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Tough Nuts: Australia’s Hardest Criminals (2010)

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Presented by bestselling crime author TARA MOSS, this explosive eight-part series blows the lid off Australia's criminal underworld and reveals the real story behind what made and shaped the most notorious figures in Australian criminal history. What made them? What shaped them? This world premiere series features the real stories of the complex and violent relationships between Australia's most infamous criminals.

Through expert analysis, psychological profiling and unprecedented access to those who were there, TOUGH NUTS debunks the myths surrounding these criminals and finally reveals the ugly truth about Australia's leading underworld figures.

Featuring never-before-seen interviews with psychologists, police detectives, investigative journalists, former criminals and friends and associates of the men in question, combined with cinematic dramatised scenes of pivotal points in the criminals' lives, TOUGH NUTS exposes the facts behind the fiction and offers a revealing - and often shocking - insight in to what these criminals were really like.

TOUGH NUTS delves deeply into the psyche of these men, exploring their lives from childhood through to adulthood and subsequent careers as vicious criminals and asks the question: what makes a good man turn bad? The series demonstrates how many of the criminals met their inevitable demise. Even from beyond the grave, these scarily violent criminals still have the power to compel and chill us.

IMDB (8.1)

Episode 1 - Chris Flannery: The Man Called Rentakill

Christopher Dale Flannery earned the nickname of “Rentakill”. He was a hit man and gun for hire who would kill anyone if the price was right.

Tough Nuts introduces the man who killed in cold blood before returning to his home to smother his children with affection and dote after his wife, Kathleen.

In a Tough Nuts exclusive, we reveal Flannery ran a criminal enterprise, known as Rentakill Incorporated – a business not unlike the infamous Murder Incorporated in the mean streets of New York and Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s.

Flannery did not act as a lone figure; he used as many as four accomplices to commit murder for money while establishing a sound alibi for himself.

Nevertheless, Flannery killed as many as fourteen people by his own hand. The criminal feuds in place in Sydney and Melbourne offered Flannery and Rentakill Incorporated, with an almost endless array of victims.

Through psychological profiling, we look into the mind of the hit man, Chris Flannery.
Flannery grew up, the youngest of three children. His sister and brother became hard working and respected members of the community while Flannery turned to crime.

The answer to Flannery’s violence is due in part to the nine years he spent in prison as a young man. Flannery was placed in the worst prison environment in Australia at the time – Melbourne’s Pentridge prison ‘H’ Division.

Routinely bashed and sodomised by guards, Flannery went on a hunger strike. His action led to a parliamentary inquiry into conditions in ‘H’ and a number of prison guards were forced into retirement. Flannery emerged a hero to many prisoners.

The brutalisation he endured inured Flannery to the suffering of others. His prison experiences led him to become a killer for hire.

Flannery moved to Sydney to face a murder charge in 1980 and from there he got caught up in whirlwind of criminal feuds. Feared by everyone in the Sydney crime scene, Flannery was a stumbling block to a lasting peace.

He disappeared on May 9, 1985. He is presumed dead but his body has never been found.

Episode 2 - Chow Hayes: Australia's First Gangster

Arguably Australia’s most feared gangster, Frederick ‘Chow’ Hayes was a convicted double murderer, sentenced to hang in 1952 for the brazen killing of standoverman and former boxer, Bobby Lee.

Chow’s sentence was commuted to life in prison and he was released from jail in 1978. By this time, Chow was in the final decade of his life. At the time of his death, Chow had served almost 40 of his 74 years on the planet in jail.

In his dotage, Chow became a celebrated crime figure – the subject of a biography by crime writer David Hickie and the subject of a chilling portrait by artist, Bill Leak that was short listed for the Archibald Prize in 1984. The portrait shows a wizened old man who still possessed the eyes of a killer.

Tough Nuts charts the course of Chow’s life, from his formative years. Chow was the son of a WWI veteran; broken by his experience of the bloody conflict. Chow was nine years of age when he first set eyes on his father. His father was straight-jacketed in an asylum.

