‘The Shadow’ was Francis (Frank) Maurice Fahy (1897-1978) one of Sydney’s first and most successful undercover police officers. He operated from the 1920s until his retirement thirty years later. Access to his scrapbook at the Library of NSW is still heavily restricted due to the sensitive nature of the material.
It was a Sergeant McKay who came up with the idea of using undercover police operatives, as civilian informants were so unreliable. Probationer Fahy was chosen because he was quick witted, and his slight figure was the antithesis of the burly policeman.
Frank was a master of disguise, In the following photo he is posing as a ‘barrow boy at the city markets.
Sometimes he would park a modified motorbike (shown below) and hide in a box built into the sidecar. It was disguised as a mobile scissor and knife sharpening business. He would watch and photograph his targets through peep holes.
On one occasion Frank had to pretend to be a cleaner, polishing the private mail boxes at the Sydney GPO repeatedly until his quarry (involved in a fur trade fraud) arrived to open one.
The Shadow sometimes constructed his own ‘tools of the trade’, including an extendable periscope.
Another alter-ego for Frank was ‘Jimmy Perkins’, a city vagrant. Frank would venture out unshaven and ragged, loitering around known criminals. They would consider him harmless and speak about planned crimes in his presence. The only problem was that fellow police officers had no idea Jimmy Perkins was really one of their own, and would move him on or even arrest him. Jimmy’s most famous case was the attempted robbery at the Union Bank;
After a series of raids on banks in 1926, Frank Fahy, disguised as a vagrant, hung around a near-city factory complex and watched three Italian suspects hand-making tools he believed were for safe-breaking. None of the trio suspected the disheveled ‘vagrant’ wandering in and out of the factories was in fact a police officer, and one day Fahy heard them mention renting an office above the Union Bank in Castlereagh Street.
Frank quickly informed his seniors, and when police raided that office several nights later, they found a hole cut in the floor – and the gang working on the safe in the bank below. They had climbed down via a rope ladder. All were arrested.
THE PERSONAL COST TO ‘THE SHADOW’
Fahy would often work until the early houses of the morning or would disappear on assignments for weeks at a time. It is hardly surprising that his relationships failed. He first married in 1920, but was divorced after his wife Margaret deserted him.
There were two children from the marriage; Joyce who was 13 at the time and Ronald, aged 10, which led to a court case over custody. An enlightened Judge considered the youngsters’ own wishes in making his decision. Custody was awarded to their father, who had remarried, although that relationship would also break down.
Frank died aged 82 and was buried at Gosford on the Central Coast. The inscription on the headstone is by his daughter Joyce. Of course she knew nothing of her father’s undercover work when she was a child, but later discovered she had helped him out on a few occasions. Once he took her to a park and patiently pushed her on the swings for ages. It turned out he was watching a house across the road. When the occupants (two bank robbers) appeared at the door, he gave the signal to fellow officers to arrest them.
It was Joyce who donated her father’s scrapbook to the State Library, in 2010. She was interviewed for Police Monthly, (April 2013), at the age of 90.
‘My father had a special ‘double sided’ suit made. One side was blue – the other side was grey. Sounds crazy doesn’t it – but there was method in dad’s madness. If a target got suspicious and thought the man in the blue suit was following him, my father would quickly turn the coat or trousers inside out. The crooks then went about their business, thinking the blue suited man had gone away.’
What an interesting career The Shadow had. I hope he thought that all the sacrifices were worthwhile.