in a children’s playground in Windsor. No one was ever charged. Harrison figured in other attempted killings, and was described in police files as “trigger happy and suffering from a persecution complex”. In 1952, he and Twist successfully beat charges of robbing a jeweller of 1200 pounds in gold bars. But within criminal circles, Harrison was fast becoming a liability. He’d also made an enemy of Twist, a Victorian boxing champion, with an equally fearsome reputation for meting out violence to his rivals. The hostility would be played out during their pig-shooting expedition on February 3, 1958. The hunting party also included the influential Painter and Docker, Harold Nugent. Tempers frayed and more than words were exchanged between the hard men. It all came to a head when Harrison took on Nugent, pointing a shotgun at his stomach. Nugent pushed the gun away and simultaneously Harrison pulled the trigger, hitting Nugent. Harrison then turned the gun on Twist and fired again. The gun misfired and Twist took the gun from Harrison and broke it. Harrison sped off, leaving Twist to get Nugent to hospital with much of his right hand missing and pellet wounds in the stomach. Harrison was now on borrowed time. Three days later, Freddie got his from a 12-gauge shotgun fired by a lone gunman. The wharf was crowded at the time but nobody saw a thing. A youngster was apprehended by police soon after carrying a box of cartridges of the same calibre that killed Harrison. The young boy was Charlie Wootton, stepson of the wounded Harold Nugent. Not unexpectedly, Harrison’s execution wasn’t widely mourned. Newspaper reporters outnumbered the attendees at his funeral. Freddie had become an underworld liability. Police would never find his killer, and during the initial investigation, one of Melbourne’s leading newspaper police reporters, Geoff Clancy, alluded to the gunman’s identity. His story was accompanied by the headline: “New Twist to Harrison Murder”.