The Suitcase Gang

The first major drug smuggling operation uncovered during the 1970s was sophisticated cannabis import ring directly linked to organized crime. Headed by Mr and Mrs Michael Moylan, Jr, a middle-aged Sydney couple who were heirs to the city’s most prestigious illegal casino, the 33 Club, the ring used some thirty couriers to move several million dollars worth of ‘Buddha sticks’ to Sydney during the period January to December 1975. After the entire Moylan family migrated to Sydney in 1964, Michael, Jr. opened an SP business with his father and later followed him into the 33 Club. Through these enterprises the Moylans acquired a number of close associates well-connected to organized crime, including Murray Riley and Wally Dean.

After Michael, Sr’s death in October 1973 and the club’s closure a year later, Mr and Mrs Michael Moylan, Jr were faced with a crisis in their finances. Embittered towards his son for taking a mistress from the club’s hostess staff, Michael Sr left him a watch, a set of cuff links and a monogrammed Rolls Royce. Michael, Jr soon pushed his family to the brink of bankruptcy to support his mistress and his expensive gambling habits. Their executive residence in Darling Point was a constant financial drain, and on 7 March 1975, only six months after closing the 33 Club, Patricia and Michael were forced to place the house on the market. The Rolls Royce was sold for $20,000 and in July the house finally went for $99,000. Clearly in need of new sources of income to support their lavish lifestyle, the Moylans soon began exploring the attractive financial possibilities of international drug trafficking.

Using their wide network of contacts in the professions and the milieu, the Moylans contrived one of the most legally and logistically complex smuggling operations ever mounted in Australasia. Working through a small but permanent Bangkok-based staff, the operation purchased high quality cannabis containing over 12 per cent THC, and packed 5 kilograms of ‘Buddha sticks’ into specially constructed fibreglass compartments flattened against the lids of an ordinary Samsonite suitcase. Assured of a steady ‘factory’ output of paired Samsonite suitcases containing 10 kilograms of cannabis worth $84,000 retail on the Sydney market, the Moylans recruited some thirty to forty young couriers and paid them $2,000 to $3,000 for each trip between Bangkok and Sydney. As they were leaving Sydney, the couriers were briefed on how to respond if arrested and taught a clever cover-story. If caught, women couriers were to explain that they had met ‘an American from New York City, approximately twenty-six years old, about six feet tall with sandy-brown hair and glasses’. Seduced by this fictitious person, they had been rewarded for their sexual compliance with a gift of two Samsonite suitcases and were, to say the least, shocked when Australian Customs informed them the suitcases contained cannabis.


To minimize the chances of apprehension, the Moylans pioneered the New Zealand smuggling route which took their couriers from Bangkok through Australia to New Zealand, and then back to Australia on a fresh ticket making Auckland seem the point of origin. If arrested, the couriers were offered the choice of standing trial with skilled legal assistance or flight from Australia on a false passport after a provisional release on bail. Although restricting its imports to cannabis, the Moylan group was actively interested in narcotics and at one point arranged finance for their key operative to carry heroin into the United States.

Despite its size and sophistication, the ring was plagued with arrests and seizures almost from the start. Its ultimate collapse reveals the problems inherent in mounting a major drug smuggling organization through an exclusive reliance on couriers. Organized some time in late 1974, the ring suffered its first arrests on 19 January 1975 when a team of Australian narcotics agents raided a motel in Sydney’s Double Bay. Breaking in early on a Sunday morning, the Australian agents arrested two sleeping couples recently arrived in Sydney: Peter Gyori (American, twenty-eight), Chantel Renee Bolzi (Swiss, twenty-four), Jean Jacques Stauffer (Swiss, twenty-six), and Nancy Davis (American, twenty). A search of their rooms turned up $2,000 in U.S. currency, $17,000 in Australian notes, eight kilograms of cannabis, and four Samsonite suitcases with the linings ripped out. Later that day agents arrested an American, Raymond ‘Bo’ Fidler, not far from the motel and seized $61,751 in banknotes.

