Old gangster Bertie Kidd has finally revealed his role in the notorious Fine Cotton ring-in
An 87-year-old gangster described as Australia’s most complete criminal has revealed how the country’s most notorious betting scandal was hatched inside a Queensland prison.
Bertie Kidd, who is largely unknown to the general public but has been notorious in the underworld since the 1960s, details his role in the Fine Cotton ring-in for the first time in a new book.
Fine Cotton was a poorly performed horse secretly replaced by the better credentialed Bold Personality in an August 1984 race at Eagle Farm in Brisbane.
The organisers hoped to cash in on the long odds offered for ‘Fine Cotton’ but the scam turned into a debacle and all the main players were exposed – except Kidd.
Bold Personality looked nothing like Fine Cotton and an amateurish attempt to disguise the differences with paint proved disastrous, ending any hope of the conspirators pulling off a million-dollar sting.
The highest profile casualties of the Fine Cotton affair were bookmaking father and son Bill and Robbie Waterhouse who were found to have had prior knowledge of the ring-in and banned from Australian race courses for 14 years.
Kidd, who did occasional work for his mate ‘Big Bill’ Waterhouse, writes that Bill and Robbie’s punishments were ‘a terrible injustice’ and insists the family was not involved in the attempted fix.
Bertie Kidd, who is largely unknown to the general public but has been notorious in the underworld since the 1960s, details his role in the Fine Cotton ring-in for the first time in a new book. He is pictured poolside on the phone with a newspaper in the late 1970s or early 1980s
Bertie Kidd, 87, has been described as Australia’s ‘most complete’ criminal. He was released from prison in May 2018 amid warnings from those who know his background he was a still a danger to society. He is pictured at the launch of his first book
‘I know for a fact that Bill was not involved,’ he writes in a chapter on the affair. ‘A lot had been done to ensure the Waterhouses didn’t know, as it would have stuffed up the whole rort.’
Daily Mail Australia has obtained an exclusive extract of Kidd’s version of how the Fine Cotton substitution was put in place which is published below.
Kidd’s life story is being spread out in a trilogy of tomes, the first of which was published in 2019 and the second has just been released.
The grandfather has been working with author Simon Griffin on the books since he got of jail in May 2018, setting the record straight after decades of silence about his exploits.
His first book, The Audacious Kidd, covered the old crook’s law-breaking up to the the start of the 1970s. The second, The Notorious Kidd, picks up the tale from there.
Kidd’s own lawyer once described him as ‘the most complete criminal’ in the nation’s history. Others have referred to him as ‘Australian criminal royalty’.
The English-born villain, who arrived in Australia in 1947 as a 14-year-old, was a master safe-breaker with sidelines in forging currency, bold bullion thefts, armed robberies and home invasions.
The highest profile casualties of the Fine Cotton affair were bookmaking father and son Bill (right) and Robbie Waterhouse (left) who were found to have had prior knowledge of the ring-in and banned from Australian race courses for 14 years.
Kidd, pictured left in custody, has spent almost 30 of his 86 years behind bars, often in maximum security prisons. He has been likened to the crime lord Keyser Soze played by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects (right)
Kidd has been a prime suspect in two underworld murders and was investigated over the near-fatal shooting of another gangster, all of which he denies committing.
He was also a fixture on the darker edges of the nation’s thoroughbred and booking industries, collecting debts from gamblers and fixing horse races.
Kidd’s criminal feats are so extensive and his reputation so ruthless he has been likened to the mythical crime lord Keyser Soze in the 1995 film The Usual Suspects.
He was christened Bertram Douglas Kidd but changed his first name to Robert in the 1960s. He has remained known as Bert or Bertie.
Kidd, who made millions from crime, claims he won 19 acquittals in Victoria before he moved to Sydney in the 1970s and could not have done so without paying police.
He decided to tell his story after watching from behind bars a television news report of his planned deportation which painted him as ‘a real villain’.
‘They’ll have a hell of a say once I’m gone – I’m not there to answer,’ he previously told Daily Mail Australia. ‘So I thought I’m gonna put a few things right.’
Kidd spent 27 years in jail in three major stints including hard time at Pentridge’s H Division in Melbourne and segregation at Boggo Road in Brisbane.
For half a century Kidd, pictured with a lady friend, has been among the most notorious identities in the Australian underworld, his name infamous to generations of crooks and cops
Kidd, pictured with his dog Dino, was described by his lawyer as among the most complete criminals in Australia’s history. He has been referred to as Australian criminal royalty by others
His last prison term began in 1997 when he was sent away for 11 years after a bungled attempt to steal pseudoephedrine from a Brisbane chemical company.
While in custody in 2004, he was convicted of armed robberies on wealthy Sydney home owners at Burraneer Bay and Manly committed a decade earlier when he was in his 60s.
