Tragic end for ‘world’s unluckiest man’ Paul Murphy

It looked as if the worlds unluckiest mans run of bad luck had ended, and that a slice of good luck had finally been served up.After writing previously about an endless string of misfortunes which had made up Paul Murphy’s life, I was ready to document a happy turn of events.
COVID-19 delayed a visit to interview Paul in the new Sydney home he had moved into after escaping squalid inner city housing flats, but it seemed he had finally found some peace.
I had stayed in touch with Paul over the years after writing a story about him and his incredible run of bad luck which included — among many other incidents — a home invasion, car accidents, burglaries and most memorably a lost set of dentures.
At one point this year during the first lockdown, fearing he was unlucky enough to have caught coronavirus, I left a dozen messages before hearing back that he was OK.
Then a week ago my phone rang and it was Paul’s mate, Jason Bridgewood, and he was ringing with some bad news.
He was ringing because Paul could not.
On August 29, at Clemton Park in southwestern Sydney, an unconscious man was pulled out of a smoke-filled unit on Biara Avenue.
Fire fighters performed CPR until paramedics arrived, but despite their best efforts the 62-year-old man died at the scene.
Paul Murphy — the self-confessed “world’s unluckiest man” — had endured his final piece of bad luck.
This kind man with a positive attitude to life despite a seemingly endless string of adverse events, had fallen victim to a most terrible end.
Police launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, and now news.com.au can reveal what happened.
But first, a recap of the life of Paul Murphy whose survival for sixty-two-and-a-half years is a remarkable achievement in itself, given the circumstances.
Paul first came to public notice aged 55, after he lost his teeth during a rare beer out with friends in July, 2013.
He didn’t drink much because he couldn’t afford it on his pension, and more recently, in the years leading up to his death, he didn’t drink at all.
But back then he still liked the odd beer and after he became “too drunk”, he fell over and lost his dentures.
The false teeth didn’t fall out of his mouth, but out of his pocket where he had placed them for safe keeping, because they hurt too much to wear.
They had hurt ever since he’d been struck in the face during a home invasion at his housing commission flat in Redfern.
After searching for his teeth to no avail, he made up a poster which said: “Lost dentures. Upper and lower … owner far too drunk, fell over, a few too many times. I am a pensioner & desperately need my teeth. Reward offered”.
He put up the poster on telegraph poles and received a text from someone saying they’d found them, but alas, somebody else must have lost their dentures, because they weren’t Paul’s.
He was still hoping they would be returned when news.com.au saw his poster and contacted him, beginning a friendship and the discovery of the amazing story of his life.
Paul had a sister and they had grown up in southern Sydney in not uncomfortable circumstances.
Paul had attended Blakehurst High School, but because he was dyslexic and it was the 1970s, he didn’t do well at school and didn’t get help.
Blakehurst High also had a heroin dealer among its pupils and Paul started using.
Unfortunately his parents had enough money to pay for one of the few treatment centres for drug addicts back then, Chelmsford Private Hospital.
Dr Harry Bailey subjected patients to his new electroconvulsive treatment known as deep-sleep therapy.
He treated patients with a range of disorders from schizophrenia and depression to anorexia and alcohol and drug addiction, and of the 27 resulting patient deaths, 24 were from suicide.
Many of those who survived remained haunted and broken.
Chelmsford Hospital, which was investigated by a royal commission in the late 1980s, would become notorious for its dangerous psychiatric malpractice.
Bailey’s invention was a cocktail of barbiturates to put patients into a coma for up to 39 days, while also administering electro-convulsive therapy (ECT).
Paul received 42 electric shock treatments over a 14-day stay, and it didn’t eradicate his heroin addiction.
But he managed to become a car valuer, which would lead to his first issue with his teeth.
In 1976, he drove a classic GT Falcon at high speed into the airport tunnel and smashed into another car.
Paul’s top front teeth had to be replaced by $7000 worth of caps.
A series of speeding fines ended with him losing his licence, and his job as a car valuer, so Paul became a car detailer.
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One day at his car detailing business, which was next door to a funeral parlour, Paul was working on some expensive vehicles for clients.
Unbeknown to him, the corpse of a dead gang boss was lying in the parlour next door in preparation for the man’s funeral.
That night, in a drive-by attack someone – presumably an enemy of the gang boss – firebombed the funeral parlour, also setting alight Paul’s car detailing business which was a few weeks behind on its insurance payments.
Paul’s response was to immediately turn back to heroin.
Between 1986 and 2005, he would be in and out of five different prisons, on heroin charges and for “bodgy loans”, forging bank papers to steal money.
The drugs destroyed the teeth he had left and then jail dentists wrecked the rest, and eventually all but one of his teeth were removed. That’s when he got the dentures.