Did this episode fuel Chow Hayes’ murderous rage, his complete lack of regard for humanity that saw him the most dreaded figure in Sydney’s underworld?

Chow’s criminal career reads like a social history of the Sydney crime scene in the 20th Century – from the razor gangs of the 1930s, the post war booms in sly grogging, brothels and illegal gaming to the criminal networks founded on drugs.

Episode 3 - Alphonse Gangitano: The Black Prince Of Lygon Street

Alphonse Gangitano was known as the Black Prince of Lygon Street and was the most lethal member of Melbourne’s notorious Carlton Crew in the 1980s and 1990s.

Through a series of re-enactments of the most significant events in Gangitano’s life, Tough Nuts plots the rise and fall of the Melbourne crime tsar.

A forensic psychologist examines what turned Gangitano into a violent standover man and murderer. Gangitano came from a solid middle class background and loving family environment. There is no history of criminality in Gangitano’s family.

Nature or nurture? The reasons for Gangitano’s life of crime don’t seem to sit in either category. But while other kids had posters of rock stars and sports personalities on their bedroom walls, Gangitano had a poster of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in the Godfather on his.

Through accounts of senior police and his criminal associates, Tough Nuts builds the profile on Gangitano, the boy who wanted to be a gangster when he grew up.

We chart his crimes, the development of his pathological hatred of police and the event that took him over the edge – the affray at a Melbourne night club where Gangitano was arrested and where it seems, he decided to turn his back on a life of violent crime and go straight.

But Gangitano was in too deep for a last minute epiphany. Gangitano learns that the superannuation package for gangsters doesn’t amount to more than a few grams of hot lead in the back of the head.

Episode 4 - Dennis Allen: Mr Death

Dennis Allen was the oldest son of Melbourne crime matriarch, Kath Pettingill. While the remainder of her sons are criminals and some of them vicious killers, not one comes close to the utter brutality of Dennis Allan.

Born in a public housing estate and with no genuine father figure, Allen was subjected to violent and abusive treatment by a number of his mother’s boyfriends.

His first major crime was appalling in its brutality – the abduction and rape of a 19 year old woman. Serving six years of a nine year sentence, Allen left the prison gates with the contacts to become a major drug dealer.

Allen would traffic in amphetamines and heroin and became one of Melbourne’s biggest suppliers.

Allen had a way of cutting out his competitors. He became a police informer, making anonymous calls to police to give up his rivals. When that didn’t work, he turned to murder. He is suspected of committing 11 murders.

He knew no loyalty, had no friends and regarded his family as servants to use at his disposal.
Tough Nuts develops the profile on Australia’s most sadistic crime lord. A product of an appalling home as a young boy who then received his masters degree in crime while behind the walls of one of Australia’s most notorious prisons, Allen would only know one way: his way or death.

Allen died of natural causes while awaiting trial for the murder of James Stanhope, as well as weapons and drug offences. Known to have injected pure amphetamines into his veins, Allen’s heart collapsed under the strain. He was dead at 38 years of age.

Episode 5 - Russell Cox: Australia's Most Wanted Man

Meet Australia’s most wanted man for a record 11 years. Russell “Mad Dog” Cox was a man no prison could hold. He escaped from New South Wales notorious “electronic zoo”, the maximum security Katingal jail. The jail the politicians had said was escape proof.

The escape, for the first time explained in detail, makes anything Houdini did look like amateur theatrics.

He remained on the run for 11 years. His accomplice and partner during that time was Helen Deane, a nurse and sister in law of Australian criminal mastermind, Raymond “Ray Chuck” Bennett.

Cox was a murderer and armed robber. He was given the name “Mad Dog” by police due to his propensity to fire shots at his victims and at police when they intervened.

For all his violence, Cox became a reformed character. In his last stretch in jail, he decided to remain behind bars and was known to assist in young offenders scheme. Cox decided that the way of the gun was not the right way.

