’Criminal royalty’: Secrets of a master safecracker
AS A crook there is not much that Bertie Kidd hasn't done or been accused of.
Master safe cracker, counterfeiter and underworld killer are some of the crimes he has been accused of.
A lot of them he will put his hands up to like stealing millions of dollars from scores of safes he blew up, cut up or just plain opened up with a copied key he made himself.
"I've done a lot of things but some of the stories about me are widely exaggerated or just wrong, that's why I'm doing the books," said the now 84-year-old ex-con.
The first volume of a new trilogy called The Audacious Kid was released this week. Kidd has committed so many crimes over the years that a record of them has to be spread over three volumes.
"I was also acquitted 19 times," Kidd points out with a hint of pride.
Bertie Kidd may not be a household name like Arthur "Neddy" Smith or Ivan Milat but he is known to cops and criminals all over Australia.
"The fact that he (Kidd) was involved in criminal activities over such a long period without public knowledge is evidence of the respect he has in the underworld," said Melbourne identity Mick Gatto.
Armed robber of the famous 1999 helicopter breakout from Silverwater jail, John Killick said Kidd was revered in the underworld.
"A master in his field, he's written up as criminal royalty in Australia, a deserved title due to his audacious exploits," said Killick.
Kidd's most notorious escapade was in 1982 when he got himself loaded in a box in the hull of a plane on a plane along with a $1 million of Reserve Bank notes only to come unstuck when the hand of an accomplice was spotted closing the crate.
He got four years for that job, unable to bribe or way his lie out of it.
He once shot himself to make it look like an attempted gangland hit to avoid getting a tough judge he didn't want at an upcoming trial.
It worked but he nearly died in the process shooting himself in the stomach and not the hip as planned.
In the criminal world his exploits elevated him to hero status but senior police in at least three states do not speak so highly of Kidd, saying he is a vicious crook - adding that he is one of the most formidable and dangerous gangsters from any era in Australia.
One of his nemeses, retired Assistant Commissioner Clive Small, said Kidd and contributed nothing to society and had never worked a day in his life.
"Mate, blowing up safes is hard work and dangerous," says Kidd in response.
"And I did have jobs and a couple of companies over the years," but admits he would always drift back to crime because of the adrenaline rush it gave him.
Kidd started his career as a safe blower after he learnt to use explosives working as a young man at the Morning Star Gold Mine in Victoria.
He remembers being dazzled by the gold and made his first attempt at a major crime by trying to steal a pile of gold enlisting with a fellow worker who got caught. Kidd walked away but the lure of riches didn't leave him.
Chucking in the job he blew up his first safe at a local supermarket not long after, which netted him a small fortune.
From there he went on to bigger and better jobs. He used the proceeds to buy safes on which to hone his skills, blowing them up and gauging exactly how much gelignite was needed.
ALL KEYED UP
"But you also blew up a lot of money," Kidd recalls, saying he refined his craft using oxy acetylene torches before eventually finding the best way was simply to use a key.
"I learnt how to make copies of keys with plasticine and from that cut a key, which is not easy. A safe key has to be made to within a thousandth of an inch and can take hours to make," Kidd says.
He found all sorts of ways to get keys to copy from bribery to keys left unattended where he would pounce and make an impression with a kit he always carried.
There are also tales of how his illegal gains were used to stage some spectacular betting stings, in one case winning £100,000 on a horse called Why So back in the 1960s, a huge sum back then.
"I loved my work," says Kidd. referring to those old days.
"The blokes inside, coppers, crooks and even the guards would listen to my stories and said I should write a book," Kidd said.
He has told his story for nothing to author Simon Griffin who said his early life was one of poverty, being sent to Australia as a teenager and how dodgy cops really turned a rogue character into a major and ever increasingly dangerous criminal who ended up as a major figure in the underworld.
"Over the three books you will see the transformation from a kid of impoverished background arriving in Australia and how and why he turned into a criminal," says the author.
"He is a complex character. An animal lover, obviously anti-authoritarian but a person who hates bullies and will intervene if he sees someone being mistreated."
Kidd was given his first full time sentence at the age of 38, a remarkable run considering he was a career crook.
"I bribed a lot of coppers and had a great lawyer," Kidd explains.
"Melbourne and Sydney were the same. You couldn't pull a job without paying the coppers."
Over the next two books he also talks about his involvement in the gangs wars of Sydney in the '80s where police have him as the prime suspect in the murders of hitman Roy Thurgar and a career criminal by the name of Desmond Lewis.
While never admitting to killing Thurgar, Kidd wasn't unhappy to hear he was dead.
"He went around boasting he killed my friend Mick Sayers and did not expect anything would happen to him," is all Kidd would say about it.
The next two volumes will be released in the next year.