The Shadow Outwits Savvy Safebreakers

A routine stocktake leads to a new display that shines a light on the battle between NSW Police and the safebreaking fraternity.

A serendipitous discovery

For the portfolio curators at Sydney Living Museums (SLM) stocktaking is an annual ritual. We take time to examine and assess objects, ensuring they will be around for future generations to enjoy, and are pleasantly reminded of SLM’s remarkable collections and how lucky we are to work with them. During our last stocktake a giant wrench held at the Justice & Police Museum caught my attention but all I really knew was that it had been used by safebreakers. Further investigation uncovered a surprising new story that led me on the road to a new display, Breakers: the Dying Art of Safe Breaking.

The Shadow

The museum register entry identified the wrench as part of a safe-breaking kit used by Giovanni Lucci and his gang, who broke into the Union Bank on Castlereagh Street on 1 August 1926. They were caught attempting to enter the strongroom. This case was one of many investigated by legendary undercover officer Frank ‘the Shadow’ Fahy.

Joining the NSW Police Force in 1921, Fahy was almost immediately assigned to undercover work, tracking villains and reporting back to senior police. His identity was kept secret from his colleagues, who unwittingly arrested Fahy on several occasions.

In 1926, after a spate of successful safe robberies, senior police officers decided to make use of the Shadow’s surveillance skills to see if he could find the criminals responsible. There was one lead – a piece of cloth left at a crime scene had been proven to be sold only in Italy. The Shadow zeroed in on a group of Italians led by engineer Giovanni Lucci. He tracked the gang to a small factory where they were shaping and tempering metal tools.

Dressed in shabby clothes, ‘vagrant’ Fahy hung around the factory for days, looking for clues. He eventually discovered a gang member had hired an office right above the Union Bank and he informed detectives to be on the lookout. When police conducted a night-time raid they found a hole cut in the office floor and the gang in the bank below. The safebreakers were promptly arrested. The Shadow’s role was hushed up to preserve his anonymity.

This is just one of the intriguing stories told in the display Breakers: The Dying Art of Safe Breaking, which opens alongside Notorious Criminals: A Snapshot of Sinister Sydney at the Justice & Police Museum on 18 October 2014.

 

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About the Author

Sydney Living Museums Image
Nerida Campbell
Curator
Justice & Police Museum, Museum of Sydney, Susannah Place Museum
Nerida’s passion for history was influenced by childhood holidays spent at her grandmother’s farm, happily rifling through chests...
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