Charged with drug smuggling, the two couples were later released after Patricia Moylan posted $28,000 cash bail on 10 February. The five then applied for Australian passports in the names of infants who had died in the years of their birth and fled to Bangkok. When the five suspects were due to appear in court on 4 April, none made an appearance and the $28,000 bail was forfeited. In May, however, Mrs Moylan appeared before the court and the judge returned all but $4,000. By this time the four accused were back in Bangkok where they were employed in the Moylan suitcase ‘factory’.

The Moylan ring suffered its next arrest in May when Alix Sheila Hanni, twenty-one, a Canadian-born traveller, was arrested at Sydney’s international terminal arriving from Singapore. Landing on a crowded Singapore Airlines 747 flight, Alix Hanni joined the long Customs queues. The officer’s suspicions were aroused by the excessive amount of camphor crystals scattered about the case to conceal the odour of fibreglass glue, and he examined the Samsonite suitcases for false bottoms, noted the excessive thickness of the outer shell, and weighed one case without its contents. Hanni was then subjected to a full body search by a female Customs officer while a male officer examined the suitcases and quickly discovered the 15 kilograms of Buddha sticks. Hanni was interviewed but refused to answer thirty-four simple questions. After making two telephone calls she announced that she would have nothing further to say until she had talked to her solicitor.

At her trial in September Alix Hanni told the jury a touching story of a woman of good family abandoned by a vicious husband, a struggle for survival in a foreign land and a duplicitous seduction by an American drug dealer — all set against the romantic background of war-torn Laos about to be engulfed by approaching communist legions. Hanni claimed that her father was head of Canada’s Bureau of Consumer Affairs, and she had moved to Laos in 1974 simply to follow her husband, a Swiss journalist. There her husband began consorting with the local bar girls, something he managed to conceal ‘until he infected me with venereal disease’. She left her husband and found work as an English tutor.

Fleeing Laos one step ahead of the communist tanks, she landed in Singapore where, abandoned and dejected, she was delighted when a chance encounter brought her face-to-face with one of her husband’s old friends, the fictitious Yank super-seducer Michael Johnson. ‘I told him everything that had happened to me’, Alix Hanni recalled for the jury, ‘and he had seemed to sympathize with me. Once he saw the cloth bags that I was using he offered to give me some cases, saying that he had just bought some new ones in Singapore. I didn’t think for one instant to question his gift.’

Even more remarkable than the story itself was the fact that the jury actually believed it and found Alix Hanni innocent. Hanni walked out of the courtroom penniless into a luxury flat owned by her defence counsel Frank C. Lawrence, later convicted as a coconspirator in the Moylan drug case. There she remained for a decent interval until she moved into the Moylans’ Eatham Avenue home as a live-in housekeeper. In November she left Australia with the Moylans and has never returned.

Apparently emboldened by their success in manipulating the judicial process in six separate cases, the Moylans began a rapid expansion of their operations during the latter months of 1975. At the Ming Court Hotel in Singapore’s Orchard Road in August, Michael Moylan struck up a casual conversation with a young New Zealand tourist and, on learning he was broke, offered him $3,000 to smuggle two suitcases of cannabis into Australia. Arriving in Bangkok some days later, the New Zealand tourist, Daryl M. Peat, checked into the Victory Hotel where he was soon met by Moylan’s traffic manager, Graham Twaddell, thirty-three, who delivered two Samsonite suitcases. Accompanied by the American smuggler Raymond Fidler who had fled bail seven months earlier in Sydney, Twaddell demonstrated various hand and body gestures to ‘make the suitcases look light at all times’. After receiving his final instructions at the Mississippi Queen Bar on Pat-pong Road, the Bangkok rendezvous of Australian drug dealers, Peat flew to Singapore and boarded the Russian ship MS Khaba-covsk for Fremantle. Met at the dock by Michael Moylan, Peat flew with him and the suitcases to Sydney, and later returned to New Zealand.

