With the release of episodes one and two of my radio documentary-turned-podcast, Too Old to Run: the Drug Grannies, on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Radio National’s ‘The History Listen‘ program (and of course uploaded online Part 1 and Part 2), there is an opportunity now to talk about revelations regarding drug kingpin and Toddie’s nephew Vern Todd, which came to light minutes before the book’s printing presses were due to roll.
Vern fled Australia just days before Toddie and Beezie were arrested in Sydney in late January/early February 1978, and because he used a range of aliases as he country-hopped his way in his get-away (anywhere from Norfolk Island to Asia to Europe to South America before finally returning to Los Angeles in the mid-80s), tracking him down in 2021 was a real challenge.
I didn’t even know if he was still alive!
But three clues about his status literally landed in my lap as Betrayed neared completion.
The first one was some research my wife did using American genealogy websites in which she was able to track down one of Toddie’s brothers who had passed away, which led to the status of the brother’s offspring: a daughter (Carrie) and a son, Vern. It was established through further research that Vern’s sister had died, and on a page especially uploaded at the time of her death by the funeral directors, there were references to surviving family members, as well as those who had pre-deceased her.
And there in black and white was the reference: “pre-deceased by her brother Vern”.
So I knew then Vern was dead. You see, the wife he abandoned in Australia in early 1978 has refused to engage with me – either in 1983 when I first tackled this project, and more recently as I have been writing Betrayed – and I have not pursued either of his two adult children as I believe it is unfair to visit the sins of the father on his offspring.
As hard as I tried through various intermediaries, I could not get details from Vern’s first wife in Australia that he had died, let alone under what circumstances.
The next clue was a dinner gathering in mid-2021 in Sydney at which one of Vern’s former business associates from his first company – Todd-Edye P.L. – told those gathered he had attended a by-invitation-only “wrap party” for Vern Todd in 2020 in Sydney, attended by Vern’s Australian friends, former acting and business colleagues, members of the legal fraternity and his Australian family. They had assembled to celebrate a life well lived which had closed the curtain on its final act in late 2019, aged 76. Vern had been operating a highly regarded and successful Japanese restaurant in Laurel Canyon up until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at which time he and his then partner, a British woman, sold the business.
The final clue was my interview in early 2022 with the veteran Australian actor Michael Caton, a legend on our television screens in The Sullivans in 1976-77 as well as Packed to the Rafters from 2008-13 (among many other dramas and police shows); a popular film actor including his “tell ‘em they’re dreaming” role as Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle in 1997, and more recently in Last Cab to Darwin, Three Summers and Rams; and unbeknownst to all but Vern’s tight circle of friends, an official “taster” of cannabis and hashish for the drug kingpin!
In our interview, extracts of which are included in ABC’s Too Old to Run podcast, Michael tells the story of chancing upon an unmistakable Vern Todd in Los Angeles, an old friend he had not seen since Vern fled the closing Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ dragnet in early 1978.
“In about 1985 or 86, I’m at a Toyota dealership in Los Angeles with my girlfriend, who had two kids, and I said to her ‘you could put the kids at separate ends of the Tarago so they can’t taunt each other’ and I looked across,” Caton recalls, “and there was a bearded Vern Todd.
“We just looked at each other and turned away.
“We became sort of reacquainted. He had a new identity, and a thriving business there.
“We became very good friends again,” Caton adds.
It was in this interview that Caton also revealed the identity Vern had been using all those years, living “incognito” in LA: he operated under the name Frank Moloney.
No amount of internet sleuthing has turned up a death notice for a Frank Moloney – or for Vern Todd, born 8 December 1943 – although a brief early-2022 telephone conversation with his nephew Vern Traxler in Los Angeles (a son of his sister Carrie Traxler [nee Todd]) elicited further confirmation the drug kingpin was dead, and that any further information about his past should be sought from family members down under.
There might be another book about the mystery behind Vern Todd, Phillip Shine and Mr X – the drug kingpins who largely escaped prosecution (except for Shine who was convicted in a German court and served seven years’ imprisonment based almost entirely on the Drug Grannies’ evidence), their (ex-)partners and their offspring, and how the law never caught up with either Vern or Mr X.
Who knows: maybe there is another side to Betrayed, and who knew what, when, and where (and who)!