The Bassett Road Machine-Gun Murders,
by Scott Bainbridge ($37 Allen & Unwin):
This book was published to mark the 50th anniversary of a shocking crime that drew a line in New Zealand’s criminal history and heralded a more sinister era.
Set against a backdrop of six o’clock closings, a Chicago-style underworld, bent cops, prostitution and the lure of a quick buck or two, the book helpfully provides a brief history of the sly-grog dens in Auckland, which helps create an interesting backdrop to the environment in which the murders took place.
It’s a tale of old New Zealand, of seedy bars, safecrackers and honour among criminals.
The murders, by machine- gun execution, of two members of the underworld shocked the nation and the two men convicted, Ron Jorgensen and John Gillies, became household names.
The murders were the first serious crimes committed in the country by offenders under the influence of marijuana, which led to the establishment of the drug squad.
The book is well researched and draws heavily, as it should, on primary sources, including interviews with those involved in the case – police officers, gang members, girlfriends and lawyers (their openness and willingness to talk is a undoubtedly a credit to Bainbridge’s interviewing skills) – as well as those on the periphery and with an insight into the case, including MP and former Auckland mayor John Banks. His father was involved in the scene and Banks’ personal involvement and knowledge of the story adds an intriguing modern twist.
The narrative captures the mood of the time and takes the reader along on an interesting and at times surprising ride into the criminal underworld. It may not rival the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but it’s our own piece of gangster- style history and a story worth telling.