Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

The day Chicago came to Auckland

Bassett Rd machinegun murders 50 years ago solved swiftly but mystery remains over one of the gunmen

Annick Larkin with Lottie,  Esther  and Tom  in the room where the murders took place. Mrs Larkin and husband Tim are not bothered by the house's gruesome past. Photo / Natalie Slade
Annick Larkin with Lottie, Esther and Tom in the room where the murders took place. Mrs Larkin and husband Tim are not bothered by the house's gruesome past. Photo / Natalie Slade

The headline said it all: Chicago comes to Auckland.

In December 1963, New Zealand experienced its first taste of big-time crime. Two underworld figures gunned down by machinegun-wielding villains as they slept in a villa on a sleepy street in Remuera.

Unbeknown to most, in the age of 6 o'clock closing and pubs closed on Sundays, 115 Bassett Rd had been operating as a beer house, a place where people could drink their grog and spin their tales well under the radar of the authorities.

But on December 7, 1963, the dreamy-looking villa on the leafy suburban street was thrust into the spotlight and the history books when the men behind the operation, George Walker and Kevin Speight, were found dead.

The pair were executed in the front room of the house by Ron "Jorgy" Jorgensen and John Gillies, two men known to police for the part they were already playing in Auckland's seedy underbelly.

Their bodies were riddled with bullets from a .45-calibre machinegun. It was the first time such a weapon, famously favoured by legendary gangster Al Capone, had been used in a crime in New Zealand - until then, police did not believe there were any in the country.

The case, dubbed the Bassett Rd machinegun murders, captivated the nation, and 50 years on, it's still well known and often discussed.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the discovery of the bodies.

A book has been released delving deep into the history of all the main players. New Zealand's Gangster Killings: The Bassett Road Machine-Gun Murders by Scott Bainbridge tells the story of the "sly grogging, horse doping, prostitution, drugs, rival gangs and tough cops" that made up the criminal landscape of the era.

His decision to write the book came after a long fascination with the case and when he realised he was running out of time.

"I knew I needed to get on to it while some of the people involved were still alive," Bainbridge writes in the book's intro. "I felt it vital to tell this story from a first-hand point of view before it was too late."

The personal anecdotes littered through the book come from former detectives and relatives and associates of the dead and the killers.

MP John Banks - who was a teenager at the time of the murders and living with his father, Archie Banks (a regular but well-respected character in criminal circles) - shared his experiences of the burgeoning Auckland underworld he grew up in.

"From the ages of 15 to 17 were the most exciting, bewildering and frightening years of my life. I lived life in the fast lane," Banks told Bainbridge.

Gillies and Jorgensen were arrested on New Year's Eve, tried for murder in February 1964, and sentenced to life in prison.

Jorgensen was released on parole 21 years later, on the condition that he lived the rest of his life in Kaikoura. Then in 1984, Jorgensen's car was found wrecked at the bottom of a cliff, and he was never seen again.

What happened to Jorgy is still a question asked by many. Did he fake his death and flee to Australia? Was he knocked off by someone connected to his violent past? Did police help him escape? Despite a few "sightings", he was officially declared dead, but the mystery remains.


History shock for purchasers

115 Bassett Rd, 2013The ink was still drying on their ownership papers when Annick and Tim Larkin's real estate agent dropped a bombshell.

Their newly purchased villa was the scene of one of New Zealand's most famous murders.

"We were signing on the dotted line and the agent said, literally just as we were signing, 'Do you know anything about the history of the house?"' Mrs Larkin recalled.

"And the agent told us that the vendor thought we might like to know the house had a bit of a scary history to it, that two people were murdered in here in 1963."

The news did not deter the Larkins from their dream home. Now, just over three years later, the couple and their children Lottie, 4, Esther, 3, and Tom, 18 months, have been inundated with media wanting to film "the room" - their lounge - and grill them for information about the Bassett Rd machinegun murders, which happened there 50 years ago.

"It's never bothered us at all, it doesn't faze us one bit."

"The room" where George Walker and Kevin Speight were gunned down is now full of happy family memories. A Christmas tree in one corner, wedding photos on the wall, comfy couches and toys mask the gory past.

Recently, Mr and Mrs Larkin saw photos of the crime scene.

"It's bizarre, surreal," Mrs Larkin said. "But it's never been creepy. We've never felt weird in the room."

- NZ Herald

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