Sydney’s Al Capone, Part II

Abe SaffronAbe Saffron

NOTE: A manuscript for my third historical novel, SCAM, lies on my desk waiting final edits. With this book, I continue to explore real crime—but move to an international setting. In researching the book, I became intrigued by Australian crime boss, Abe Saffron, who also served as a subject of a post in October.

Abraham Gilbert Saffron, a native Australian, realized in the late 1940s that World War II servicemen seeking rowdy and randy R&R needed an outlet. He devised a profitable solution. By the Vietnam War era, Saffron owned or operated almost every successful shady enterprise in Sydney’s infamous red-light district, Kings Cross.

His first venture was the Roosevelt Club, a less risqué venue that attracted famous American entertainers; the best known, Les Girls, a landmark establishment featuring a transvestite and female impersonator floorshow. He soon widened his control of debauchery offering venues for prostitution and strippers. At the apex of his career, Saffron possessed interests in 100 brothels and 50 nightclubs around the country.

When stymied in the 1960s and 1970s in his attempts to amend the city’s drinking laws, which prohibited the sale of alcohol after a certain hour, Saffron ingeniously created a scheme in which his bars took drink orders prior to curfew; then served the preordered drinks into the wee hours.

Police raided his various establishments regularly, but failed to nab the high-ranking politicians or civic leaders Saffron entertained, because his establishments would receive timely warning of pending sweeps. Despite his purchased influence over detectives and police, he was never charged with corruption. The alleged sex addict, however, was once unsuccessfully prosecuted for participating in a Palm Beach orgy. Besides evading that conviction, he also avoided charges related to his pornography and adult-movie operations and illegal gambling concerns.

In all, Saffron flaunted his criminal activities for more than four decades, escaping the law until 1987 when, like his American counterpart Al Capone, was charged and convicted of tax evasion. After serving 17 months, Saffron found his empire destroyed by a new and violent set of gangs that added the sale of heavy drugs to the Kings Cross scene.

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