After his last prison stretch in 2005, he decided he would never take drugs or commit a crime again.
He had started taking methadone in prison and resisted the urge to switch back to heroin on his release.
He started earning money doing odd jobs and restoring old furniture, and in 2009 moved into the housing commission flats where he would spend the next 10 years.
En route to his new home, he was walking down a Redfern lane, when a convertible slowed down beside him.
A teenager standing in the back of the vehicle swung a baseball bat and smashed it into his shoulder, breaking the top of his humerus bone.
It was to the first of many hospital stays for Paul.
On New Year’s Day, 2011, he was standing innocently on a footpath near his home when a motorbike rider sped through the lights and struck him, breaking his collar bone, shoulder, sternum and seven ribs.
He used a payout from the accident to upgrade his television, buy a computer, stereo, new tools and an electric pushbike to travel to his handyman jobs.
Life was going well, but one weekend when he went to Oberon to spend time with a Christian man who was teaching him handyman skills, Paul’s flat was broken into and everything taken.
He installed a steel door, but in 2012 when he was fixing the lock on the door, three men in balaclavas stormed into his flat and struck him in the face with a steel bar.
They knocked out the one remaining tooth in Paul’s mouth, which anchored his dentures.
But, as Paul later revealed with a smile to news.com.au, the robbers only got his mobile phone and $40 because “my laptop was down the side of the couch”.
In 2013, after Paul revealed his story, news.com.au asked if he was the world’s unluckiest man and with a rueful smile he agreed: “About that, yeah”.
His Morehead Street flat was packed with items he’d found discarded and which he was repairing.
On the wall was a photo of a younger Paul with a pretty girl.
“We were going to get married, but she ran off with someone,” Paul said, “with my best friend actually, so I lost them both.”
Paul couldn’t afford the $2650 it was going to cost him in 2013 for a new set of dentures, but his story touched the hearts of readers whose response was overwhelming.
People responded to Paul Murphy’s story – and his good humour despite all his misfortune – on Facebook, Twitter and by emailing in pledges of financial support.
They deposited money into Paul’s bank account from around Australia and around the world.
Then news.com.au accompanied Paul to an appointment with a dental prosthetist in southern Sydney for his first step to getting a new set of dentures.
The generosity of people and their kind words had Paul in tears.
I stayed in touch with Paul in the years afterwards and paid him to do handyman jobs, as he did for other people around Redfern like retired restaurateurs Jennice and Raymond Kersch, who once ran Edna’s Table.
But Paul’s bad luck didn’t stop, and to be honest the new dentures never really fit all that well.
Paul contracted cancer, but recovered.
He continued to be a magnet for robbers and bad drivers, having at least four of the electric bikes he fixed stolen and having his leg broken after a car struck him in the side.
Drug dealers in the crime-riddled Morehead Street building continued to knock off his flat, or ambush him and steal his wallet.
He had got a new steel door and his latest electric bike was secured by a series of chains and locks.
One day he answered a knock on his door and opened it only to have a man in a balaclava squirt fuel on his arm and then set it alight.
Another scar was added to Paul Murphy’s body, but his spirit wasn’t broken and he continued to smile through the bad luck.
But he was determined to get away from Redfern and late last year, after many attempts thwarted by bureaucrats, he moved to a ground floor flat in Clemton Park.
The new place, Paul said, “was beautiful” and only lacked an air conditioner.
Paul worked odd jobs, repaired my fence, painted, gardened and fixed to supplement his pension and save up for the aircon.
As he had always said, “It’s a battle. On the pension you need every cent, but you do what you can.”
Along the way, Paul had developed a heart condition and high blood pressure.
His condition was such that his ankles were so swollen with fluid he couldn’t wear shoes and he complained he “couldn’t keep weight on”.
He still rode the 15km from his Biara Avenue flat into Redfern to work and earn money, although it sometimes hurt to ride.
The medication for his blood pressure often made him drowsy, and when he went to sleep he wasn’t sleeping well.
Just over three weeks ago, in the early hours of August 29, Paul Murphy was awake and hungry and decided to cook some chips.
He must have fallen asleep midway through cooking.
Neighbours called the fire brigade and officers broke the door open and entered around 5.30am and used hoses to extinguish the fire.
Unconscious on the floor was Paul Murphy, 62, who the firefighters moved out of the flat They commenced CPR and used a defibrillator to try and restore his heartbeat.
Paramedics arrived and took over, working extensively on Paul, but he could not be revived.
Instead of holding a funeral service, Paul’s friend Jason and his sister, Tracey, are planning a memorial on a boat from which they will scatter Paul’s ashes on the Cooks River in weeks to come.
Vale Paul Murphy.