Requiring still more couriers to meet the demand for their high quality cannabis, the Moylans dispatched their traffic manager Twaddell to his native Adelaide to recruit his ex-lover, Robyn Jean Wickham. Robyn readily accepted and flew to Sydney on 29 September for briefing by Patricia Moylan. ‘We have had a lot of people do this sort of work for us who have been very successful’ said Mrs Moylan, ‘and there is virtually no risk involved in the way we do it.’ To minimize the possibility of search Robyn was instructed to return to Australia via New Zealand. Promising fortune and far-away places, Mrs Moylan said that their ‘star employee’ had already earned $15,000 from her trips to Bangkok. With $4,000 in travellers cheques and a briefing about the Michael Johnson story, Robyn flew off to Bangkok on 30 September.

Robyn was met in Bangkok by Twaddell and renewed contact with Patricia Moylan. Together they went to the ring’s suitcase ‘factory’, where they picked up the prepared cases and Mrs Moylan put Robyn through the drill of handling them to make them seem light. Landing at Perth several days later, Robyn was met by the Moylan’s secretary Michael R. Croker and they returned to Sydney with the suitcases. Only a few days later, Robyn contacted several Adelaide friends and invited them to join the ring. One of these, Jennifer Smith who had ‘flatted’ with Robyn in London in 1969, flew immediately to Sydney. Apparently trying to expatriate some of their considerable income, Michael Moylan gave Jenny $25,000 in twenty and fifty dollar bills to conceal in her baby’s nappies just prior to their departure.

Departing Sydney on 16 October, Robyn, Jenny, her baby and the $25,000 nappies flew off to Bangkok via Hong Kong. By the time the two women landed in Thailand, the Moylans had already arrived. The Moylan syndicate was evidently wearing its newfound prosperity poorly and the rip-offs characteristic of the drug trade had already begun. While waiting to pick up the cannabis-packed suitcases, Robyn met with Mrs Moylan at her hotel and was subjected to a bitter denunciation of the duplicity of Twaddell. Speaking with considerable vehemence, Mrs Moylan said:

I have had just about enough of Graham Twaddell. I am sick of him interfering and ruining all the work we have achieved. I know that he is going into business on his own. I think he is going to double-cross us like Barney [Graham G. Besey, a former 33 Club employee] did. It would only take a phone call from me to have Barney killed. It would be a shame, as I rather like his wife.

Robyn later met Twaddell and warned him. Twaddell replied: ‘Pet, you don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself.’ Leaving Bangkok on 28 October with two Samsonite suitcases packed with cannabis, Robyn flew to Melbourne where Customs examiner discovered the drugs during a routine search and placed her under arrest. At first she told the Michael Johnson story, but later broke down and confessed, implicating the Moylans and saying that she ‘feared for the safety of herself’ and her parents.

Robyn was, in fact, the second Moylan courier arrested in October. Customs procedures throughout Australasia had tightened considerably and on 1 October Janice Patricia Gray, a New Zealand native then living in Paddington, was searched by Auckland Customs who found 9.2 kilograms of compressed cannabis concealed in the linings of her suitcases. Gray had flown to Melbourne and was ticketed to return to Sydney shortly from Auckland. Arrested by New Zealand police, Gray offered no explanation for the cannabis in her suitcase although at her trial she told a modified version of the ‘Michael Johnson’ story. Allowed to retain an Auckland attorney, she passed a message through him to the Moylans warning of her arrest. Panicking, Michael Moylan and Twaddell tried to cover their tracks and conceal the joint booking arrangements which would point to Twaddell as Gray’s travelling companion and accomplice. The two men visited the travel agent who had booked the tickets and pleaded with her to falsify the records. Later, under pressure, Janice Gray retracted the story but refused to implicate the Moylans by name. ‘The man who asked me to do the trips’, she said, ‘was involved in running a gambling club in Sydney. . . I will not name him as it is not in my best interest, my safety.’

