Lenny McPherson as informer

Video of former Assistant Police Commissioner Geoff Schuberg discussing raiding Lenny McPherson's home and recruiting him as an informer.
 

Who was Lenny McPherson?

During the 1974 Moffitt Royal Commission Lennie McPherson was described as ‘a vicious, powerful criminal who is so well entrenched in organised crime activity in New South Wales that he is often referred to in the media and by his associates as “Mr Big”’.1

Most of his early life was spent in and out of court and prison, but by the end of the 1950s his relationship as an ‘informer’ for the likes of Detective Sergeant Ray Kelly (p94) saw his fortunes change. ‘McPherson is the man who runs this state and has since 1957 to my knowledge’, fellow criminal Neddy Smith2 once wrote.3

McPherson emerged from the gang wars of the 1960s as a dominant player along with criminals such as George Freeman and Stan Smith. Together they controlled much of the vice operation in Sydney, supplying illegal gambling machines and running protection rackets.

In 1994, at the age of 73, McPherson was sentenced to a maximum four- year jail term for his role in organising the beating of a family business associate. He died in Cessnock Correctional Centre in 1996.

While working for the National Crime Authority - a federal organisation established in 1984 to investiagte orgainised crime across Australian states and territories (now the Australian Crime Commission) - Geoff Schuberg recruited Lenny McPherson as an informer.

 

 
3 mean standing with guns. Lennie is wearing longs pants and a top while the other two men are topless.
Lennie McPherson, Chicago identity Nick Giordano and Joseph Testa on a pig-hunting trip near Bourke, date unknown. Unknown photographer

 

 

Interview Transcript

Geoff Schuberg: We went out and searched Lenny McPherson’s place and um, we, we weren’t real sure what we expected to find. He had a huge safe in the place which he willingly opened up for us. But when we got there, he ah, he met us at the front door.

He lived out at Gladesville in Prince Edward Park Road. He had .. fascinating guy – he had bullet proof glass even on his wire screen door at the front. It was wire there, but there was bullet proof glass behind it, so, it really wasn’t a fly screen as such.

But he, he .. we went in, and everything was fine. I told him why we were there I said we were searching for any documentation or whatever that might be of assistance to the National Crime Authority. We had a proper warrant and everything else. He was quite co-operative. When we met him at the door, he was actually on the telephone at the time, he said ‘I’ll just hang up’ he went to this call and all I heard him say was ‘yep, yeah, I’ve got visitors, yeah, right’ hung up. And I thought ‘he’s just told someone that the coppers are here’. He was talking to Freeman actually, then Freeman’s rung Chris Murphy, and while we were at the premises, Chris Murphy has arrived. And he come in like a Bondi Tram - a hundred mile an hour. ‘Your not to talk to my client unless I’m present’ you know, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t touch this, don’t do that’ and I had a go at him. I, I virtually told him to ‘F**k off, and keep out of our way’. And ah, as soon as I did it I thought ‘oh, you silly bugger, he’s obviously got a tape recorder on him and he’ll probably make a complaint about the way that I’ve spoken to him’. And I thought ‘I don’t really need that sort of thing’.

But McPherson turned around to him and he said ‘Listen Chris’ he said ‘Go up the back yard and sit down’ he said ‘they’re not causing me any aggravation’ and he said ‘just keep your nose out of it, I’ll talk to you when I’m finished’. And Murphy, like a little kid, had to sort of go up and sit down and keep out of it. So that was Lenny. And, and he .. I think he appreciated the way we treated him and handled the thing on that particular night, we seized a lot of stuff which they went through at the National Crime Authority, there was really nothing there that was going to tie him in with anything.

But, at the time, he was petrified about the fact that his life was under threat from [name hidden]. And he got back to me and he said ‘look, I’ve got a few things that I want to talk to you about’.

He was, he was really in fear of [Same hidden name], he thought [Same hidden name] was going to kill him. And he got back to me and he said ‘look, I’d like to have a talk to you’ so, the deal at the National Crime Authority, where everything was sort of done by the book, was that I had to register him as an informant.

Don Stewart knew that, a lot of other people didn’t and during the time that McPherson was an informant of mine, ah, people had made allegations about an improper association I was having with Lenny McPherson. And Stewart stood by me a hundred per cent. He even spoke to politicians because they’d fed it to politicians and, and Don Stewart even spoke to them and said ‘just keep your noses out of it. I know what Schuberg’s doing every minute of the day, and he’s certainly not doing anything improper’.

But I saw McPherson fairly regularly and he, he did give us a lot of good information, there’s no doubt about that. But would never involve himself in anything. He would never go so far as to say ‘well, I actually did this or did that’. He talked a lot about people like not so much Ray Kelly, but Fred Krahe4. And the fact that Krahe was continually trying to blame him for every crime that was ever committed in Sydney. And, and there’s no doubt that the guy had so much information ah, to give, and that’s what I wanted from him. I wanted to get him into a position where, we could offer him something to get him to sit down and tell all.

And unfortunately ah, it just never happened. He did give us a lot. Um, he’d feed little bits and pieces to us, and I used to see him fairly regularly. If anything happened, ah, I could go and talk to him and he would find out things for me which we could use. Ah, so he was, he was quite valuable to the National Crime Authority.

like before Lenny McPherson died, he confided in me that he had given Flannery5 3 guns. And he didn’t know what Flannery wanted the guns for, but after Flannery got the guns, Michael Drury was shot in the kitchen of his home over on the north side, and Flannery returned two of those guns to McPherson. And, shortly after that, Flannery disappeared.

My take on that is, Flannery, like Stewart John Regan6 years ago, was an uncontrollable criminal, and ah, there was just a cleansing process that took place. He just disappeared off the face of the earth. His wife blamed police for involvement in it. I don’t think that’s true. I think ah, the people involved in organised crime in Sydney just saw him as a wild card, and he disappeared – where, I’ve got no idea.

 
 
 
 

Notes

  • 1. David Hickie, The Prince and the premier, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1985, p244.
  • 2. Neddy Smith was one of Sydney's most notorious criminals in the 1980s, who had strong connections with corrupt police. He is currently serving two life sentences for murder in the hospital of Long Bay Correctional Complex; he has advanced Parkinson’s disease.
  • 3. Neddy Smith, Catch and kill your own, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney, 1995, p9.
  • 4. Senior Detective in the NSW police who was allegedly involved in many serious crimes from murder to protection rackets.
  • 5. Chris Flannery, often referred to as Mr Rent-to-kill, was a Melbourne born criminal allegedly responsible for many high-profile murders in Sydney.
  • 6. Violent criminal who was gunned down in the early 70s. McPherson was alleged to have been one of those responsible for his death.

About the Author

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Tim Girling-Butcher
Head of Digital
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Tim has been working in the museums and gallery sector for more than twenty years across New Zealand and Australia.