After 50 years on the punt, John “Camera Johnny” Williamson knew every rort there was from the racetrack and the snooker room to the card table. Using more than 100 aliases, the Melbourne-born gambler was the scourge of a generation of English bookmakers, pulling off some legendary covert betting plunges. But now it seems Mr Williamson, 72, has been outwitted himself after the mysterious loss of his A$48 million fortune.
“When I was running hot, I had more moves than a chessboard, but this mob of thieves has completely blindsided me,” he said.
Mr Williamson, who is in poor health, now lives in a tiny one bedroom CBD apartment. As a race tipster in England and Europe in the 1960s, Mr Williamson was a close associate of the infamous Kangaroo Gang, a group of Australian pickpockets, shoplifters and conmen who ran amok in the United Kingdom during the 1960s.
Now Mr Williamson has enlisted a couple of former Kangaroo Gang “scallywags” to help recover his money. “Baby Bruce,” who declined to give his real name, went to England as a 20-year old in 1966 to ply his trade as a pickpocket before falling in with some of the most infamous south London mobsters. Baby Bruce did jail time in Holland and the United Kingdom for the theft of diamond jewellery before giving up crime in the late 1960s. He was running a gambling club in London’s fashionable West End district when he met Mr Williamson in the 1970s. Mr Williamson said his tale of woe began in the early 1990s when he fell for a Nigerian woman, 22 years his junior. He was riding high after betting partnerships with top punters like Irish currency trader John Patrick “JP” McManus.
The woman claimed she was Justice Sybil Nwaka of the Nigerian High Court and carried a passport in that name. She was in fact a fraudster and a serial bigamist who used 16 aliases to con the unsuspecting. “To this day I still don’t know what her real name is,” said Mr Williamson.
Soon after they met, the woman conned him out of several hundred thousand pounds, Mr Williamson claimed. Under an alias, she was convicted of blackmail, forgery and other offences and jailed for five years, but still Mr Williamson, who fathered three children with her, couldn’t give her up. “It’s one the great mysteries of life why I didn’t just walk away from her. Call it love, but I was blind to her faults. I even married her while she was in jail. She was a hard habit to break,” he said.
But in 2001, soon after she was released from jail, the marriage broke down irrevocably. Mr Williamson said that during the extended divorce case, British authorities froze STG10 million pounds in accounts held with the Allied Irish Bank and the Bank of Ireland.
As much as STG20 million pounds was held in several other banks in various names and entities, Mr Williamson claimed. Mr Williamson also claimed his ex-wife arranged for machete-wielding thugs to drive him out of his STG850 000-pound south London home.
After suffering a heart attack, Mr Williamson was forced to return to Melbourne, leaving his English lawyers with his power of attorney. After a series of disputes over fees, the lawyers have refused to represent him further and have retained his files.
Mr Williamson said the banks have refused to hand over records detailing the fate of the funds, without the approval of his former lawyers. A local financial adviser managed to recover $2 million from a UK bank account but this had gone to pay legal fees, he said.
Without further funds, Mr Williamson said he could not afford to fight for his remaining fortune. A Melbourne lawyer who represented Mr Williamson forced him into bankruptcy over unpaid fees.
“What appears to have taken place is a conspiracy between Johnny’s ex-wife and a range of other people, including lawyers,” said Baby Bruce.
“But with our backgrounds we know a little of how the world works and how this might have happened. We think there’s a good chance to find some of this money and help out our old pal,” he said. “To catch crooks, you have to think like one. You might say we are uniquely qualified to take on this case,” said Baby Bruce.