As the Australian Bureau of Narcotics began to close in on them, the Moylans realized it was just a matter of time before their arrests. On 3 November they finalized the sale of their home and fled Australia, first to Calgary, Canada, and then to England. Michael continued his compulsive gambling, and after several months Patricia left him to settle in Bath where she was alloted a regular welfare payment. In June 1976 Michael Moylan and Graham Twaddell were arrested at London Airport and were eventually deported to Australia, as was Patricia Moylan in January 1977.

Almost completely ignored by the Sydney press, the trial of the Moylan ring was Australia’s first major drug case and developed into a bitterly-contested legal battle revealing the problems inherent in drug law enforcement. Beginning with the arrest of Robyn Wickham in October 1975, the investigation lasted for over two years and the case did not come to trial until January 1978. Initial enquiries focused on the Moylans, but broadened after six months when Robyn Wickham decided to identify Sydney barrister Frank Lawrence as the person who briefed her on the ‘Michael Johnson story’. The prosecution gained another key witness in December 1976 when Australian narcotics agents arrested Michael Croker. After agreeing to testify for the Crown, Croker was sentenced to a four month bond of $4,000 for his share in the conspiracy.

Since the organizers had carefully insulated themselves from direct involvement in any of the cannabis negotiations, the Australian Bureau of Narcotics had to build its case on the couriers’ testimony. For the most part mercenary and unreliable, the couriers continued to deal with both the Crown and the criminals before the case came to trial. Croker had to be reminded on several occasions of his promise to testify and several woman couriers contacted the Moylan syndicate to demand payments for their drug runs even after they had agreed to turn Crown’s evidence. The prosecution’s star witness, Robyn Wickham, ran into Graham Twaddell soon after her release on bail and asked for her payment.

The trial itself was a classic courtroom drama and added some significant new evidence about the ring’s operations. Soon after preliminary proceedings began in early January, a Sydney lawyer flew to Adelaide and dropped by the Red Lion Hotel where one of Robyn’s friends and fellow couriers worked. After asking for the address of the Crown’s star witness, the lawyer said: ‘It is not likely that Robyn will live until she’s thirty’. The incident was soon reported to Commonwealth police who informed the lawyer that, in the event of Robyn’s death, he would become ‘a principal accessory before the fact’. Four days later that same lawyer came to see the police and said: ‘I think it is appropriate to tell you that you have my assurance that Robyn is out of danger’.

Michael Moylan pleaded guilty during the preliminary proceedings, and the trial itself began on 3 July 1978 with Mrs Patricia Moylan, Graham Twaddell and the barrister Frank C. Lawrence pleading not guilty. After Michael Moylan’s guilty plea, Twaddell and Mrs Moylan had at best a weak defence and the Crown concentrated on establishing the alleged complicity of Frank Lawrence.

Almost from the outset Mrs Moylan’s defence fared badly. After Robyn Wickham and Michael Croker gave detailed evidence for the Crown, Graham Twaddell made a dramatic admission of guilt mid-way through the trial and threw himself upon the mercy of the court. Mrs Moylan’s defence counsel employed some inspired tactics to rescue the faltering case. At one point her two daughters ran up to embrace their mother in full view of the jury. And in the words of the Crown Prosecutor, the youngest Moylan daughter Emma ‘flourished to the jury and not her mother, a teddy bear’. Testifying in her own defence, Patricia Moylan claimed to be a naive housewife who had little to do with her husband’s drug-running activities. During the seven years her husband and father-in-law managed the 33 Club she was at home with the children. Although she had travelled to Bangkok with her husband, she had no contact with the couriers and ‘spent 90 per cent of my time feeling ill’. The Crown Prosecutor challenged her assertions by showing that she had personally posted $28,000 cash as bail for the four smugglers arrested in January 1975 and later spent a considerable amount of time with them in Bangkok. Questioned about the source of that $28,000, Mrs Moylan claimed that $20,000 came from the sale of the family’s Rolls Royce and the other $8,000 from a man whose name she could no longer recall.

