Not all sailors are good! The story of ‘Sailor the Slasher’

About Greg Swinden

Greg Swinden joined the RAN in 1985 and specialised as a Supply (Logistics) Officer. He has served at sea in HMA Ships SWAN, MELBOURNE and KANIMBLA (twice) and has seen operational service in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. He is a keen naval historian and has written a number of books and articles on Australian naval history focusing mainly on the period 1900 - 1939.

The Underbelly – Razor series deals with the Criminal underworld of Sydney during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Bengal ‘cut throat’ blade razors were the preferred weapon of many of the thugs and standover men who belonged to the many Razor Gangs that operated throughout the city.    Amongst these many petty criminals, thieves and enforcers was one Lancelot Macgregor Saidler who earned himself the nick-name ‘Sailor the Slasher’.   But how did he get this nick-name?

Saidler was born in South Fitzroy, Melbourne on 15 October 1907. His family later moved to Sydney and he joined the RAN, as a Boy 2nd Class on 11 March 1924, at age 16, and commenced his training in the Boys Training Ship HMAS Tingira which was moored at Rose Bay.   On entry he was described at 5 foot 7 ½ inches tall with fair hair, blues eyes and a fair complexion.  He also had an appendix scar on his lower abdomen, was of the Presbyterian faith and his previous civilian employment was listed as a clerk.   Saidler was issued with service number 14355 and was signed on in the Navy for 12 years service; which was start once he had turned 18.

One of the other boys who joined up with Saidler at this time was Philip Jay who recalled Saidler was a tall good looking young man from a ‘well to do family’ who initially did well in the service.     On 19 July 1924 Saidler was promoted to Boy 1st Class and it appeared he was destined for a long naval career but, as Philip Jay related to the author, a fire broke out in Tingira in mid August 1924 and investigations proved it was deliberately lit and that Saidler was somehow involved.  On 26 August 1924, Saidler’s naval career was over when he was discharged Services No Longer Required (SNLR) – often known as a ‘Snarler’ and used to discharge those of bad character.  His deferred pay (an early form of pension money) was also forfeited.

After leaving the Navy, he worked as a labourer but soon descended into a life of crime which included robbery with violence, house breaking and later he became a standover man, or enforcer, for one of Sydney’s crime bosses, Norman Bruhn (who had been forced out of the Melbourne underworld in 1926).    After Bruhn was killed in June 1927, Saidler became a ‘lone wolf standover man’ and armed with a white handled razor he targeted hotels and businesses in East Sydney, Darlinghurst and Glebe, where he would demand protection money.

At this time one reporter described him ‘as small, pale and obstreperous’ while another stated he was ‘a gunman, razor terrorist, thief, parasite and basher’. ‘Sailor’ Saidler became both feared and hated throughout the underworld of East Sydney and Darlinghurst. Saidler liked to live the high life and when he had money lived in a comfortable flat in Kings Cross with a young girl called Lallie Brown.   But more often then not he hid out in a small back room of a house in Surry Hills.

On the afternoon of Saturday 13 September 1930, Saidler entered Ernest Good’s wine bar in Elizabeth Street, near Central Station, and demanded five shillings in protection money.  Good refused to pay and Saidler then threw a glass of wine into Good’s face and drew his razor and threatened – ‘I’ll carve you up. I’ll cut off your smeller (nose) with this little beauty’.  As Saidler waved the razor about, and attempted to jump over the bar, Ernie Good drew a pistol out from a drawer and calmly shot Saidler in the chest. Saidler slumped to the floor and died a few moments later; he was 22 years old.  Good was arrested by Police and charged with killing Saidler but he was acquitted in mid October 1930 on the grounds of ‘justifiable homicide’.  Saidler was subsequently buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood Cemetery.

After his death his widow, Lallie Brown, later went to Good’s wine bar and scratched ‘I am going to get you. I Kill too’ on the front door. Lallie Brown claimed she was 15 when she married Saidler but there are no records of a marriage of the two in NSW or Victorian Marriage records.

She told reporters at the time that Saidler was not the gangster that everybody said he was but just a ‘wild boy’ and that he had several cats in his house at Surry Hills and used to play with the local Chinese children who loved him.  He however could be violent with her and when she started to learn to smoke he hit her and once took a lit cigarette and burned her tongue with it in order to dissuade her from smoking and ‘being like the other girls.’ Perhaps there was some good in him after all; but not much.

Sources:

Australian Archives: RAN Service Record Boy 1st Class Lancelot Macgregor Saidler (14355)

Birth Certificate: Launcelot McGregor Saidler (South Fitzroy Register 6438/26794)

Correspondence with the Late Petty Officer Philip Jay (14349) in the 1990’s.  Part of the discussion involved non use of the information he provided regarding Saidler until after Jay’s death.

Death Certificate: Lancelot M. Saidler (NSW Register 10915/1930)

Morton J. & Robinson R.  Shotgun and Standover: The Story of the Painters and Dockers, Pan MacMillanPublishers Australia, Sydney, 2010.

Writer L. Razor: Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and the Razor Gangs, Pan MacMillan Publishers Australia, Sydney, 2009.

Newspapers:  Sydney Morning Herald (Various Articles in September- October 1930)

The Adelaide Mail 2 December 1950 – Razors Flashed in Sydney – The tale of ‘Sailor’ Saidler, one of the underworlds ugliest blade artists of ‘Razorhurst’ (by Hugh Buggy).

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