Safe as Houses: 428 Crown St, Surry Hills
Two women’s battle for the affections of a Sydney racketeer has a bloody conclusion.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
Donald “The Duck” Day must have had quite the magnetic personality. It’s the only explanation for how the Sydney racketeer managed to stir such jealousy and devotion and, ultimately, such hatred. Day managed to weave such a web of romance and betrayal that when he was shot and killed at 428 Crown Street in Surry Hills on 29 January 1945, four people were charged with his murder.
The altercation seemed to go back to Day’s relationship with 20-year-old Joyce Cusack. Day had taken up with Cusack a few months before the incident took place. The problem with this, of course, was Donald Day’s longtime consort and common-law wife, 27-year-old Rene Day.
Rene and 39-year-old Donald had been together since Rene was a teenager and now she watched as he turned his affections to a younger woman. It didn’t help that Cusack seemed intent on mocking Rene as the love of her life turned his back on her.
Rene would testify at a coronial inquest that Joyce Cusack had approached her at a nightclub to taunt her about having lost Donald’s affections.
428 Crown St, Surry Hills in 2016. Source: Google Maps.
“I’ll be wearing your fur coats and diamonds and we’ll take the baby, too,” Cusack allegedly told Rene.
For her part, Joyce denied that she had been so brazen and staunchly proclaimed that her affections for Donald were so deep that she would have run away with him even if he’d had nothing to his name.
One point that neither woman seemed to dispute was when the situation between the two reached a boiling point. During a nightclub altercation, Joyce poured a full glass of beer over Rene’s head and Rene glassed Joyce in the eye, sending her to St Vincent’s Hospital for stitches.
What’s not entirely clear is where 28-year-old salesman Keith Hull fit into the situation. Newspaper accounts are cagey about his relationship with the parties involved, but he seems to have been close with Rene Day.
Rene Day, along with two of her friends, Nancy Burley and Daphne Kinney, were initially implicated in Donald Day’s shooting, only to be cleared of charges at the coronial inquest. The initial thinking by police seems to have been that the trio conspired to put Donald in front of a gun. There was no doubt whatsoever, though, that Keith Hull pulled the trigger.
On January 29 of 1945, Hull and Rene were in an upstairs bedroom at 428 Crown Street. Hull seemed to know Donald Day was on his way over. The day before, the two men had tussled downstairs in the premises, which were used for the sale of liquor. When Day returned looking for another fight, Keith Hull was ready for him.
According to Hull’s testimony, Day burst into the room holding a gun. Hull was ready with a gun as well. Donald Day’s gun, as it turned out.
“The door was opened and he came into the room where Rene and I were. He pointed a gun at me and said, ‘It’s on.’ I never gave him a chance. I fired at him and he fell on the floor,” Hull told the inquest.
For all Day’s caddishness, Rene remained in his thrall. When police attended the scene, they found her holding the lifeless gangster’s hand and wailing, “They’ve shot my Donnie!”
Four people were implicated in Donald Day’s murder. All four of them would go free. Keith Hull was ultimately found to have acted in self-defence.
Today, the building where Donald “The Duck” Day was murdered is a cafe. It last sold in 2004 for $1.25 million. CoreLogic has no estimate of its current value, but given its prime Surry Hills location, it would likely come at a dear price. Though not as dear a price as Donald Day paid for playing fast and loose with people’s affections.
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.