Safe as Houses: 9 Fernleigh Street, Geelong

Adam Smith 13 July 2017 NEWS

Police tape in front of house

A pair of bodies pulled from the river led to the doorstep of a small-time criminal.

  • WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.

When Stewart Gill went for a stroll along the banks of the Barwon River on 14 July 1946, it’s doubtful he expected to find a body. And when he went to find help, only to return later with a policeman, it’s highly doubtful either of them expected to find a second one.

The surprises continued when the police fished the bodies from the river. The brutality with which the two dead men had been treated was shocking. But, as it would become clear, brutality was something of a habit for Edward Carr.

The scene of the crime.

Decades later, 9 Fernleigh Street is a commercial property. Source: Google Maps.

The two dead men turned out to be a couple of minor Geelong criminals, Ernest “Ikey” Dew and William “Big Bill” Sheargold. Dew and Sheargold allegedly had a burgeoning protection racket around Geelong. Big Bill was imposing at 6’2” and 115 kilos. Ikey Dew, by contrast, was small and unassuming. His mother, in fact, refused to believe the criminal allegations against her late son.

“He wasn’t any standover man. He was a grand chap and a wonderful father. You couldn’t meet a nicer or more gentle fellow,” his mother told tabloid newspaper Truth. She even went so far as to claim he spent his spare time mending the shoes of local children.

The other residents of Geelong didn’t seem to view Ikey in such saintly terms. In addition to running a protection racket, Ikey and Big Bill were suspected of being involved with racketeers and sly-groggers.

That’s why, in spite of the initial shock, few found it surprising that the bodies pulled from the Barwon River belonged to Big Bill and Ikey. Big Bill’s brother even went so far as to say “he had it coming”.

What was surprising was the brutality with which the pair met their ends. Big Bill had been shot in the back of the head and, curiously, had also been shot in the knee and subsequently had the wound bandaged. Ikey had come off the worst of the two. He’d taken a bullet through the eye, as well as having been sliced across the stomach and having his entrails partially pulled through the wound.

The nature of the injuries led police – and the tabloids – to theorise that the two had been held and tortured for some time before the fatal wounds had been delivered. The truth, it would turn out, was merely that Ikey and Big Bill had picked the wrong man to shake down for money.

Edward Carr was another career criminal who had spent most of his adult life in and out of jail. When Ikey and Big Bill visited his home at 9 Fernleigh Street on the evening of 21 June, they quickly found their standover routine wouldn’t be met with acquiescence.

The spot where the bodies were found.

Newspaper clipping marking the spot where the bodies were found. Source: Trove.

The star witness at the trial of Edward Carr and his friend Horatio Morris, who were both charged with Ikey and Bill’s murders, was Edward’s 9-year-old son John. According to John, the men had come over to the house and he’d heard a commotion from the lounge room. After some yelling, some broken crockery and the sounds of a scuffle, his father’s friend Horatio had come in the kitchen with a rifle and demanded that John’s mother give him the bullets. She had refused.

Horatio returned to the lounge and the commotion continued. Now, John’s father came into the kitchen to make the same demand. When he met resistance, he threatened to bash Mrs Carr over the head with an axe. Needless to say, she produced the bullets.

Next, John said his father had returned to the lounge with a rifle. A number of shots followed, and then silence.

Edward and Horatio would claim self-defence at their trial. According to the pair, Ikey and Big Bill had come over to 9 Fernleigh Street to demand money from Edward. When he’d refused, the pair attacked him. Horatio, who had been drinking and was sleeping it off in an upstairs bedroom, heard the commotion and raced down to help his friend. He and Edward had subdued Ikey and Big Bill, and in the commotion shots had been fired.

Amazingly, despite the brutality of the killings, Edward and Horatio’s trial ended in an open verdict.

This wasn’t the end of the story for Edward, though. His violent ways would catch up with him eventually. In 1953, he was sentenced to seven years’ hard labour for shooting a man in the stomach. The newspaper report at the time described Edward as “a habitual criminal” and the judge in the trial seemed to hold a similar opinion.

“You are fortunate that you are not facing a charge of murder,” the judge told Edward. “Your record for the past 20 years shows you have been in gaol more than out. You are nothing but a public pest with no respect for the law.”

The house at 9 Fernleigh Street is now a commercial property. It’s currently for lease for $19,500 p.a. The house that used to be there, the one Edward Carr resided in, would have taught any would-be small business owners a valuable lesson: be careful when negotiating from a position of weakness.

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.

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