The Curse. Chapter One: The Hidden Camera


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John Wilson

The hidden camera extortion racket uncovered at New Farm’s trendy Avalon Flats shocked pre-war Brisbane. The victim — John Wilson, by all accounts, a remarkably devout English lad. The villains — Fred and Dalham Affleck, the sons of Sir Frederick Danby James Affleck, 8th Baronet of Dalham Hall, a Buderim orchardist.

The Supreme Court heard allegations of all-male orgies. Lawyers waved photos of homosexual sex acts. But the jury never heard from John Wilson. Justice Macrossan ruled they could rely on his previous testimony after he shot himself on the eve of the trial. Another victim perhaps of what Lady Lily Affleck described as the curse of the house of Affleck. However, despite the conviction of her sons, the trial never came close to the truth. A web of lies surrounded the entire case. Everyone lied, including John Wilson. So, what was the truth and who was John Wilson really? In truth, everyone was cursed because, for most people in the 1930s, survival required endless deceit.

The Hidden Camera

No one anticipates their life turning to shit at 7.30 on a Monday night. But the sudden appearance of Nobby Clark on the doorstep did not bode well. The detective required no introduction. Clark’s stern countenance stared out from regular newspaper accounts of his triumphs over the criminal underworld. Anyway, Dalham Affleck already knew Sergeant Nobby Clark of the CIB. The second son of the eighth Baronet of Dalham Hall had history with Brisbane’s Central Intelligence Branch.

hidden camera affleck
Dalham Affleck

“Who lives here?”

“Myself, my brother Fred Affleck, and a man named Barker.”

“Where are the other two?”

“At the pictures.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Since September 11. Why all these questions?”

“A youth named John Wilson has complained that you lured him to this flat. That you and your brother assaulted him, demanded money and threatened violence. You then met Wilson today, and he handed over an envelope containing marked notes. Have you any money on you now?”

“No.”

“Do you object to me searching you?”

“Certainly, I do.”

Two other detectives arrived. The three cops huddled near the door and whispered. Sergeant Hird and Constable Hambrecht assured Clark that the young complainant remained determined to press charges. He was waiting at the CIB. Clark turned back to Dalham Affleck.

“Consider yourself under arrest for demanding money with menaces in company with your brother. You will also probably be charged with robbery with violence from the same person.”

“I did not demand money! I do not know Wilson, did not assault anyone and I did not demand money from anyone!”

The policeman shrugged. Angry denials proved nothing. If only he had a penny for every suspect who snarled at him to go to buggery.

“I am going to search you.”

“No, you’re not!”

Dalham Affleck raised his fists, but Clark grabbed the right and Hambrecht the left. The three men struggled, tumbling over a couch, upending it, and then crashing to the floor. Hambrecht pinned Affleck while Clark cuffed him and then rummaged through his pockets. He found money, but not the marked notes entrusted to John Wilson earlier.

“Do you mind if I search your flat?”

“You will find nothing crook here.”

Clark glanced around Apartment G. A bed-sitting room with small kitchen and bathroom. A curtain strung across the middle divided the main room in two.

Clark’s mission was to explore beyond that curtain. This case began with a photograph of John Wilson and another male seated naked on the edge of a bed. The second man — tall, lean, with an athletic build and dark hair — was bent over with his head in Wilson’s lap performing a sex act. Although someone had scratched out his facial features, Clark assumed he was Dalham Affleck.

Brushing the curtain aside, the investigator surveyed the furnishings. A wardrobe against the curtain. Across the far side of the room, a bed identical to that in the photograph. And a dressing table. Nothing unusual.

Until the detective opened the wardrobe door and discovered an elaborate setup that instantly converted an ordinary bedroom into a covert photographic studio. No clothes. Instead, a Kodak camera mounted on a tripod and fitted with a custom-made aperture focused on the bed opposite. Above the camera, two flashbulbs connected to a dry cell battery. Closet photography. A person concealed behind the wardrobe could reach through a hole in its back and snap a pic without warning. All ready to go. Simply hide your photographer, open the wardrobe door, and strike an incriminating pose.

