Murderer, armed robber and drug dealer Arthur Stanley “Neddy” Smith, who died this week in Sydney’s Long Bay jail, was one of the last of a breed of ‘publicly visible criminals’.

Suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia his death from natural causes at 76 brought to an end one of the most colourful and notorious chapters in organised crime in Sydney.

His career and rise among Sydney’s gangland coincided with police corruption in the 1980s, when he was offered the protection of crooked cops, who he later informed against.

“Those publicly visible, old-school gangsters just don’t dominate the scene anymore,” veteran crime reporter Stephen Gibbs told Central News.

“He [Neddy] was one of the very last of a breed. In the ’70s and ’80s you could go into a pub in Sydney and see Ned Smith drinking and organising crimes. There was no secret to who he was, he gave television interviews, the public knew who he was and I don’t think that is any longer.”

Born in Sydney in 1944 to an Australian mother and an American sailor, whom he never met, Smith was young when he started committing crimes, getting involved in burglaries and committing other offences before being sent to a series of boys homes. He dropped out of school at age 14 and continued to offend.

In between numerous prison sentences in the 1960s and ’70s, Smith’s 6ft 2in frame and violent temperament drew the attention of Olympic medallist and police officer turned drug trafficker Murray Riley, who hired him as a ‘standover man’ to enforce and intimidate for Murray’s gang.

“He was a physically imposing man, and a terrifying figure when he chose to be,” said Gibbs, of the Daily Mail. 

Smith had been an armed robber, but that has its inherent risks, one of which is being shot dead by police.

Working for Murray made Smith infamous within the Sydney criminal underworld, and upon his release from jail in 1980 he capitalised on his newfound fame as the landscape had changed extensively since his time in prison.

“In the 1980s, you see an influx of heroin into the country, and criminals who were previously engaged in crimes such as armed robberies moved into lucrative and safer crimes of drug importation,” said Gibbs.

“Smith had been an armed robber, but that has its inherent risks, one of which is being shot dead by police. So he moved into that emerging drug market and for some time was very successful at it… Not only that, he was clever enough to form networks, and at some point realising that it would help to ingratiate himself with some police.”

Smith’s success was in no part due to the ‘green light’ disgraced NSW detective Roger Rogerson gave him in 1981. He assisted Rogerson with the shooting and killing of heroin dealer and standover man Warren Lanfranchi, and in return was provided almost absolute free reign without persecution from police.

The 1997 Royal Commission into NSW Police corruption found that “a trade-off was established with Mr Arthur Stanley (Neddy) Smith for him to receive a ‘green light’ to perform armed robberies,” however the agreement extended further to assault, robbery, and the trafficking of heroin.

In his 1993 memoir Neddy: The Life and Crimes of Arthur Stanley Smith, the career-criminal wrote: “Thank Christ for corruption! I couldn’t have survived without it.”

Rogerson’s protection allowed Smith’s gang to rise to prominence throughout the 1980s as their operations to export, sell and distribute heroin were allowed to operate far and wide throughout Sydney.

“He moved in the right circles, he couldn’t have succeeded in those criminal activities to the extent that he did without a huge amount of interference… the relationships he had with certain police certainly helped,” said Gibbs.

During this time Smith’s gang was turning over millions of dollars. With the protection of police and his physical presence, he became one of the most prolific figures in Sydney’s criminal underworld.

“He was certainly someone who was feared by other criminals,” said Gibbs.

What happened that night still isn’t clear, but was the result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and a violent temperament.

Although Smith seemed impervious to the law, the green light turned red in 1988, after he was caught trying to rob Botany Bay Council of their Christmas payroll worth $160,000. Paired with the murder charge of tow truck driver Ronnie Flavell a year prior, Neddy was sent straight to Long Bay prison to await sentencing.

The murder of Flavell was described as the first high profile case of road rage in Australia.

Gibbs added: “Neddy was in a blind rage and got into a needless argument with Ronnie Flavell. What happened that night still isn’t clear, but was the result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and a violent temperament.”

Sensing the end of his life outside of prison, Smith blew the whistle on his dealings with corrupt police, including Rogerson. He quickly became the star witness in the 1993 Milloo Inquiry and subsequent Royal Commission into NSW police that led to the arrest and conviction of Rogerson.

“I think there was an element of getting square, that the end was coming for the corrupt police with who he had nefarious dealings with,” said Gibbs.

“And when they could no longer save him and realised he was going to spend a significant time in jail, he decided to bring a few people down with him.”

Blowing the whistle however, did not save Smith from prison, as he was convicted for the murder of Flavell, and later convicted for the murder of brothel owner Harvey Jones which had occurred in 1983. Neddy was sentenced to life in prison in 1989, and remained in jail except for a brief escape attempt after a checkup at a Randwick Hospital where he was caught by nurses in the hallway.

Unlike most criminals, Smith’s infamy spread to the public eye, and he quickly became a notorious celebrity. His interviews were broadcast on television and he never hid who he was. His death potentially signifies the last of the publicly known gangsters of the 1970s and 1980s, with the crime landscape nowadays more behind closed doors.