“Some of the photographed documents are like open wounds. A hastily pencilled suicide note reads: ‘Goodbye earth, all is lost’. Another, apparently written in blood, says ‘Be prepared, you die soon’. There are obscene drawings and messages left at crime scenes by safe crackers and burglars. One, signed ‘Apache’, compliments the victim on the robustness of their safe; another thanks the home owner for the whiskey” (John Doyle, City of Shadows)
It’s a book that gives you ideas. If you’ve got a chain-smoking drifter lurking in the back of your head, or a killer stealing your thoughts, you might finally catch them here. The photos have been exhibited in Sydney a couple of times – but their story is still worth repeating.
When a flood deluged an old Sydney warehouse back in the 1980s, The Historic Houses Trust shifted around four tonnes of boxes, cartons and crates of old Kodak neg. What they cracked open was a lost covenant of crime photos, dated from 1912 to 1960. Con-men, prostitutes, itinerants, gangsters, the aftermath of murder; all caught in the flash-lamp of bygone police investigations, details of which had been long since lost. Lives and motives cut largely adrift – not for the first time.
What remains is raw – sometimes graphic – testament to their characters. Several years ago the writer John Doyle was brought on board to salvage these moments from the glass plates and acetate. Groaning ledgers of long-since forgotten mug-shot, murder scene, mishap and tragedy could now easily satisfy any director’s casting book or story-board. Doyle has done an extraordinary job, compiling a strangely intimate tour through the under-tow of a city’s dead in his book City of Shadows.
Mr Skukerman, or Mr Kukarman, or Mr Cecil Landan, glowers from across the years. The NSW Police Gazette Sydney notes he ‘obtains goods from warehousemen by falsely representing that he is in business’.
Harry Williams, sentenced to 12 months hard labour on March 1929 for breaking, entering, stealing. The Police Gazette reported that Williams consorted with prostitutes and ‘frequents hotels and wine bars in the vicinity of the Haymarket’.
Walter Smith after a battering, somewhere in Sydney, Australia, 1924. Smith was listed in the NSW Police Gazette, 24 December 1924, as ‘breaking and entering’. He was sentenced to 6 months hard labour.
‘Harry Leon Crawford’, charged with wife murder. Crawford was soon revealed to be in fact Eugeni Falleni, a woman and mother, who had passed as a man since 1899. In 1914 Falleni married Annie Birkett, who later told a relative she had discovered ‘something amazing about Harry’. Birkett disappeared. Falleni went on to appear in numerous mug shots through the years, becoming the notorious ‘woman-man’ killer in the press.
Mug shot of Thomas Sutherland Jones and William Smith, 15 July 1921, Central Police Station, Sydney.
The handwritten inscription reads ‘Frederick Edward Davies stealing in picture shows and theatres, Central 14-7-21′. Police held petty theft in particularly low regard – this may be why Davies is photographed front of the toilet stalls.
Thomas Bede, Central cells, 22 November 1928. The man who refuses to open his eyes for a photo. Police had to scratch this script back-the-front on the plate – so this would have been doubly annoying.
“To meditate on the uncensored history presented in these photos is to be made aware of two things; the power, strangeness and vulnerability of all human life and the need to document, resolve and rationally explain its infinite capacity for aberration” (Peter Doyle, City of Shadows)
It wasn’t until the formation of the Scientific Investigation Bureau (SIB) in 1945 that a standard procedure was enforced for mug shots. Before then, there was an enormous degree of creative license for everyone involved. The images often capture the subject in a full-blooded moment, with no consistent mode of framing or standard composition to constrain.
“Despite the elegant formal arrangements…we are left with the impression of a black and white world that is fraught with pain and misadventure. A place that the era’s magazines, travel brochures and up-beat newsreels ritually ignored.” observes Doyle. “Men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension”
Vera Crichton, 23 (left) conspired with two other women to ‘procure a miscarriage on a third woman’. She was ‘bound over to appear for sentence if called upon within three years’. E. Walker was believed to be a vagrant. Her head was probably shaved in the cells due to lice.
Convicted of using an instrument to procure a miscarriage. Janet Wright was a former nurse who performed illegal abortions at her house in Kippax Street, Surry Hills. One of her teenage patients almost died after a procedure – Wright was sentenced to 12 months hard labour. Aged 68.
‘Tilly’ Devine sentenced to two years gaol for slashing a man’s face in a barber shop with a razor. She would become Sydney’s best-known brothel madam, her public fued with sly-grog queen Kate Leigh (below) provided endless media fodder at the time. The war between the two has since been elevated to city folklore. Aged 25
A young Kate Leigh, 1915.
Some hard drinkin’ years later. Kate Leigh as Sydney’s now notorious sly-grog baroness and underworld figure, 1930.
Inscribed Hayes, date unknown – probably early 1920s.
Alfred Ladewig, alias ‘Tiny’. Police Gazette Sept 1920 reads that Ladewig was charged with ‘stealing by trick’ the sum of two hundred and four pounds.
It wasn’t until the formation of the Scientific Investigation Bureau (SIB) in 1945 that standard procedure was enforced for mug shots – until then dance routines were obviously acceptable. Friends of the missing Rene Flowers – clearly a vaudeville performer – flaunt it.
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.
Wharf labourer William Stanley Moore ‘operates with large quantities of faked opium and cocaine’ and ‘associates with waterfront thieves and illicit drug traders’.