This was the evidence Clark needed. He would wait for Fred Affleck and Ernest Barker to return, see what they had to say and then arrest Fred Affleck, if not Barker. Barker remained a mystery. Was he involved or an innocent flatmate?

hidden camera
Detective-Sergeant A. B. Nobby Clark

For now, Clark needed to contact base and let them know to expect prisoners. The Queensland Police equipped a handful of cars with radios, but only one-way — incoming. To communicate with headquarters, cops in the field relied on public telephones. But the landlord of the Avalon had a phone. Clark called in on Charles Williams and his wife to see what they could tell him before knocking at Apartment G. While Hird and Hambrecht scoured the room for additional evidence, Clark returned to the Williams flat.

Charles Williams listened as the detective talked on the telephone. Obscene photographs. Unnatural sex acts. Extortion. A hidden camera. Damage to a wardrobe. Dalham Affleck rented Apartment G just over a week ago. Obviously, a lot happened since. The new tenant seemed so charming. Impeccable manners. Debonair. He dressed well. Affleck was in cut flowers, a good business according to a recent article in the paper. Probably less stressful than managing a block of self-contained one-bedroom flats offering short and long-term accommodation.

In 1937, New Farm’s Avalon Flats remained fashionable. Built at the turn of the decade, the building stood as a beacon of modernity amid the surrounding colonial-era residences. A tram passed the door allowing easy access to neighbouring Fortitude Valley and the Brisbane CBD. Country visitors boasted to newspaper social editors of holidaying at one of the 26 apartments numbered alphabetically from A to Z.

But as Mr and Mrs Williams well knew, the two-storey building on the corner of Brunswick and Harcourt Streets hosted more than just grazier’s wives. Indeed, elegant, budget-priced studio apartments could attract undesirable elements. Crooked businessmen in temporary need of a Brisbane address booked rooms. Also, adulterous couples cheating on their respective spouses, sometimes resulting in private detectives prowling the corridors. Single women checked in wearing drab dresses and drabber complexions but then changed into louder clothes and even louder faces and ushered a passing parade of gentleman callers through their doors. Conspicuously inconspicuous gentlemen who wore dark glasses at night and hats tilted low over their brows. Still, all of that faded into insignificance compared to the misdeeds of Dalham Affleck.

Clark returned to Apartment G and a puzzled Sergeant Hird.

“I pulled up the bedclothes, touched the bed, and there was a big flash.”

A hidden switch on the bedframe sparked the blinding burst of light. A wire traversed the room to the spycam setup and any pressure on the button triggered the flash and camera shutter. A clever hack. DIY photography. Taking a photograph of yourself, yourself. Perhaps one day, there’d be a name for that.

But Clark had a job to do. A serious job. He needed to know the who, what, when, where, why and how of the photograph. He knew where, when, possibly who, partially what and now much more about how. But why? Love, lust, loathing, or loot? Obviously, loot. However, courts require evidence, lots of evidence.

“Who owns this?”

“Not me,” said Dalham Affleck, “I didn’t know it was there.”

A time honoured defence. Admit nothing. Deny, deny, deny! But the strategy fell apart once Fred Affleck and Ernest Barker returned from the movies.

Clark noted the family resemblance. The Affleck brothers shared brown eyes and hair; the hair combed straight back from their foreheads. But they weren’t twins, 31-year-old Fred a year senior and Dalham, taller and leaner. The younger brother’s carefully clipped moustache added to a vaguely sinister demeanour despite elegant mannerisms and speech.

Fred Affleck lacked his brother’s smooth tongue and urbane manner. He came across more like a common crim. Which he was. Fred Affleck spent most of his adult life in Long Bay Gaol. Pudgy and chubby-faced, he wore a perpetually startled expression reminiscent of a cherub caught with his hand in the cookie jar. And he behaved likewise, always ready to blurt an excuse. After Clark repeated John Wilson’s accusations, Fred Affleck spilled his guts.

hidden camera affleck
Fred Affleck, Long Bay Gaol, 1927.

“I can account for Wilson being here. The boy followed my brother, so we decided to give him a hiding and learn him a lesson. We got him here, stripped him and then took his photo.”

Over the past decade, Fred Affleck heard repeated reminders of his right to remain silent. But he could still never shut up. That worked for Clark.

“Who set up the electric camera apparatus with the flash and button?”

