True Australian crime stories from newspaper reports and historic crime records.
The Razor Gang Era
Tuesday 23rd November 1948:
The Razor Gang Era
Around midnight George Wallace drew his final breath. He lay on the floor of a Perth nightclub with several knife wounds. The man who had pioneered the use of the razor in Sydney's underworld had died as violently as he had lived.
The razor gang era in Sydney stretched from 1927 to 1932. Without doubt it was the most vicious period that city has ever known. Hospital casualty wards were regularly called on to treat people suffering from razor wounds to the face - usually extending in an 'L' shape from the ear, down the cheek and across the mouth.
fighting for profit
The savage wounds were inflicted during battles between rival gangs and criminals - fighting for profit and power in the narcotics, sly grog and prostitution rackets of the underworld. George Wallace, the leader of one of the most feared standover gangs in Kings Cross, was the greatest exponent of the razor. He was well aware that firearms led to murder charges and that the threat of a savage scar across the face was enough to make anybody do as he wished. He and his gang used the slashing technique to extort money from dope runners.
The idea of using the razor as a weapon quickly caught on and Sydney's darkened streets became a battlefield. Razor slashing became a popular method of operation used by independent standover men, thugs and others who wanted to wound without killing - even prostitutes used it, to ward off obstreperous clients.
Many of the drug runners carried weapons to protect themselves from the razor gangs. One drug runner who had been slashed by George Wallace down the cheek went looking for him after he had recovered. He found Wallace one night in a Kings Cross lane and thrust a revolver into his stomach, but the gun jammed. Wallace casually pulled out his razor and slashed the man's other cheek.
Also well known for their proficiency with the razor were Norman Bruhn, Snowy Cutmore and
Frank Green. All were to die violently.
Norman Bruhn was the first to die. He had heard of the profits to be made by extracting money from cocaine dealers, so he left his familiar Melbourne haunts to wield his razor in Kings Cross. On the cold wintry night of 22 June 1927 Bruhn walked down the darkened Charlotte Lane in Darlinghurst. He fell a few minutes later with five bullets in his body.
the first to die
Among the suspects for Bruhn's murder was the famed gunman Snowy Cutmore. It was rumoured he had been hired by the drug runners for protection - he too saw the advantage of the blade over the gun, and became highly proficient in its use. In 1927 he fell in a blaze of bullets during a battle with the master criminal, Squizzy Taylor, who was also shot dead im the affray.
The longest surviving 'big shot' of the razor gangs was Frank Green - not particularly affectionately dubbed 'The Little Gunman'. No Sydney criminal had more enemies than Green, but he outlived them all. Through the violence of the razor gang era he built up a reputation for controlled brutality, but didn't emerge unscathed. His face was deeply scarred from the innumerable battles he had fought. As the razor lost popularity he turned his hand to small-time gambling rackets and SP betting, leaving behind the violence of his early days. His death, though, was predictably brutal - he fell from knife wounds inflicted by his mistress after he had threatened her in a drunken rage.
The death of Green in 1956 reminded many of the brutal era of the razor gangs. Their reign of terror was unequalled in Sydney, and led one commentator to describe the Kings Cross area as 'the foulest plague spot of vice and criminal violence in Australia, a reeking scandal in the heart of the country's biggest city'.