At present the police are powerless to disperse gangs of known criminals … who consort together to plot fresh crimes.

The Sun (Sydney), 20 September 1929

The lure of easy money from the illicit alcohol, drug and gambling trades encouraged the formation of new crime gangs. Fierce rivalry between the groups triggered violent battles on the streets. Although Sydney gangsters had access to guns, many preferred cutthroat razors — inner-city vice hub Darlinghurst was nicknamed ‘Razorhurst’ by the press following a spate of razor attacks. Gangs from other cities, particularly Melbourne, attempted to break into the Sydney scene but were strongly repulsed by gangsters and police alike. International crime groups were also drawn to Sydney, such as the Mafia-style crime syndicate known as the ‘Camorra’.

Giovanni Lucci, Albert Borri & Gioele Martini

circa 1926, Suspected of attempted safebreaking

A spate of safe breaks in 1926 had police worried. Using a new technique, the thieves had skilfully opened safes that had been deemed uncrackable. However, at one crime scene they left behind a small clue: a piece of cloth used to wipe their fingerprints from the safe was proven to have been sold only in Italy. This led police to Giovanni Lucci and his gang of Italian safebreakers, of which Borri and Martini were members. The men were caught attempting to open a bank vault, the most difficult safe to crack, using tools they had manufactured specially for the job. Lucci, Borri and Martini served prison time before being deported. In the file that New South Wales Police kept on the Camorra, Lucci is noted as someone to keep an eye on during his journey back to Italy.

Thomas Maria, Patrick Bevin (alias Robert Barron, William Bates, William Bevin, Patrick Brosnahan, Owen Patrick Brosnan, Patrick ‘Paddy’ Brosnan, Henry Jones, Arthur Wyatt) & Patrick Dangar & Elsie Hall, Dulcie Morgan & Jean Taylor

circa September 1920, suspected of being in a place frequented by people with no visible means of support; suspected of being a keeper of a place frequented by people with no visible means of support (Taylor)

On 9 September 1920, police raided an inner-city apartment following complaints from neighbours about raucous behaviour. Police identified several members of Melbourne gang the Vendetta Push among the revellers. The gang escaped out of a window, but these six local men and women were arrested and photographed.

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Behind the scenes: How to read a ‘special’

Around the world, police forces followed established conventions when taking mugshots. But Sydney police in the 1920s did things differently

Full length police photo of man in suit and hat, standing in front of chair.

Sensational car chase

John Talbot Wright was arrested on 11 September 1920 after a sensational car chase through city streets

Two photos side by side, first showing seated man, second showing man standing, with hat on.

Returned from active service

In July 1921 James Arthur Banfield was arrested by Sydney police, photographed and charged on three counts of larceny