“We did.”

“Who’s we?”

“Me, Dal and Barker.”

Game over.

Dalham Affleck admitted ownership of the camera. Then, a search of Ernest Barker turned up photographs and negatives.

“Who are these people?” Clark asked him.

“We have a men’s club here. Businessmen come to play about in the nude, and they pay us to take photographs.”

The detective had what he needed. He bundled up the evidence and the three miscreants and transported the lot to CIB HQ.

Two blocks from the Avalon Flats, they passed the scene of Dalham Affleck’s most recent dealings with the CIB. But back in June, he was not a target. He moonlighted then as an informant, crossing clairvoyant’s palms with policeman’s silver to secure evidence of fortune-telling. Emily Neighbour aka Madame de Lee read palms, tea leaves and cards in tiny, dark rooms on the corner of Brunswick and Robertson Streets. What did Madame de Lee predict during the consultation in her shabby parlour? Constabulary at the door? No. Neither at his — nor hers. She promised Dalham would benefit from a legacy. Bullshit! The hollow promise of a windfall bounty already caused his family grief enough. If Madame de Lee’s tea leaves did offer insight into Dalham Affleck’s true destiny, enlightening him would likely discourage repeat business.

You will become a notorious homosexual, and it will all end in tears.

No one paid to hear that.

It was after midnight. But somewhere, somehow, Clark located nine other men for an identity parade. He scattered his three suspects among them and called the complainant into the room. John Wilson scrutinised each of the men before identifying Fred and Dalham Affleck. Then, the slightly built shop assistant, apparently only 17, recited an account of the week’s events.

“I met Dalham Affleck in Ann Street last Saturday week. The following Monday, I met him again in Creek Street, and he invited me to his flat. In the flat, he struck me and knocked me unconscious. When I came to my senses, I was stripped of my clothing except for my singlet. I then saw Fred and Dalham Affleck inspecting the private papers out of my pockets. They demanded money from me. I told them I did not have any. They said, ‘You work at a place where there is plenty. Get some.’”

hidden camera
John Wilson

“You have heard the complainant. Have you anything to say?” asked Clark.

Although unsure of the extent of police evidence, Dalham Affleck knew what the film negatives from Barker’s pocket would reveal once developed. However, perhaps he could unnerve John Wilson.

“Are you prepared to be examined by a doctor?”

“Yes.”

“Not by a government doctor, but by one of my own?”

“I have an uncle who’s a doctor,” added Fred, “I will get him to examine you.”

There were no doctors in Fred Affleck’s family. But courts lent credence to the cockamamy evidence of quacks who claimed to identify gay bottoms by their bottoms.

They looked for the presence of semen or a lubricating agent like Vaseline. Absent that, they gazed at suspect posteriors in hope of a sign. Much as Madame de Lee conjured life stories from creases on a palm, they deciphered hints of receptive anal sex in the puckering of an arsehole. Learned judges passed sentences based on testimony that the passive homosexual’s guilt was written all over his rectum.

However, other doctors were more hands-on, conducting experiments to elicit scientific ‘proof’. They brushed a fingertip against the anus and watched for an anal wink, hypothesising that a virgin arsehole would react to the unfamiliar touch with an involuntary contraction. Otherwise, they stuck a finger up the suspect’s bum or inserted tubes of progressively increasing size, evaluating past sexual activity by ease of entry or manifestations of sexual arousal. But both law and social taboo prohibited frank discussion of sexual matters. Therefore, judges and juries never considered a crucial fact. That digital stimulation of the prostate will sometimes cause an erection or even spontaneous ejaculation, whether the subject enjoys the experience, hates it, or couldn’t give a f_ck.

John Ogden knew all about that, imprisoned on the word of an inexperienced outback doctor. A cook on sheep stations in Queensland’s dry central west, John worked hard and drank harder. He looked like it; at 42, his hangdog face a wounded monument to his love of the bottle. No one ever looked at John Ogden and thought, ‘There’s a man who hates a drink’. Cashed up at the end of each shearing season, he went into town and hit the grog. During a seven-week bender in Barcaldine, he met John Bonfield, also unmarried, also an itinerant farmworker, and an equally dedicated drinker.

