Billy Longley signs a copy of a book about his life for Robert Richter QC in 2005. Photo: Craig Abraham
One of the biggest names in Melbourne's underworld, Billy Longley, died peacefully in the Royal Melbourne Hospital on Friday morning.
He knew where many bodies were buried, put a few there himself and was the catalyst for a Royal Commission.
He was 88.
Billy 'The Texan' Longley pictured in 1988. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
In 1971, Billy 'The Texan' Longley stood for the position of president of the Victorian branch of the Painters and Dockers union. Longley was confident he had the numbers but so was the other side. That's why the ballot box was stolen and a fire set in the office, an act Longley's supporters considered undemocratic.
When the election result was announced, Arthur Morris was the winner. It was never going to end there.
Pat Shannon, the popular secretary of the union, was gunned down in the bar of the Druids Hotel in South Melbourne on October 17, 1973.
The Texan was charged with the murder. Police alleged he paid another man, Kevin Taylor, $6000 for the job. Longley was to serve 13 years for the murder although he would always claim he was innocent. Many said that he would be killed in jail as a payback for Shannon. But no one was able to get close enough to the wily Longley.
Longley was no stranger to courts. He was charged with the murder of his first wife, Patricia, in 1961 and found guilty of manslaughter. He was later acquitted on appeal. And there are a few other cases.
In the mid-1960s, five dockies were shot in one night at the Rose and Crown Hotel in Port Melbourne.
Police said Billy was responsible for three of them, meaning that the other two declined to complain about their bullet wounds.
It didn't look good for the man who had gained the nickname 'The Texan' from a TV western about a man called Longley with a similar penchant for Colt .45 pistols.
This time it was his lawyer, Frank Galbally, who was firing the (legal) bullets. “He was like an umbrella from the outrageous slings and arrows of the homicide and consorting squad for me,” Longley would say later about his favourite advocate. "Any hurdles I had to jump I went to see him."
Longley was acquitted of the Rose and Crown shootings, which was remarkable considering his ability as a sharpshooter, honed by shooting at bottles floating past while he was fishing on the Murray River.
Even from inside prison, while serving his time over Shannon's murder, Longley remained a powerful figure. He made a series of allegations to The Bulletin magazine about crime and corruption that resulted in the then-Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, setting up the Costigan Royal Commission.
Longley told the Commission that after 1958, between 30 and 40 painters and dockers had been murdered as part of a union civil war.
Longley was released from prison in 1988. Always the ladies' man, he returned to one of his great loves - dancing. Strictly ballroom, of course. And, being a gentleman at all times, when asked if it was a gun in his pocket he was always able to answer unblushingly that it could well be. The Texan would never be guilty of inappropriate behaviour on the dance floor.
In business, meanwhile, at an age when many people were trying to live on a pension, Longley teamed up with another colourful Melbourne identity, former experienced detective, Brian 'The Skull' Murphy.
They formed a trouble-shooting mediation team with the catchy motto "everything can be negotiated".
In his later years he could be seen holding court (as opposed to attending one) in Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds over coffee and cake – usually surrounded by admiring women.
“He had a great dry wit appreciated by his generation and people a little younger,” Murphy said.
Their friendship went back many years. Murphy said he refused to commit perjury to implicate Longley in a multiple shooting and in return The Texan got a guarantee (at gunpoint) the Painters and Dockers would never attack the policeman's house or family.
“That wouldn't have stopped me pinching him if he did the wrong thing,” Murphy said.
Longley became an enthusiastic water aerobics participant who once requested that the pool manager raise the water temperature a tad as it was too chilly for some of the class participants who were battling arthritis.
The manager stood his ground saying it would then be too hot for the lap swimmers.
True to his motto The Texan refused to take no for an answer and continued the negotiations even when the manager complained he felt threatened.
“I have no idea why he felt that way,” Billy later said.
The Texan won the day, much to the delight of his fellow aerobic aficionados.
In the last few years his eyesight failed him, although he didn't let on at first.
“I told him, 'you know you're blind'?" Murphy said.
“He said, 'Yes, but I can still follow a voice and I can still shoot straight'.”
He was joking, we think.
Adapted in part from the book Tough: 101 Gangsters by John Silvester and Andrew Rule.