In probing for the source of the $28,000 bail money, the Crown Prosecutor raised the question of the Moylan family’s relationship with Murray Stewart Riley who had been arrested only a few days before the start of the trial for his role in a $46 million cannabis shipment. Eager to dissociate herself from a man whose exploits had captured sensational headlines, Mrs Moylan denied any long-term friendship with the Rileys. In rebuttal, the Crown Prosecutor showed that Murray Riley had posted $8,000 cash bail bond for Croker when he was arrested in 1976. The Crown Prosecutor also read from a letter that Mrs Moylan wrote to her children: ‘Barbara Riley had a bad time when Murray was sent to prison in New Zealand’. A reference to Murray Riley’s 1966 conviction, the letter showed that Mrs Moylan had been a close friend of the Riley family for over a decade.

During the trial, the defence counsel for barrister Frank Lawrence criticized both the Crown Prosecutor and the Australian Bureau of Narcotics for their handling of the case. Alleging that the Bureau had secretly launched ‘Operation Tempest’, a clandestine campaign to persecute all lawyers representing accused drug dealers, the defence charged that the arrest of Frank Lawrence was a product of the Bureau’s vendetta against the legal profession. During its cross-examination of Bureau agent Dennis Gray, defence counsel charged that he had said to Lawrence while passing him in the courtroom ‘You fucking grub’. Gray denied the charge, insisting that he had only said ‘You are a grub’.

Speaking in his own defence, Lawrence explained how he came to learn of Operation Tempest: ‘A member of the Narcotics Bureau, who I have called “Deep Throat”, who thought that the operation was a misdirected, illegal and misguided one, who thought it was a disgrace, made it his business to let me and other persons know about that operation. He regarded the whole thing as absolute hysteria.’ Calling the Crown Prosecutor ‘the agent’ of the Australian Bureau of Narcotics, Lawrence in effect claimed that the prosecution was a part of the Operation Tempest conspiracy and had spent $3 million ‘putting the case together’.

After listening to nineteen days of court proceedings covering some 700 pages of transcript, the jury found both Patricia Moylan and Frank Lawrence guilty. During their sentencing in August 1978 Judge Hicks called Mrs Moylan a ‘patent liar’ who had ‘shown no contrition’ and sentenced her to eight years’ imprisonment. While Twaddell only received six years in consideration of his guilty plea, Lawrence was sentenced to eight years and soon filed an appeal on thirty-five grounds. The N.S.W. Court of Criminal Appeal ordered a new trial, but Lawrence was again found guilty after a prolonged re-trial.

The one genuinely significant bit of information to emerge from the trial was completely overlooked. In its rebuttal to Mrs Moylan’s claim that she was in no way involved in her husband’s illicit activities, the Crown brought forward convincing evidence of a long-term relationship between the Moylans and the organized crime leader Murray Riley. Recalling earlier Moffitt Royal Commission evidence that Riley’s close business associate Wally Dean was receiving up to $1,000 per month from the Moylans’ 33 Club, it becomes apparent that their relationships were more than just personal friendship. Moreover, in their own operations the Moylans demonstrated all the attributes of professional criminals. Mrs Moylan once allegedly claimed that ‘It would only take a phone call’ to have a hired killer liquidate an unreliable associate; at least two couriers had serious concern for their lives if they betrayed the ring; death threats were made against the Crown’s star witness at the start of the trial. The Moylan’s business methods, their ownership of the illegal 33 Club casino and close relationship with Murray Riley all added up to only one possible conclusion — Australian organized crime had shifted personnel and funds into the international drug traffic.


from Drug Traffic by Alfred McCoy