Wednesday, 14 December 2011

School For Killers (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

More than 35 violent deaths in Australia have been linked to men who attended the same, often brutal, boys' home when they were teenagers, an ABC investigation has confirmed.

Fifteen of these deaths led to convictions for either murder or manslaughter.

The Institution for Boys, Tamworth was established in 1947 as a place of punishment for boys aged 15 to 18 who absconded from other boys' homes.

It was attended by some of Australia's most infamous killers and criminals, including Arthur Stanley 'Neddy' Smith, George Freeman, Kevin Crump, James Finch, Archibald McCafferty and Billy Munday.

The ABC has interviewed six former inmates who, while they did not go on to commit serious offences, all agreed that time spent at the boys’ home in Tamworth could turn someone into a killer.

"It gave you the killer instinct," said 67-year-old Bob McCluland, who was sent to Tamworth for five months in 1962.

"Anyone crossed you, you'd just cut their throat," he said.

Described as a "concentration camp", "Alcatraz" and comparable to "a prisoner of war camp during WWII", the institution was once a colonial jail where prisoners were flogged and hanged.

It gave you the killer instinct. Anyone crossed you, you'd just cut their throat.

Bob McCluland

Once transferred there, boys were not allowed to speak to each other or look at each other, and slept alone in brick-walled cells which were freezing in winter and oppressively hot in summer.

They had steel buckets for toilets and the only light came through an iron-barred hole.

Alleged punishments included beatings, food deprivation, isolation, pushing heavy sandstone blocks across the floor and inmates being forced to walk around with cardboard boxes on their heads.

The Institution for Boys, Tamworth was later renamed Endeavour House* and some communication between inmates was permitted. A spate of inmate suicides finally forced its closure in 1989. The building is now used as an adult prison.

The legacy of the Tamworth boys' home continues to ricochet around the walls of Australia's prisons, where so many of its alumni have ended up - often for committing violent crimes.

The ABC has obtained a full list of those who attended the institution following a freedom of information request to the NSW Department of Family and Corrective Services. Because of privacy concerns, the surnames of the inmates were redacted.

However, a process of cross-checking first names against dates of birth has confirmed that when they were aged around 17, many of Australia's most notorious criminals went through what has also been described as the worst detention facility in Australia's post-colonial history.

Notorious alumni

Those who attended the boys' home include:

  • one of Australia's most notorious criminals, Neddy Smith;
  • James Finch, who lit the Whiskey Au-Go-Go fire which killed 15 people. At the time it was Australia's worst mass-murder
  • serial killer Archibald McCafferty;
  • Kevin Crump, whose file has been stamped 'never to be released' for the depraved murder of Collarenebri housewife Virginia Morse;
  • alleged underworld kingpin George Freeman;
  • rapist William 'Billy' Munday, who later killed a fellow prisoner;
  • another inmate who killed a prison officer, Peter Schneidas.

Tamworth boys' home was a real concentration camp. They treated the young boys like animals.

Neddy Smith

Most of the infamous killers were sent to Tamworth within the same decade, between 1961 and 1972, when the treatment of the boys is said to have been at its worst.

Sydney underworld figure Smith was charged with eight murders but only convicted of involvement in two. He is serving a life sentence in Long Bay Jail, where he is being treated for Parkinson’s disease.

Smith states in his autobiography:

"Tamworth boys' home was a real concentration camp. They treated the young boys like animals, with daily bashings and starvation ... I've been to the notorious Grafton Jail twice for a period of more than four years all told: I was systematically bashed daily, flogged into unconsciousness several times but, believe me, that was nothing compared with the treatment I got at Tamworth."

'Kill or be killed'

Bob McCluland was sent to Tamworth when he had just turned 18.

"You didn't put up with any shit off anyone after you came out of there," he told the ABC.

"You just had that attitude - kill or be killed. Everyone come out of there the same, that's why there were so many bloody murders ... just the way you were treated in there."

Keith Kelly, now 67, was sent to Tamworth for almost six months when he was just 16.  He claims he was twice beaten by a prison warden when he refused a request for sexual favours.

If you turn your head a little bit, they'll put a box on your head and put two pinholes in it and you were forced to march around all day with that box on your head, and you've got to eat with that box on your head.

Keith Kelly

The experience still defines his life.

"You're not allowed to talk to another inmate. You've got to be six feet away from another inmate. You can't look at another inmate," he recalls.

"If you turn your head a little bit, they'll put a box on your head and put two pinholes in it and you were forced to march around all day with that box on your head, and you've got to eat with that box on your head. Can you imagine trying to eat with a box on your head? Can't do it.

