Safe as Houses: 212 Evans Street, Rozelle
When thieves steal from each other, one is gunned down at his own home.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
It’s said there’s no honour among thieves, and Robert James Lennon certainly learned that the hard way.
When news first broke of the 50-year-old’s death at his home at 212 Evans Street, Rozelle, newspapers described him as a local carpenter. As the picture began to come together, though, it soon became clear that carpentry was not Lennon’s primary occupation.
On August 31 of 1953 at around 8PM, Lennon was with his wife in their at 212 Evans Street when someone called his name.
“Are you there, Bob?” the mysterious voice called out from Lennon’s backyard. “Is Max there?”
It’s hard to say whether or not Lennon recognised the voice, but it seems likely he did, because he walked out of the house into the backyard. It was there, silhouetted by light from the kitchen window, that Lennon was shot five times through the chest. His killer unloaded the entire chamber of a .38 pistol at his victim.
Lennon managed to cling to life for two days, talking to police before succumbing to his wounds. To his wife, he uttered one cryptic clue into his killer’s identity.
“It was Jack the Ripper … Proudfoot.”
212 (green roof) Evans street. Source: Google maps 2016
While the newspapers may not have immediately realised the significance of what had happened at Evans Street, Sydney’s gangland did. Lennon, it turned out, was not just a carpenter. He was a well-known small-time con. The brutality and brazenness of his murder sent underworld figures scurrying into their hiding places, afraid they could be next.
But Robert Lennon’s murder was not destined to touch off a gangland war. There would be no reprisals or vendettas on Lennon’s behalf.
Proving the old “no honour among thieves” axiom, Lennon had apparently been bilking his partners in crime. Lennon and two associates, 33-year-old William Walsh and 36-year-old John O’Connor, had taken to breaking into a Mick Simmons sporting goods store in Haymarket. In those days, the stock on offer at Mick Simmons was somewhat broader, and Walsh, O’Connor and Lennon had been regularly helping themselves to pens, pencils, watch bands and, most of all, cigarettes.
This wasn’t just petty theft. After Walsh and O’Connor’s eventual arrest, for breaking into Mick Simmons, no less, Walsh would tell police the trio had stolen somewhere in the neighbourhood of £25,000 worth of cigarettes, which they would then sell at discounted prices. Not content with their spoils, Lennon had decided to venture on some Mick Simmons excursions on his own. It was this greed that apparently got him killed.
Despite what seemed to be a clear motive, Walsh and O’Connor weren’t implicated in Lennon’s death. This may be due to the fact that the trio weren’t the only ones with a vested interest in the Mick Simmons racket. Walsh told police he had informed “other men” of the score. When asked what other men he had told, Walsh’s response may have provided a clue to Lennon’s murder.
“If I told you that, I’d end up like Lennon.”
Robert Lennon’s greed ended up being his undoing. No-one would be held accountable for his death, and his murder takes its place alongside dozens of other unsolved killings throughout the history of organised crime in Australia. With no honour among thieves, there’s little mourning either.
Lennon’s house at 212 Evans Street still stands. It last sold in 1999 for $270,000, but CoreLogic estimates its value today at between $1.1 million and $1.375 million. That's a lot of stolen cigarettes.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.