Was this Neddy Smith, the Aussie gangster behind one of Bangkok’s most famous drug busts, looking for another courier?
By Colin Hastings
FRANKLY, I’ve no idea what first drew me to a website story about an Australian criminal called Arthur Stanley Smith. I wasn’t looking for anything remotely connected to this man or Australia in general. So this was odd. But reading on – and I’m glad I persevered – I soon found myself absorbed and fascinated by this man, better known as ‘Neddy’ Smith, who, as it turned out, was a notorious gangland killer dubbed ‘Sydney’s hardest man’ during the violent drug wars of the 1980s. He was also a regular visitor to Thailand. Like most people, I love a good yarn about criminals – who can resist reading books about gangsters, thugs
and even murderers? But this man’s story had special resonance with me.
It brought to mind an incident that occurred way back in the mid-1970s here in Bangkok. After further investigation, including a series of email exchanges with the former owner one of Patpong’s most famous go-go bars, I came to the conclusion that I may well have encountered Neddy in that very bar. My reasoning was simple: a conversation I struck up over a few beers with an Australian of Neddy’s build and appearance ftted his criminal profle perfectly.
Take a stroll down Patpong today, with its tawdry night market and bars way past their expiry date, and it’s hard to believe that this scruffy and surprisingly short street was once the most celebrated thoroughfare in Asia. Created in response to the growing number of American soldiers and airmen who were coming to Thailand on R&R from the war in Vietnam, it was often referred to as “the street
of shame” for its raunchy go-go bars, then a novelty in the kingdom, and its carefree attitudes. Anything was possible, and visitors just loved it. In fact, almost anything did happen in Patpong, and criminals like Neddy Smith found the possibilities irresistible.
During those heady days, I was a regular visitor to Patpong. So were most other foreigners living in Bangkok. The bright lights, the fun, the laughter were intoxicating. Making friends was easy, not just with the girls but also with people you’d never met but with whom you shared an instant passion for what was an amazing and pulsating nightlife scene. Idle conversations ﬂowed.
My favourite haunt was the Mississippi Queen, a go-go bar that featured in the ‘Deer Hunter’, a Hollywood movie about Vietnam starring Robert de Niro. Owned by an Australian named Tony Douglas, its plush interior and focus on soul music attracted US servicemen, diplomats, businessmen, foreign correspondents and the occasional criminal.
One night I found myself chatting to an Australian, whose easy ‘mateship’ made me slightly uncomfortable and suspicious. He was a strapping six-footer at least,
slightly balding, and had the charm of a market trader. He wore a crisp white shirt that accentuated a deep tan. He clearly knew a lot about Bangkok, but it was his knowledge of Patong’s dark side that set off some alarm bells. I told him that I had originally come to Thailand on an overland journey to Australia but had run out of money and was looking for a job to pay for my passage Down Under.
With little hesitation, my new ‘mate’ offered to buy me an air ticket to Sydney if I agreed to take a suitcase full of T-shirts for his friends to sell in Australia. They fetched a fortune down there, he assured me. My response was a wry smile followed by a very quick exit. For the next 40 years or so, I didn’t think much about that conversation – until I came across that website story about Neddy Smith. Was the man I met in Mississippi Queen so long ago the same gangster who has since been convicted of drug trafficking, theft, rape, armed robbery and murder?
Returning to the internet to learn more about his background, I discovered that Neddy Smith was indeed a frequent visitor to Bangkok in the 1970s and he spent most of his time in Patpong bars. It also transpired that he had played a pivotal role in a massive drug syndicate that smuggled heroin from Bangkok to
Sydney, with each shipment landed in Australia reaping huge illegal rewards. But what really got me was the preferred method of transport.
It was, of course, by air and in a suitcase. I shuddered. This illegal trade came to a
spectacular end in October 1978, with the capture of two Australian couriers working for Neddy Smith in one of Thailand’s best-known drug busts. The pair, Warren Fellows and Paul Hayward, were arrested by Thai police who found a suitcase containing 8.5 kgs of heroin in Hayward’s room in the Montien Hotel, a fve-minute walk from Patpong.
Fellows, who had already smuggled cocaine into Australia, was introduced to Neddy Smith by another Patpong bar owner named William Sinclair, who himself was later arrested, convicted and eventually pardoned. Smith then hooked up Fellows with his brother-in-law Paul Hayward, a professional rugby league player and amateur boxer, for the job that was to cost them both dearly. Fellows was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in Thailand while Hayward got 30
years’ jail. Although both were given an early release, they spent more than ten years behind bars in some of this country’s toughest prisons. Their experience is memorably told in Fellows’ harrowing best-selling book.
To get a better take on Smith and his deals in Bangkok, I contacted Tony Douglas, who ran Mississippi Queen during its 1970s hay days. He’s based these days in Perth. I asked whether he had ever come across this tough guy. “I met him once, by chance, in Bangkok in 1977,” Tony told me, adding: “Even though
I didn’t know who he was at the time, he scared the shit out of me. His hands were so large they could have crushed my skull.”
When I mentioned Smith’s offer to ﬂy me to Australia, Douglas, who is not allowed to enter Thailand because of past drug charges of his own, added: “Those T-shirts would have cost you your life!”
Later Smith admitted in court that he had made a fortune from trafficking heroin. He also claimed that he and his couriers escaped arrest by paying off corrupt officials and police officers in Australia. The law eventually caught up with Smith, and he is currently serving a life sentence for murder. The 6ft 6in once-feared gangster is now a wheelchair-bound 73-year-old crippled by a degenerative disease. Police are adamant that the only way Smith will leave prison is in a coffin.
To this day I’m not sure whether it was Smith I met back in the 1970s. Patpong had more than its fair share of rogues and crooks, some of whom ran popular go-go bars – and dealt in cheap ﬂights to Australia!