W. Cahill, the tough guy’s Russell Crowe, hits 1923 to do some crimes. Details unknown.
Bad boy Sidney Kelly, June 25, 1924. Offences included shooting, and assault. In the 1940s was a pioneer of illegal baccarat gaming in Sydney. This NSW Police Gazette: “Illicit drug trader. Drives his own motor car, and dresses well. Associates with criminals and prostitutes.”
Kong Lee makes numerous appearances in the NSW Police Gazette. A ‘safe blower’ and ‘thief’, and is noted in 1929 as having recently been seen riding trains ‘in the company of card sharpers and spielers’.
‘Ah Num’ and ‘Ah Tom’ some time in 1930. The ‘D’ prefix on the photo indicates it was taken by the Drug Bureau. Num and Tom don’t appear in any records – their names may have been conjured for the paperwork.
The lads busted. Not for long perhaps? Hampton Hirscham, Cornellius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O’Brien and James O’Brien – July 20, 1921
All together now. ‘Group of criminals, Central 1921′ (unnamed). The woman on the left is believed to be Eileen Leigh or Barry (daughter of Kate Leigh). The man third from the left in that row may be the pickpocket and three-card trickster known as Frederick Mewson, and the man far left in the front row is likely the pickpocket known as Norman Smith.
“Child unknown found wandering at large”. Mid 1920s, details unknown.
Hazel McGuiness, 26th July 1929, Central cells. Details unknown.
May Russell, 31st January 1922, Central cells. Details unknown.
Ah Chong, 11 July 1928, Central cells. No listing for Ah Chong found when this photo was taken, but an Ah Chong was convicted on two charges of receiving in 1922. He also received twelve months hard labour.
Mrs Dorothy Mort was having an affair with a strapping young doctor and Test Cricketer, Dr Claude Tozer. On 21 December 1920 Tozer visited her home to break off the relationship. Mort shot him dead. She was found covered in blood with a gunshot wound to her breast, and under the influence of a narcotic. Tozer was found in her drawing room, shot in the back of the head, the temple and the chest. Dorothy Mort has rebuttoned his vest over the chest wound. The case stirred a media sensation.
Dr Tozer visits the home of girlfriend Dorothy Mort on 21 December 1920. It didn’t go well.
Exterior, scene of car crash, from bridge onto storm water canal cover, early 1940s. Details unknown.
Underneath a bridge, inner city Sydney, a bottle Waterbury’s Compound – a popular tonic and cough remedy – by the dead man’s side. It is unclear whether he fell – photographs suggest the possibility.
Probably mid 1940s, details unknown.
Published in Sydney newspapers in 1933, as a practical demonstration to a sceptical press and public that police could operate undercover. The men seen here are a mix of detectives and civilians. The figure third from the right is believed to be Sergeant Frank Fahy, aka “The Shadow” – the force’s most effective undercover operative at the time.
The International Workers of the World, or ‘Wobblies’, carried out ‘direct action’ – sabotage – in Sydney in 1916, agitating for the release of their leader, Tom Barker. Barker had been jailed for sedition after making an anti-war speech in the Sydney Domain. It was seen as the modern equivalent of terrorism. Cotton waste, turpentine, phosphorous and kerosene, were allegedly found during police raids in Sydney and the ‘IWW Twelve’ were convicted of conspiracy and sedition. All received long jail sentences.
The most popular camera with crime and press photographers was the large format 4×5 Speed Graphic- made famous by Weegee. It had a large flash unit attached that could light up an entire room. It was difficult and hard to focus in low light, with ground glass and rangefinder focusing.
Probably late 1930s, early 1940s. Details unknown.
The scene where criminal heavy John Frederick ‘Chow’ Hayes shot boxer William ‘Bobby’ John Lee, at the busy Ziegfeld Club, 22 May. Hayes shot Lee in front of friends and other underworld figures, in a revenge attack. He was reportedly provoked by the line ‘you wouldn’t do it here, with all the lights shining and all the people around’. ‘Chow’ shot Lee five times. Lee refused to identify Hayes on the way to hospital – where he died that night. Hayes was not convicted.
According to the Police Report: “Four detectives went to the flat, climbed in a window and found the bodies lying on the bedroom floor. Investigations led the police to form the opinion that while Mrs Anderson was seated on a chair in the lounge she was shot. A trail of blood indicated that as she jumped up from the chair she knocked it over and then staggered towards the door. The detectives think that Anderson caught hold of her, knocking the wireless set against a sideboard. He then dragged her into the bedroom and as she slumped dead on the floor he shot himself. He fell across his wife’s body and the revolver was found under him.
Bedroom, with bloodstained bed reflected in dressing table mirror. Details unknown, late 1930s.
Safe break attempt at the Camellia Grove Hotel, now the Sports Bar, Henderson Road, Alexandria.
Three men demonstrating self-defence techniques. Details unknown, late 1930s.
Of the assorted types, Doyle says: “The subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed – perhaps invited – to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics.”
So, given the passage of time, this collection reminds me a bit of the epilogue line at the end of Barry Lyndon: “It was in the reign of King George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now”.
The latest exhibition from the ongoing discoveries in the archive was Collision: Misadventure by Motorcar – featuring car crashes and traffic accidents in Sydney between 1920 and 1960.
All images (c) NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum, Historic Houses Trust of NSW. http://www.hht.net.au/discover/highlights/insites/city_of_shadows