Femme Fatales: Mug Shots Of Female Criminals From Early 20th Century Australia
Intriguing mug shots of female criminals, taken directly after they were arrested and charged at a police station in New South Wales, Australia, from around the turn of the twentieth century. The photographs come from the Sydney Justice and Police Museum.
Alice Adeline Cooke (pictured above) was convicted of bigamy and theft. By the age of 24 she had amassed an impressive number of aliases and at least two husbands. She was described by police as ‘rather good looking’.
Convicted of selling liquor without a licence. Alice Clarke was an entrepreneur who took advantage of restrictive liquor regulations, which forced pubs to close at 6pm. As a “sly grogger” she sold high-priced alcohol from a private residence. Clarke’s arrest came only weeks after the legislation was introduced. Aged 42.
Amy Lee was described in court as a ‘good looking girl until she fell victim to the foul practice’ of snorting cocaine. Her dry, blotchy skin is testament to the evils of addiction. Aged 41.
Charged with stealing a fur coat. Teenager Annie Gunderson was charged with stealing a fur coat from a Sydney department store called Winn’s Limited, in 1922. Police records do not indicate whether the fur she is wearing is the stolen item. Aged 19.
Doris Poole appeared before the Newtown Police Court charged with stealing jewellery and clothing. She had previously been convicted on a similar charge in North Sydney and so received a six-month sentence with light labour. DOB: 6 June 1903.
Convicted of murder. Mrs Dorothy Mort was having an affair with dashing young doctor Claude Tozer. On 21 December 1920 Tozer visited her home with the intention of breaking off the relationship. Mort shot him dead before attempting to commit suicide. Aged 32.
Edith Ashton was a backyard abortionist who also dabbled in theft and fencing stolen goods. Described in the media as a ‘social somebody’ and an ‘equestrienne’ she was, however, not adept at performing abortions and was suspected of contributing to the deaths of at least two women. Aged 37.
Elizabeth Ruddy was a career criminal who was convicted of stealing from the house of one Andrew Foley. She was sentenced to 12 months with hard labour. DOB: 1854, Scotland.
Elizabeth Singleton had multiple convictions for soliciting and was described in police records as a ‘common prostitute’. She was imprisoned at Long Bay but the details of her sentence have been lost. DOB: 9 July 1905.
Emily Hemsworth killed her three-week-old son but could not remember any details of the murder. She was found not guilty due to insanity. Hemsworth was to be detained in custody until judged fit to return to society – it is unknown if she was ever released. Aged 24.
Crime: malicious injury to property and wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. When a police officer arrived to arrest Esther Eggers for malicious damage she attacked him, causing serious injury. Eggers was sentenced to 12 months prison. Aged 22.
Prostitute Ettie Sultana worked in northern New South Wales and in the Queensland cities of Brisbane and Toowoomba for most of her career. She had multiple convictions for prostitution, theft, drunkenness, swearing and vagrancy. She was sentenced to six months with hard labour. DOB: 31 December 1885.
Convicted of murder. Eugenia Falleni spent most of her life masquerading as a man. In 1913 Falleni married a widow, Annie Birkett, whom she later murdered. The case whipped the public into a frenzy as they clamoured for details of the ‘man-woman’ murderer. Aged approximately 43.
Evelyn Courtney stole a remarkable array of items, ranging from an umbrella to Irish linen napkins. She was a suspect in at least seven different robberies during 1920. Aged 19.
Convicted of using an instrument to procure a miscarriage. Janet Wright was a former nurse who performed illegal abortions from her house in Kippax Street, Surry Hills. One of her teenage patients almost died after a procedure and Wright was prosecuted and sentenced to 12 months hard labour. Aged 68.
Legendary undercover policeman Constable CJ Chuck, or ‘The Shadow’ as he was known within the criminal milieu, was responsible for the arrest of Jessie Longford, a well-known shoplifter. Aged 30.
Kathleen Ward had convictions for drunkenness, indecent language and theft. She obviously enjoyed thumbing her nose at the authorities, as can be seen in this image where she appears to have deliberately fluttered her eyes in order to ruin the long-exposure photograph. DOB: 1904.
Leslie Rees was convicted of bigamy at the Moree Quarter Sessions and was sentenced to four months light labour. Women from regional centres were transferred to Sydney to serve their time. Age unknown.
