Six years ago Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith was acquitted in the New South Wales Supreme Court on the charge of murdering whistle-blower Sallie-Anne Huckstepp. Despite having confessed on tape to strangling Huckstepp, Smith later claimed his ‘confessions’ were lies. A year earlier Smith had been found guilty of the murder of brothel-keeper Harvey Jones. He was already serving life for the murder of a tow-truck driver. In both the Huckstepp and Jones matters the Crown case was based on secretly-taped conversations between Smith and a cellmate in Long Bay’s Special Purpose Prison.
The murder of Huckstepp in Sydney’s Centennial Park on 6 February 1986 has never been officially solved. Unofficially, it is thought that three men were present at the crime scene. Until I met a former inmate of Thailand’s notorious Bang Kwang prison at a book festival I thought I’d put Huckstepp’s story behind me. But when her name came up in conversation the man, who was also a writer and sitting on the same panel, turned to me and said, ‘Everyone knows Rogerson (disgraced former NSW detective Roger Rogerson) done it.’ By everyone I assumed he meant other inmates. ‘Rogerson wanted his face to be the last thing she saw.’ When I queried his version he shrugged and told me to go see Ned.
So after a week of vacillating I wrote to Neddy Smith in Long Bay Prison asking if I could visit. To my surprise Smith wrote back. ‘If you think that any good will come of it then I leave the arrangements for you to fix. I give no guarantee that you’ll get anything more than you have regarding Huckstepp.
The first thing that strikes you about Ned Smith is his stare. Seated in a corner of Long Bay Hospital visitor’s room Ned is wearing, like all the other inmates, a white prison jumpsuit with the word Visitor printed on the back. To get this far I have passed through four steel gates and one metal detector. I have removed my watch, my keys and the large notes from my wallet. Ten dollars is all you are allowed to bring in at one time.
We shake hands formally and Ned Smith sits down again in his chair and gives me another cold hard stare. There is no doubting Neddy Smith’s physical size and menacing aura. I mumble something about why I am here then Ned gets stuck into me about his depiction in my book on Huckstepp.
I wait for him to get that off his chest. Although I’d sat in the courtroom behind him during his committal hearing and later throughout his trial this is the first time we have spoken. Fit and tanned from the two hours he is allowed each day in the sun, Ned Smith is a solid man of sixty with cropped hair. His hands are large and tattooed. In Ian David’s award-winning TV drama Blue Murder, Smith, played by the actor Tony Martin, is shown bashing and then strangling Huckstepp and although he denies most of the details ‘I was never there’, ‘Roger doesn’t smoke,’ etc he regards Blue Murder as a bloody good movie compared to Chopper which was shown on TV recently. Ned couldn’t bear to watch it; he holds a rather low opinion of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read.
There is not much that Ned doesn’t know about Huckstepp’s murder. During his trial he had unfettered access to the Crown evidence. What is most puzzling is why he would boast of murdering her if he didn’t do it. Ned tells me now that he knew his cellmate was a dog and he was simply trying to get publicity for his book, Catch and Kill Your Own. If this is correct it must be the most costly publicity exercise in publishing history for his so-called confessions led to his second murder conviction and under the New South Wales truth-in-sentencing guidelines he will never be released. He expects to die in jail.
It’s very hard to make out what Ned’s saying with the noise of other inmates and his tendency to talk rapidly plus the combined effect of his Parkinson’s disease and the medication he takes for it on his speech patterns. I find myself saying sorry, what was that, and wishing I had subtitles.
Ned is talking about the mail he receives from readers of his crime memoirs. He says he has a lot more books in him and that he wants the royalties to go to his grandkids. Even though he left school at the age of eleven, he enjoys writing and is now doing a corro course in screenwriting. The one complaint he has about writing books is that there’s no money in it. Especially compared to armed robberies. Unfortunately the NSW prison authorities have confiscated his laptop. Ned can’t write by hand because of his tremors and also the laptop has a program that fixes your grammar and punctuation. Ned really misses his laptop and is taking legal action through the courts to have it returned. He brushes aside my questions as to why it was removed. When he is not writing or working out, he watches the news and A Current Affair then retires early. He has been in prison now for eighteen years and hasn’t had a single beer in that period. He asks me what kind of beer I prefer; his favourite brand is San Miguel.
Ned says he is sorry that he can’t help me with my enquiries but that Huckstepp was a junkie anyway, he can’t understand why people are so interested in her. What did she ever fucking do? He never raped her. Never set eyes on her until after the Lanfranchi shooting. Roger did that one. Lanfranchi was unarmed, Ned had the gun. This was when Roger was running Sydney; he was more powerful than the police commissioner.
I ask him if he was present in Centennial Park on 6 February 1986 and Ned says he was at home with his wife. He denies telling his literary agent, Rose Creswell, that he was there. But he knows who was. Warren ‘Wozza’ Richards rang her up and lured her to Centennial Park because she owed him money for heroin.
‘Was she killed because she was seeing a Federal Policeman?’
‘Nothing to do with that,’ Ned says. ‘She was bugging Roger, ringing him up and leaving messages that he was a dog. She’s causing him trouble so one night Roger says he’d like to get rid of her. There’s two blokes there, mates of his, and one of them offers to do it for free. To be in with Roger. So Roger would owe him one. Roger’s too tight to pay. The reason they didn’t bury her or dispose of the body was Roger wanted her left floating in the pond as a message. The bloke who killed her has never been arrested and is not in jail.’
‘You can’t give me a name?’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t give the bloke up,’ Ned says.
‘Not until he’s dead.’
‘Has he ever been arrested?’
‘They had the dog squad on him but they never got him.’
‘Was Rogerson the third man?’
‘I can’t help you anymore,’ Ned says. ‘Sorry.’
For two and a half hours I have been talking to Ned Smith and the strange thing is I find that I don’t dislike him. Instinctively I feel comfortable talking with the man, despite all I know about his crimes. He is far more communicative than I’d expected and appears to enjoy conversing with a stranger from the outside world. He comes across as a working-class crim from the old inner-suburbs of south Sydney, someone who doesn’t try to impress or overwhelm you with inflated stories about himself. This is not to say I believe everything he has fed me although I suspect the truth is mixed in with the lies. He admits his credibility is shot. He mentions a boxing trainer we know in common and then asks, ‘This your first visit to jail?’ as if he’s got me sussed.
His head twitches from the Parkinson’s as he stands and we shake hands formally, like a pair of businessmen. He gives me another cold hard stare as if the shutters have come down and our conversation is at an end. I wait for a prison officer to unbolt the gate. Walking up the ramp I pass through the metal detector and then retrieve my property from the locker. Next to my car keys lies a stubbed-out cigarette butt that I hadn’t noticed before. Apart from Ned’s fictional account of the unnamed killer, the rest of his story rings true, particularly the involvement of Rogerson. Strangulation is a very personal crime, a crime of hatred, where the last thing the victim sees is the murderer’s face. It also requires great upper body strength. As Ned confided to his cellmate on the police tapes, ‘Strangling somebody is the hardest thing in the world’.
When I reach the visitor’s car park I turn to look back at the steel-grey gates of Long Bay prison. Neddy Smith was never coming out alive and most people would say he’s got the punishment he deserves, but part of me couldn’t help hoping that he gets his laptop back.
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