"Starvation was the main punishment apart from solitary confinement. You had what you call a 'bounce' and three quarters of your meal was taken away from you. If you had three bounces in one day, they would turn around and give you a boob meal - half a glass of water and milk and a slice of bread.

"You can't live on that, you can't treat kids like that. Do it today, you'd be charged.

"I was angry. I wanted to get out of there. One day there was an inmate sitting beside me ... I was going grab him, get my fork or knife and I was going to whoosh into him, try and do as much damage as I could. I wouldn't care if I killed him, at least I would have been sent to Long Bay Jail, where I could talk to people, move around, be a lot freer."

'I left full of hatred'

Billy Munday and George Freeman - like Neddy Smith - identify their time at Tamworth as among the worst experiences of their lives and one which guaranteed a life of crime.

In his autobiography, Munday wrote: "When I take time to reflect now on my days in Tamworth and what they did to me, I can almost lay blame there for what I've done.

"I came out of there a hardened but scared boy on the verge of manhood. I left full of hatred."

This anger later translated into a sadistic worldview, as Munday confesses:

"Sometimes ... I would cruise parks looking for lovers sitting in their cars. We'd sneak up behind them and put a gun to their heads and take them to some hide-out. Then we'd bash the guy and rape the girl. I used to tell them after we finished that we were going to kill them, just to see the looks on their faces. There had been so many times I had been that scared of death, I just wanted to see their reactions."

I don't know anyone who came out of Tamworth in those days who didn't go on with a life of crime.

George Freeman

The alleged Sydney crime boss, the late George Freeman, who was dramatised as the grey-haired star of one of the Underbelly TV series, is also damning of Tamworth in his book.

He was there in 1952, before inmates reported regular bashings. However, he says his introduction to the place was being king-hit by an official.

"When it came to psychological pressure on young minds, I think the Tamworth boys' home was probably the toughest, most damaging institution I ever saw the inside of," Freeman writes.

"They could break kids in there. They would torture your mind with the pressure. It was mindless discipline, unproductive and cruel.

I don't know anyone who came out of Tamworth in those days who didn't go on with a life of crime. It was them or us. It had to be to survive.

"All Tamworth did was ingrain the bitterness. They created the ultimate finishing school for crims."

'Violence begets violence'

Former inmates who attended Tamworth around the same time as Keith Kelly say beatings were commonplace in the 1960s. While inmates from the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s report less abusive treatment, all agree the experience was dehumanising.

"You are never the same when you go to Tamworth. When you go to Tamworth and you come out you are never the same. It's just one of those things," Mr Kelly said.

Michael Daffern, chairman of the Australian Psychology Society College of Forensic Psychologists, says the treatment meted out at Tamworth probably intensified the capacity for violence of the young men who went there.

"If we've got a group of people who are high risk already and then we're going to expose them to punitive treatment and not provide the sort of intervention, the sort of psychological intervention that we know can have a positive impact on their life course, then we do create an environment in which individuals might worsen as a consequence of their incarceration," Dr Daffern said.

All their dignity was gone, it was bashed out of them. They had nothing left, they were just walking bodies with no mind.

Des Drury

Inmate accounts and the reputation Tamworth still has within Australia's prisons are supported by Des Drury, who worked as a prison warden in NSW for 18 years. He also grew up in boys' homes but was never sent to Tamworth.

"Prisoners who had been in Tamworth boys' home said (other homes were) a walk in the park compared to Tamworth. This is some of the reason why some of these blokes went the way they went," Mr Drury said.

"I suppose if you knock around with violence long enough, you become violent yourself. Every form of torture without using implements was done.

"All their dignity was gone, it was bashed out of them. They had nothing left, they were just walking bodies with no mind. They get money where they can.

"Violence begets violence and they're sick of the rules and the regulations because it's the rules and regulations that bash the living hell out of them in these places. And especially at Tamworth."

Mr Kelly applied for compensation for his time in Tamworth last year. It was knocked back on the basis of insufficient evidence.

The ABC News Online Investigative Unit contacted a former Tamworth governor, who ran the institution when some of the worst abuses are alleged to have occurred.

"I've just got out of hospital," he said. "I'm well into my 80s now. My memory's gone."

* Editor's note: While the facility bears the name Endeavour House, it was not part of and has never had any connection with Endeavour Foundation, one of Australia’s largest non-government disability support agencies and co-incidentally has a number of disability accommodation and respite services known as Endeavour House.


Investigative Unit Logo
  • Reporting: Geoff Thompson
  • Video production: Eleanor Bell
  • Design: Ben Spraggon
  • Development: Blake Butcher
  • Editor: Nikki Tugwell

Topics: crime, law-crime-and-justice, murder-and-manslaughter, child-abuse, tamworth-2340, sydney-2000

First posted December 14, 2011 09:36:01