Tasmanian Lillian Sproule became involved in Sydney’s cocaine trade. She was labelled a ‘parasite in skirts’ by the newspapers and had multiple convictions relating to drug dealing. She was sentenced to six months in prison. DOB: 1878.
Convicted of unlawfully using an instrument to procure a miscarriage. Mary Brownlee was a backyard abortionist who was caught during an extensive police investigation. She was sentenced to 12 months light labour, but her male accomplice was acquitted. Aged 64.
Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine used a razor to slash a man’s face in a barber’s shop and was sentenced to two years gaol. She was Sydney’s best-known brothel madam and her public quarrels with sly-grog queen Kate Leigh provided the media with an abundance of material. Aged 25.
May Foster worked with a male accomplice to break into numerous houses and steal the contents. She had previous convictions for vagrancy, failing to appear in court and receiving stolen goods. She was sentenced to six months with hard labour. Aliases: May Saunders, Hopkins. DOB: 19 September 1901. Criminal associate: Albert Roy Callaway (28).
May Smith, alias ‘Botany May’, was an infamous drug dealer. She once chased policewoman Lillian Armfield with a red-hot iron to avoid arrest. Smith was sentenced to 10 months with hard labour. DOB: 1880.
Mildred Kruss married her first husband in 1914. After the marriage broke down she neglected to go through the difficult and expensive divorce process. Upon marrying her second husband in 1918 she was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to six months with light labour. DOB: 1892
Myrtle Lee, described in the media as ‘a well-dressed woman’, stabbed Mary Moon twice at the residence of a Chinese man in Alexandria. The press emphasised the racial nature of the attack with a headline ‘White and Yellow’. Lee was sentenced to six months gaol. Aged 35.
Nellie Cameron was one of Sydney’s best-known, and most desired, prostitutes. Lillian Armfield, Australia’s first policewoman, said Cameron had an ‘assured poise that set her apart from all the other women of the Australian underworld’. Aged 21.
Charged with theft and possession of cocaine. Barmaid Patsy Neill was involved in various criminal activities including theft and selling cocaine. In 1932 she had a disagreement over money with the infamous sly grogger Kate Leigh, which led to Neill being threatened with a gun. Neill was described in the press as ‘looking like a mannequin on parade’. Aged 26.
Pearl McFadden may have been supporting herself by working as a prostitute. Many sex workers were charged with vagrancy and having insufficient means of support, as it was a relatively easy charge to prove. McFadden was sentenced to six months with hard labour. DOB: 1910.
Philomena Best stole silk and other goods valued at over 36 pounds (about $2000 today) from a Bourke shopkeeper. She was convicted and sentenced to 12 months with light labour. Convicted of larceny. Philomena Best stole sumptuous silk and other items from her employer Namut Khan of Bourke, in north-western New South Wales. Aged 33.
British-born Carmier was known as ‘Yankee’ Phyllis because of her peculiar accent. She stabbed her ‘bludger’, or pimp, to death during a violent altercation in Crazy Cottage, a sly-grog shop in Surry Hills. Carmier attracted much sympathy in the media, who labelled her crime a justifiable homicide. Aged 32.
Petty thief Ruby Furlong was involved in an altercation with a drunk musician at Newtown. She pulled out a razor and slashed his face, leaving an ugly scar. Furlong was a feared criminal who had a string of convictions in the early 1920s. Ruby, aged 34, was serving time for malicious wounding when this photograph was taken.
Convicted of false pretences. Ruth Carruthers went on a criminal spree in 1926, using the art of persuasion to obtain goods and money from hapless shopkeepers. She was eventually convicted on four charges of false pretences and sentenced to six months at Long Bay. Aged 28.
Ruth Young had a problem with alcohol and was often homeless. She had multiple convictions for drunkenness, vagrancy and petty theft. Her head was probably shaved upon her entry to prison to eradicate head lice. DOB: 1880.
Marjorie Day convinced a shopkeeper to let her take two dresses home to show her mother. She promised to return promptly but instead sold the clothes at a second-hand clothing shop. A repeat offender, Day was sentenced to six months prison. Aged: 20. DOB: 11 January 1905.
Convicted of stealing. Muriel Goldsmith looks like a country schoolteacher but was actually a prolific thief with a string of aliases. She was found guilty of stealing money and jewellery from the Criterion Hotel in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Aged 25.
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