Bonfield was tall, his dimpled chin level with the top of Ogden’s head. Following a quick beer at the Shakespeare Hotel, the pair strolled down Oak Street to a gumtree, and Bonfield f_cked Ogden under it. Not, however, the iconic eucalypt celebrated as the birthplace of organised labour in Australia. Jesus H. Christ! That would be sacrilege. No. John and John staggered past the Tree of Knowledge and went to buggery under a different gum. No seduction, flirtation or foreplay. Each as eager as the other, they simply dropped trou and got to it. Ogden lay on his back, Bonfield knelt between his legs, and they rooted on the bare, parched earth.

But privacy is not a given in the great outdoors, especially on vacant land alongside the main street. And there wasn’t a lot to do in Barcaldine at 7.30 on a Thursday night. Idle eyes watched on from a nearby camp. Three railway workers peered out from individual vantage points —a tent flap, a kitchen window, a verandah — before becoming aware of each other and gathering quietly at the camp fence. Only when Bonfield and Ogden finished and rose to their feet did the audience betray its presence, one of the wide-eyed onlookers growling, “You dirty animals.”

One of the witnesses chose to mind his own business, but the other two tipped off the constabulary who later found John Ogden passed out under a different tree.

“It was a bright moonlight night, and two reputable railwaymen, Robert Donnelly and Thomas Archibald Edge-Williams, plainly saw the actions of Ogden and Bonfield from a distance of 95 yards. They had full view of the pair for ten minutes.”

Queensland law regarded sodomy as a grave transgression. It ranked among crimes of violence like conspiracy to murder, attempted rape or kidnapping for ransom, all punishable by up to 14 years with hard labour. So severe a punishment demanded unambiguous evidence of wrongdoing.

“The offences known as sodomy or buggery can only be committed in ano [anally].

“The offence is complete when the prisoner, by a voluntary act, penetrates the anus of his victim with his penis: It is not necessary to prove the actual emission of seed.”

No penetration, no sodomy.

Proving penetration required Bonfield’s penis to be clearly visible from 95 yards — in semidarkness. Not bloody likely. Unless he possessed a member of such mythic proportion that for generations men would share tales around campfires of Long John Bonfield and his humongous John Thomas, it never happened. The witnesses also needed to observe actual penetration. Again, never happened. Bonfield f_cked Ogden in missionary position. Even someone much closer than 95 yards would struggle to discern the convergence of penis and anus in missionary position. Doggy-style? Perhaps. Knee Trembler? Maybe. Reverse Cowboy? Just possible. But missionary? Nah.

The two railway workers witnessed the appearance of sodomy, a man thrusting back and forth between another’s thighs. Without proof of penetration that was the lesser offence of gross indecency. So, the police turned to 26-year-old Patrick Joseph O’Hara whose entire experience as a medical practitioner consisted of two years in Barcaldine. They chose O’Hara over the more qualified Dr James Cook, medical superintendent of the local hospital for over two decades. Perhaps because of Cook’s testimony at an earlier case that he found no physical indications a nine-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted. Embarrassingly for the police, that resulted in the dropping of charges against her alleged abuser.

O’Hara was a popular sportsman; a champion cricketer — captain of the local team — an okay footballer and also a reasonable tennis player. In the Circuit Court, Paddy O’Hara testified that John Ogden was maggoted when he examined him following the arrest. Actually, he used the phrase, ‘so sodden with drink that he scarcely knew what he said or did’. Same thing.

A successful prosecution depended on O’Hara convincing the court that John Ogden’s anus recently extended a warm welcome to a stranger’s penis. The batsman hit a home run even before swearing his oath; the jury stacked with his mates.

Greengrocer Ted Scott lived down Elm Street from O’Hara and served on the jury as did his brother Cyril. Also, siblings Phil and Earnest Rodgers, the former a fine footy player in his day and father of O’Hara’s teammate Roy. Then, John Lennon and Jeremiah McQuaid, both committee members of the Catholic Tennis Club alongside the doctor. Café-owners Fred McLean and Charlie Heumiller sponsored the local cricketing competitions and also conducted refreshment stalls at the playing fields. Garage owner Tom McEffer was there, too. At a later, unrelated magisterial inquiry, he testified to his friendship with O’Hara and the doctor’s safe driving habits.

