Bassett Road: Mixed memories
Mother of four Annick Larkin bounces her 18-month-old Thomas on her knee, looks at her lounge wall and wonders if it would be a good idea to put replica machine gun holes in it.
"I thought the bullet holes might be funny, but perhaps in bad taste," she says, adding perhaps a plaque outside on the fence might be better.
"That is much classier than bullet holes."
Fifty years ago today her lounge was the scene of an infamous killing – the Bassett Road machine-gun murders.
It is also a strange moment for embattled ACT MP John Banks who, as a teenager, held the machine-gun a week before the killings and denies he ever fired it.
On December 5, 1963, Frederick "Knucklehead" Walker, a 38-year-old commercial traveller, and Kevin Speight, a 26-year-old seaman, were killed with the heavy calibre weapon. Their bodies were found two days later. At the end of the month notorious criminals John Gillies and Ronald Jorgensen were arrested and eventually convicted.
Gillies is dead and in 1984 Jorgensen disappeared after a faked car crash. While he was thought for years to be alive, author and private investigator Scott Bainbridge reckons he was executed the same night for narking on drug traders.
While the killings have fascinated New Zealanders for years, not least because it occurred in up-market Remuera, Auckland, the Larkins knew nothing when they moved into No. 115 Basset Rd four years ago.
"As we were signing on the dotted line, the agent said 'do you know about this history?'," Larkin said.
They said no, and the agent suggested they go to the library.
"Most of my generation don't know anything about it, probably why our due diligence was so bad."
Larkin is well familiar now.
"Walker was down there on the floor and Speight was in a bed here and the bullet holes were scattered around."
At the time the house was three flats but is now one home.
Her daughter's bedroom was where the sly-grogging took place, when the criminal world came by for alcohol after pubs closed.
"I have never ever had a bad feeling since we moved here," Larkin says.
"Definitely no ghosts."
She says they often get people looking at the house and photographing it. It features on Twitter often.
"Is it that exciting looking at my fence?"
When Bainbridge was writing the just published "New Zealand's Gangster Killings: The Bassett Road Machine-Gun Murders" he contacted MP John Banks, whose criminal father Archie was closely involved with the Bassett Road dead and alive.
He was surprised Banks not only talked at length, but helped launch the book.
The MP is quoted by Bainbridge saying that one Sunday afternoon a man came to his father's place with the machine-gun. The men there took it outside and fired off a few rounds.
"Someone handed the gun to me and encouraged me to aim into the back of George Courts (On Karangahare Road), but I refrained and handed it back," Banks told Bainbridge.
"I knew I would get into serious trouble because police should easily be able to trace it back to 48 East Street (where he lived)."
Soon after the killings word got around that the machine gun had been used and had disappeared, never to be found.
"This scared me to think how close that connection was," Banks said.
He only lived with his father from the age of 15 to 17 in Auckland and in the book describes it "as the most exciting, bewildering and frightening years of my life. I lived life in the fast lane."
As an Avondale College student, Banks had work before and after school cleaning the sly-grog houses and selling the bottles.
"In the twelve months leading up to Bassett Road, I made an absolute fortune," he told the author.
Bainbridge has written as close to the definitive version as possible as he was granted full access to the police file. He also interviewed one of the few key criminal figures of that generation still living.
- © Fairfax NZ News