Kidd’s latest book recounts his most infamous deed when in 1982 he and several associates hid inside wooden crates on a flight carrying $1million in Reserve Bank cash to regional Queensland banks.
That job was unsuccessful but Kidd tells of a similar operation in which he concealed himself in a box to steal more than $2million in drug takings being flown from Sydney to Melbourne.
He explains his role in planning the still unsolved 1978 raid on the Bank of NSW branch at Murwillumbah in the state’s north which he says netted more than the reported $1.7million.
Griffin writes that Kidd, who lives in retirement in Launceston, acknowledges crime doesn’t pay but the old felon has been less than apologetic in some interviews.
‘I took up being a crook and I paid the penalty,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. ‘Life’s been very good to me. I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of enjoyment.’
Kidd was just 170cm (5’7′) tall in his prime but kept himself extremely fit and well into his 60s there were people who still found him terrifying.
Bertie Kidd says the late earless criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read (left) was a liar. He could laugh just by looking at him.He reckons Graham ‘The Munster’ Kinniburgh (right) is the best safe-breaker Australia has produced
Ray ‘Chuck’ Bennett (left) was among the most skillful criminals in Australia according to Kidd. He says ‘Jockey’ Smith (right) was a big-noter whose exploits were exaggerated by the media
His first two books feature Kidd’s associations with Melbourne criminals including Jimmy ‘Jockey’ Smith, brothers Brian, Les and Ray Kane, Ray ‘Chuck’ Bennett, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read and Graham ‘The Munster’ Kinniburgh.
From the Sydney underworld, he writes of Stan ‘The Man’ Smith, George Freeman, Lennie McPherson, Neddy Smith, Michael Hurley, the Toe Cutters and Kangaroo Gang of shoplifters.
He tells of nobbling horses for kickbacks from bookmakers and owning successful thoroughbreds including Dondice which won a race at Flemington in front of the Queen in 1977.
Through it all is his best mate, armed robber turned drug dealer Mick Sayers, who was shot dead in an unsolved murder at Bronte in 1985 a year after he helped Kidd plan the Fine Cotton sting.
Kidd’s involvement in that comedy of errors was not widely known until the 2019 publication of The Fine Cotton Fiasco, written by Peter Hoysted and Pat Sheil.
But while Kidd says that account ‘gets close to the mark of what really happened’ it still fell short of the full truth and ‘the real story of my involvement in the Fine Cotton story is the one I’ve written here.’
Kidd did not spend 27 years in prison for picking pockets and got away with the vast majority of his crimes, which he likes to call ‘projects’. Brisbane’s Boggo Road jail is pictured
The following is an edited extract of The Notorious Kidd: Volume 2 of The Kidd Trilogy by Simon Griffin published by Fin Press:
The story of Fine Cotton has gone down in Australian history as one of the country’s most audacious scams. The rort was to substitute a dud horse with another that had good form and would easily outclass the competition, then clean up on the betting with the runner at long odds. In order for this con to be successful, three things were necessary: finding a horse with good form that looked similar to the dud; making sure only a few people knew about it; and having the funds to be able to pull the whole thing off. That’s where I came in.
One day when I was in Boggo Road, an inmate who was working as a waiter in the screws’ mess came to talk with me, a conman named John Gillespie. He wanted to put a proposition to me, one that he believed, with my connections in Sydney and Melbourne, could be lucrative for all of us. He was planning to set up a horse sting at a city race meeting by swapping a good horse for a dud with similar markings.
Bold Personality, racing as Fine Cotton, wins at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm racecourse in 1984. Bertie Kidd was one of the instigators of the bungled betting sting
Gillespie mentioned that a fellow inmate named Pat Haitana was a jockey and had a brother, Hayden, who was an established horse trainer. He was interested in getting him involved, but he required further assistance and money to pull the rort off.
Bertie Kidd’s best friend Mick Sayers (pictured) was shot dead outside his Bronte home in 1985, a year after he helped plan the Fine Cotton ring-in
I thought this little sting could be a bit of fun to while away the time, so I showed interest and told him I would contact him if I wanted to proceed. I got word to Mick to see if he was keen and after he responded positively I organised for Gillespie to meet Mick through an intermediary at a well-known Sydney solicitor’s office.
Within a week I’d received all the pertinent information; the plan was a goer, and everything was to proceed at haste. Mick felt the sting had the potential to earn a substantial purse: the cost of the venture was going to be between $50,000 and $100,000, with a possible million-dollar return. I organised for the funds to be handed over by a trustworthy colleague and sat back to let things take their course.
I heard that as soon as Gillespie had the money, he sprang into action. He had already met Hayden Haitana and selected Fine Cotton, a horse whose form was at best poor, as the patsy. Haitana’s role was to ensure Fine Cotton had a few more lousy races in the run-up to the key meet, at Eagle Farm in Brisbane, in mid-August. That way the odds would be high. Soon after, Gillespie selected a good horse named Dashing Solitaire and asked a part-time female trainer named Wendy Smith to prepare him for a race at Eagle Farm in August too.