Cox was released from prison in 2006 and now lives a quiet existence on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Episode 6 - Mick Sayers: The Gambler

Michael “Melbourne Mick” Sayers was a run of the mill crook who got in too deep with some of the tough nuts in Sydney’s organised crime scene. An associate and friend of Chris Flannery (episode one) , Sayers ventured to Sydney and discovered that to survive on the mean streets, he had to turn his hand to drug dealing, extortion, race rigging and murder.

Sayers led the conspiracy to rig a horse race in Brisbane by switching a better performed horse with a picnic meeting nag who could not have won the race in a pink fit. The ring-in scandal became known as the Fine Cotton Ring In, a notorious event that saw punters and bookies and even a few coppers from Queensland’s Fraud Squad egging the horse on to win.
The ringer (Bold Personality) did come home first but the stewards awoke from their slumber and disqualified the ringer, leaving Sayers and the punters out of pocket.

Desperate for money, Sayers ripped off Sydney’s biggest heroin dealer, Barry McCann, stealing a briefcase full of drugs. McCann told him what would happen if the drugs were not returned. Sayers didn’t listen and found out the hard way what happened to those who challenge the powers that be.

Tough Nuts traces the criminal career of Mick Sayers from his days as a Melbourne Painter and Docker, his association with Chris Flannery that saw Sayers commit murder for money and points to the Fine Cotton Ring In as the event that would ultimately lead to Sayers’ death.

Episode 7 - Ray Bennett: The Criminal Mastermind

Part 1:

Raymond “Ray Chuck” Bennett was Australia’s criminal mastermind. A brazen armed robber and thief; he did the jobs that other criminals considered were beyond them.

His most audacious robbery was The Great Bookie Robbery – a heist at the Australian Jockey Club while the bookies met to settle up from the weekend’s trade.

Officially Bennett and his associates grabbed a tick over a million dollars but the bookies weren’t keen to announce the real size of the robbery, fearing the scrutiny of the tax office.
Bennett is reputed to have walked away with the princely sum of $14 million – a more than tidy sum in 1976.

Such was the size of the heist that every standover man and crooked cop wanted a piece of it.
Tough Nuts tells the story of the robbery and Bennett’s desperate and violent attempt to keep the extortionists at bay.

Bennett’s career is little known to all but true crime buffs but his story is one of the most intriguing and notorious in Australian criminal history.

Tough Nuts traces the development of the criminal mastermind from his days in the Painters and Dockers, to jail in England in the 1960s to his days as the pre-eminent armed robber in Australia.

Tough Nuts examines the events that led to Bennett’s violent death, shot down outside a Melbourne court house. His killer has never been found but through accounts from police and associates, Tough Nuts will identify the likely culprit.

Episode 8 - Lennie McPherson: Mr Big

Lennie McPherson ruled the Sydney crime scene for four decades. He was a violent and vicious criminal and arguably the worst of the worst.

Tough Nuts will trace the rise and rise of Lennie McPherson from a street crook in the 1940s to the Mr Big of the organised crime scene in Australia and to his death behind bars.

An imposing and intimidating figure Lennie Mr Big McPherson was a powerful and menacing figure.

Like Gangitano (episode two), McPherson looked overseas for his role models and based his organisation on the structure of the mafia.

Unlike the mafia, however, McPherson survived by becoming an informer or “fizz gig” for police. Thus he was able to keep ambitious criminals at bay and avoid prosecution for his many crimes. McPherson was not charged with any offence from 1961 until 1992 while he ran his criminal empire.

He despised his mother who in turn disapproved of his criminal behaviour. On the day of her seventieth birthday, McPherson presented her with a pet rabbit and then rung its neck and threw the carcass at her feet.

McPherson killed at least five men by his own hand.

He is believed to have informed on prison escapees from Melbourne, Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker. Both were captured in Sydney after police received information from McPherson. Ronald Ryan was the last man hanged in Australia for the murder of a prison guard, killed during Ryan’s escape.

Sentenced to four years in prison in 1992 for conspiracy to commit assault, McPherson died in jail in 1996.