This is the third episode in the Higgs brothers saga. Each part has to stand alone, so apologies for repeating some information. If you want to read the original story click on the following link. Murder in the Blue Mountains.
Bruce Doubleday Higgs was a Sydney underworld figure in the late 1920s. Played by Lincoln Lewis, he featured in the television series Underbelly, due to his association with the infamous sly grog and cocaine dealer, Kate Leigh, also known as Kate Barry. But Higgs was from a very respectable family, son of successful Sydney shoe store owner, Albert Higgs. His uncle, William Guy Higgs, had served as treasurer in Billy Hughes WWI government. How on earth did this young man end up in the murky world of crime and violence?
The problems really began on October 11 1927, the day after Bruce’s 21st birthday. He accompanied his older brothers William and Hubert on a trip to the Blue Mountains in a leased motor car. The purpose of the trip was ostensibly so that William could try to sell Kelvinator refrigerators to hotels and boarding houses. However, hungover from Bruce’s birthday party they abandoned the plan and spent the day on a drinking jaunt.
Next day (Wednesday) they drove back up as far as Katoomba, making sales calls along the way. Since they had exceeded the allowed car mileage, they illegally altered the speedometer. Back in Sydney that night Bruce picked up a girl, took the car on a spin and smashed it up. If he thought he was in trouble over the accident, there was far worse to come.
Ronald Leslie, a wealthy, retired grazier had been shot dead in his car at Valley Heights on Wednesday morning. No motive could be found, but Williams Higgs’ bloodstained coat was found nearby. By Thursday evening William had been charged with murder and Bruce and Hubert as accessories to the crime.
At the inquest and trial the three accused came across as irresponsible, dishonest larrikins. However, the case against them was circumstantial and their father had employed a powerful legal team. They were all acquitted.
When they walked from the courtroom as free men, Bruce in particular was mobbed by well-wishers; ‘His arm was almost wrenched off by men desperately eager to shake hands with him, while young girls wept hysterically nd kissed him.’ He gave a cocky interview to the press, boasting about writing to mates and asking them to lay bets for him on a not guilty verdict.
In early February 1929 Bruce Higgs was employed as Kate Leigh’s ‘chauffeur’. Late one night the pair were stopped by police under suspicion of having an unlicensed revolver. When an officer searched the car and tried to move the front seat, Higgs became abusive and threatening. Sure enough, a loaded revolver was found under the seat. He was fined over the incident and advised that someone from a decent family should find more a more respectable means of earning a living. The fine was later quashed because Higgs argued he wasn’t technically in possession of the weapon.
Instead of finding alternative employment, young Higgs went down to Tasmania to join his older brother Hubert. Hubert had bought a small yacht and the pair spent several weeks sailing and fishing around the island. Just before Hubert left to sail the Almira back to New South Wales, Bruce pulled out of the plan and returned to Sydney; ‘on some other matter.’
As it turned out, the yacht ran aground at Gabo Island and subsequently was almost lost in a storm off Eden. It was a nightmare voyage, but Bruce was having his own issues sorting out that ‘matter’.
By now he was immersed in underworld crime and making dangerous enemies among Kate Leigh’s associates. In August he was seriously injured in Sydney’s infamous, gang based ‘razor wars’. He was found almost unconscious and soaked with blood. An elderly taxi driver found the twenty two year old in the street and dropped him off at hospital. Eight wounds were stitched up; across his forehead, above each eye and on his hand and ear.
Naturally he was fearful of reprisals and refused to give any information about the attack except to confirm the wounds were inflicted by a razor. He was abusive to both medical staff and the police. After extreme pressure he gave his address as Salisbury Road, Rose Bay, the home of his long suffering parents.
Higgs does not come to notice again for many years. In 1942 he enlisted in WWII. At this point he was still single He gave his address as 253 William Street, Kings Cross and his occupation as clerk. At least that sounds better than chauffeur to the infamous Kate Leigh (and less hazardous). He did not serve overseas and had a sorry record of drunkenness, refusing to obey orders and being away without leave. At the end of the war he was dishonourably discharged.
In later life he did marry, but was divorced.
On the day the three Higgs brothers walked free from the courthouse in Darlinghurst, a reporter from the Truth newspaper visited their parents’ home in Rose Bay. The whole family had gathered to celebrate. Albert Higgs spoke of his relief at the verdict, and dismissed the heavy financial cost;
No doubt he reflected on these sentiments as he watched Bruce’s troubled, post trial life unfold. And what of his older sons, Hubert and William? Would they fare any better?