Bold Personality is pictured at the Queensland Mounted Police Unit stables after he was seized following the Fine Cotton fiasco
The date was set for 18 August and the race Gillespie had selected was the Commerce Novice (2nd division) Handicap over 1500 metres. In other words, it was hacks racing against hacks. Dashing Solitaire was more than a few classes above these horses, and with his form was almost certain to win easily.
The Notorious Kidd: Volume 2 of The Kidd Trilogy by Simon Griffin is available now
As the race approached, I found out that we would have odds of 33/1. I had long ago informed Gillespie and Mick that the betting had to be handled discreetly and minimal amounts needed to be spread among a select group of bookies across the country.
Then disaster struck. A few days before the race Dashing Solitaire was badly injured in a paddock accident: supposedly, he was spooked by kangaroos and ran into a barbed-wire fence.
At this point Gillespie should have aborted the plan. I had no idea what had happened and I suspect that when Mick heard about it he simply told Gillespie to sort it out. Gillespie identified a substitute horse with form, named Bold Personality, which was stabled near Coffs Harbour. He quickly purchased him, paying with a cheque, then raced him up to Brisbane.
The only problem was the horse looked nothing like Fine Cotton. For a start, Fine Cotton was dark brown, while Bold Personality was light brown, a bay; and Fine Cotton had distinctive white markings on his lower hind legs. Gillespie’s team desperately tried to conceal the differences, but these guys were no beauticians and the makeover was seriously off.
Bertie Kidd helped plan and finance the Fine Cotton sting from behind bars at Brisbane’s infamous Boggo Road jail (pictured)
The day before the race they tried using hair dye to change Bold Personality’s colour, but it turned the horse a shade of orange rather than dark brown. Mortified, they hosed the horse down, but the colour stayed the same. Next they tried to replicate Fine Cotton’s hind-leg markings with white spray paint, but they did it so badly they had to wrap the legs in bandages to make them look whiter.
So the lookalike for Fine Cotton, a brown gelding with white markings on his hind legs, rocked up to Eagle Farm in the shape of Bold Personality, a burnished orange horse with white spray paint and bandages on his hind legs.
Things got even worse after that. By race day, every man and his dog seemed to be betting on Fine Cotton. The odds went from 33/1 to 7/4, which ensured the stewards would be looking at the horse closely after the race.
Bertie Kidd was a safe-breaker, armed robber, home invader and gambler who fixed races and helped plan the 1984 Fine Cotton scandal from his Brisbane prison cell. An animal lover who has owned dogs most of his life, he is pictured with his horse Why So
When the race got underway, I listened eagerly to the radio commentary, unaware of the disaster that was unfolding. ‘Fine Cotton’ was slow to start and then raced erratically in the first few furlongs, which in itself was enough to alert the stewards, I thought. As the race progressed, he moved through the field and hit the front, but he was being run down in the final sprint by Harbour Gold, and the two horses went neck and neck to the winning post. It was a close finish, but aggressive riding on the part of the jockey got Fine Cotton in by a short half head. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘so much for the sting; he was lucky to win at all.’
I gave a cheer then listened intently to see if all was okay. Within minutes, my elation turned to despair. There were reports on the radio that something was up, and the familiar cry of ‘hold all tickets’ was broadcast. ‘There may be a protest,’ I thought, as it had been neck and neck. Then I heard the stewards were holding a meeting and instantly I knew our million-dollar pay day had turned into a hundred-thousand-dollar loss.
Bertie Kidd expected his role in the Fine Cotton fiasco to be exposed after the arrest of the main participants. The conspirators kept him out of their police statements and he ensured they had no problems behind bars when they were sent to prison
A few days later I found out that, prior to the race, Chinese whispers about Fine Cotton’s chances had leaked out across the country: the word was he couldn’t lose, so everybody then wanted to bet on him. I reckoned Gillespie’s efforts to curry favour with corrupt officials, including police and politicians, had let too many people in on the rort.
The fallout was swift, with the stewards looking for blood. Hayden Haitana initially did a runner, but then gave an interview to Jana Wendt from 60 Minutes before turning himself in and being charged. I thought he was going to expose Mick and me as the architects with Gillespie, and I held my breath, but he stayed staunch and all was kept under wraps. In return, I ensured that when the boys entered jail, they had no problems passing muster with the main prison cohort for their short sentences. Gillespie, though, had absconded and it was to be close to a year before he came before the courts. By then I was due to get out. I never saw him again.
The Notorious Kidd: Volume 2 of The Kidd Trilogy by Simon Griffin, published by Fin Press is available now for $34.95 at www.finpress.com.au, Amazon, Ebay, Apple Books and all good bookstores.
Fine Cotton betting scandal was planned by gangster Bertie Kidd behind bars