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They used to call him 'The Magician'. It was an apt title: people closely associated with Stewart John Regan had an unfortunate habit of disappearing - permanently, without trace.
Until his death in 1974 Regan was one of the leaders of the Sydney underworld. He was involved in prostitution rackets, shady real estate dealings, illegal gambling and various murders. He engendered fear in all those who knew him, and for good reason. Regan's methods were ruthless; anyone who stood in his way was eliminated. He was strong and fit, and frequently used violence as a means of clawing his way to the top. Few could question his claim to rule the Kings Cross area.
Between 1971 and 1972 the Sydney underworld was in turmoil as rival gangs fought for a share of the $500,000 Mayne Nickless robbery. Kevin Gore, a member of the 'Toe-Cutters' gang, was reported to have disappeared at this time. He was last seen with Regan.
Another member of the gang had disappeared a few days earlier. Police believe their bodies were weighted and dumped at sea, in a manner similar to that employed by the 'Toe-Cutters' themselves. Undoubtedly Regan knew more about the disappearances than he cared to tell police.
Then, in May 1974, Regan made what may have been his first fatal mistake. He was babysitting for his girlfriend, Helen Scott-Huie. Mysteriously, her three-year-old son Karlos disappeared. Regan told police that at 4 a.m. on 22 May he had driven into Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, to buy a newspaper. He left the car in Flinders Street, with Karlos asleep inside. When he returned Karlos was gone. Police and members of the underworld suspected that Regan himself had killed Karlos, but nothing could be proven.
Regan turned the disappearance into a grim practical joke. Shortly before he died he buried some bones in a Woolloomooloo house. The whisperings that they may have been the bones of young Karlos brought immediate police response. Regan, however, did not live to revel in his morbid game.
Regan's biggest blunder was the shooting of SP bookie 'Ratty' Jack dark. dark was having a quiet drink with a few friends when a .38 calibre bullet from a Smith and Wesson smashed through a window and penetrated his skull. The shock waves from Ratty Jack's death sounded throughout Sydney's underworld, where he had friends in high places: though he also had many enemies, he was not a man to be touched - except by somebody with a death wish.
The feud between Regan and dark had been brewing for some months, dark had a short time before his death spat in Regan's face, calling him a child murderer. People had been saying things of this nature behind Regan's back ever since Karlos disappeared, but only dark was game enough to say it to his face. It proved to be a fatal outburst, for on 23 August 1974 dark fell slowly from his bar stool with a bullet in his head. One month later Regan was to die, at the age of twenty-nine, in a hail of gunfire.
Most criminals agreed that Regan was 'executed' for the shooting of Ratty Jack, though there were also rumours that his death was connected to his attempt to gain control of gambling clubs in Sydney's midwestern suburbs and inner city areas.
In the afternoon of 22 September 1974 Regan left his home without the protection of his bulletproof vest. At 6.50 p.m. police responded to a report of shots being fired in Chapel Street, Marrickville. They arrived to find Regan lying in a pool of blood, still alive but incapable of speech.
The coroner's inquiry found that Regan died from bullet wounds to the head, chest and liver. At least six shots had been fired, from three different .38 calibre revolvers, discharged at a distance of between three and six inches. The whole affair smacked of carelessness on Regan's part, and a well-planned setup on the part of his unknown assailants.
There were so many people with a motive for killing Regan that police were kept busy for many months interviewing suspects. But all those who had good reason to kill him had ironclad alibis. It seemed that the underworld knew of Regan's impending doom. Some checked into hospitals, others surrendered to police on earlier charges - no one wanted to be out on the streets when John Regan died. Everyone planned their alibis while Regan's killers planned his death.
The police investigating the murder met a wall of silence from those they interviewed. Predictably, no one was prepared to inform against the killers and meet the same fate as Regan. One detective even had his life threatened. He was told to cease a certain line of inquiries - otherwise he would 'end up the same way as Regan'.
Regan's death created a vacuum in the underworld that took several months to fill. In that period there were a number of bashings and murders as many fought to take charge of the Regan empire.
When Regan's death was announced in Long Bay Gaol there was loud cheering from the prisoners. It was typical of the general response to the death of one of the most feared men Sydney has produced.
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