It was more a rah-rah squad for the prosecution’s expert medical witness than a jury. All they needed were pleated skirts, pigtails, pom-poms and a loud, cheery chant. Dr O’Hara informed a courtroom full of friends and sporting buddies “that a male had had illicit carnal knowledge of John Ogden.”

Guilty as charged! Paddy O’Hara said so. Case closed. Ogden and Bonfield stood little chance. The word of two drunken blow-ins against that of a popular sportsman in a town where everyone knew everyone. As Ogden’s defence lawyer said of Barcaldine on another occasion, “It was very hard for a stranger to get to know the locals.”

Cecil Hobler made that statement, by the way, at a testimonial dinner for Paddy O’Hara. Yep. He was another of the doctor’s chums.

Ogden copped twelve months with hard labour and Bonfield fifteen, tops routinely regarded as the more reprehensible offenders because they committed the assault. A bottom merely allowed it.

Back at the Brisbane CIB, John Wilson betrayed no clue of knowing what the Afflecks were on about. He was, by his own repeated admission, something of an innocent. John Wilson still lived with his mum and dad, worked five and a half days a week and filled his spare time with wholesome pursuits: swimming, playing tennis and attending church. He went to church a lot. John Wilson ignored Fred Affleck’s threat to have an imaginary uncle examine him. Sergeant Clark let it slide. The Afflecks would need to provide credible evidence before the slim blonde stripling ended up on an examination table, naked, on all fours, and with his bare arse in the air.

But Fred Affleck hadn’t finished.

“Did you not tell me that an influential businessman named Whitehead who works at Besley & Pike interfered with you?”

“Certainly not.”

Clark made a note to enquire if a Mr Whitehead worked at the well-known printers and stationers before consigning his prisoners to the cells. Later that morning, he laid charges. That between September 13 and 20, Dalham Robert Affleck, 30, Frederick James Siddartha Affleck, 31, and Ernest Barker, 39, demanded monies from John Frank Edwin Wilson with intent to steal. Further, they threatened to accuse Wilson of immoral dealings with another male and seriously assault him if he did not comply with their demands.

In the Police Court, Clark petitioned for a remand to allow further inquiries. Sensational as the evidence was, he could knock this up a whole other level.

The negatives would need processing. Although someone scratched over Dalham Affleck’s face on the print showing him and Wilson on the bed, the original negative was among evidence seized from Barker. Once the police lab developed the film, Clark could arraign Dalham Affleck on an added offence — gross indecency with a male person. Other images showed naked male couples frolicking on the bed, Fred and Dalham Affleck among them. There was also a single heterosexual coupling.

Clark knew a headline when he saw it, and this case screamed large font, front-page exposé. The newspapers agreed, especially the Brisbane Truth. In an era when possession of a cheeky postcard or an erotic memoir could send a man to jail, that salacious organ veered as near to written pornography as the law tolerated. The paper foraged for titillation without fear, favour or scruple. Divorce cases, sexual assaults, rapes; all fodder for the Brisbane Truth, the spankbank of the common man.

“It was revealed that the three men established a vice club. A certain type of businessman sought seclusion to indulge in perversion and seek divertissement from the cares of the office by indulging in revolting nude orgies.”

Detective Sergeant A. B. ‘Nobby’ Clark — Arthur Bruce to his mum — enjoyed cordial relations with the Brisbane Truth. The CIB regularly hauled ‘women of the unfortunate class’ before the courts. Yet, Nobby was quite the whore himself. A media whore — an unrelenting self-promoter. A good cop, and honest, he was also a publicity junky who licked media bottoms until they were sopping wet. Or, as a more cultivated scribe might say, assiduously cultivated the press. Clark advanced through the ranks under the friendly glare of a solicitous media spotlight.

The liberation of an innocent youth from the evil clutches of debauched hoodlums would make unputdownable reading. Not to mention Fred and Dalham Affleck’s descent from a distinguished English family. Indeed, their father was a knight of the realm, and Fred Affleck heir-apparent to a baronetcy.

Hold the f_cking press!

The Curse —> Chapter 2: Sir Frederick Affleck & Sons

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