By Michael Shelford © 2019
In May 1930, a young man by the name of George Harper entered a lane near the corner of Bourke and Swanston St. George Harper wasn’t his only name, he was also known as George Ferguson, George Fraser, George Lewis, John Kite, Degen etc. He was a drinker, a brawler, and made his living as a thief, burglar, and pimp.
As he entered the lane he met with an acquaintance called Thomas Brown. Brown suggested that he go and buy them both a bottle of beer, but George declined, explaining that he didn’t have enough money. It was then that there was a sudden movement from Brown’s arm as he pulled a cut throat razor from his pocket and slashed George across the face.
George managed somehow to walk to Melbourne Hospital. By the time he got there he was weak, his clothes saturated in blood. The injury to George’s face was horrendous. The wound was 6 inches long, stretching from ear to mouth. It was an inch deep, had gone through nerves, muscles and a gland, and had caused partial paralysis to some of his facial muscles. Over 40 stitches were installed and for some time his life was considered to be in peril.
Thomas Brown was arrested later that evening in a billiard saloon on Flinders St and charged with occasioning grievous bodily harm.
The story above was how George originally explained the circumstances to police, but by the time of the trial, the narrative had changed slightly. George testified that he’d met Brown in Bourke St, and that Brown had been accompanied by a man called ‘Snowy’. He, (George), had argued with Brown, and Brown had then slashed him with a razor.
Not surprisingly, Brown gave a different explanation in his own defence. He said that the man ‘Snowy’ was not his friend but his enemy. That Snowy was the one in possession of the razor, not he. “Snowy tried to slash me with a razor”, he explained, "I ducked and it caught Harper in the face.”
A friend of Brown’s gave testimony which supported this version of events. None of them knew the true identity of this ‘Snowy’ character so he couldn’t be called to testify.
At this point the Judge had had enough. He directed that the jury find Brown not guilty because obviously everybody was too drunk on the evening in question to be able to give reliable testimony.
Note: By the early 1930’s the use of the cut throat razor as a weapon was becoming more common in the Melbourne underworld. There was belief at the time that this was a result of amendments in the Vagrancy Act in NSW. The amendments meant that people could be sentenced just for ‘consorting’ with known criminals. Many of Sydney’s gangsters relocated to Melbourne at this time. Quite a few of those who relocated had been active in Sydney’s razor gang era (roughly 1927-1931).
Keep an eye on this page for Part 3 which will be coming soon.
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Michael Shelford is a writer who specialises in Australian true crime. He is currently completing a book on Melbourne's crime scene c1890's to 1920's. He is also the creator and guide for the walking tour company Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.