In 1990 the Historic Houses Trust rescued a remarkable collection of NSW Police forensic photographs from a flooded warehouse in Lidcombe. Created between 1912 and 1964, the archive contains approximately 130,000 glass plate negatives depicting crime scenes, police activities, forensic evidence and mug shots and may be the biggest police photography collection in the southern hemisphere. The Historic Houses Trust has the job of conserving, repackaging, digitising, researching and cataloguing the archives contents, for which original record systems have been lost.
All of these intriguing shots were taken at the turn of the 20th century in New South Wales, Australia. These women were photographed right after their respective charges were levied on them, their crimes can be found underneath each mug shot.
Convicted of bigamy and theft. By the age of 24 Alice Cooke had amassed an impressive number of aliases and at least two husbands. Described by police as ‘rather good looking’, Cooke was a habitual thief and a convicted bigamist. Aged 24. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
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. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
Many women, like Alice Sandford, capitalised on laws restricting the sale of alcohol after 6pm by setting up ‘sly-grog shops’: premises in which alcohol was sold illegally at exorbitant prices. The details of Sandford?s conviction have been lost. DOB: 1889.
Alma Smith worked as an illegal abortionist in the northern NSW town of Tamworth. A young woman, who later died as the result of a botched abortion, identified Smith as the abortionist. Smith denied knowing the woman but was convicted and sentenced to five years gaol. Aged 34. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
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.
Clara Randall worked as a travelling saleswoman for a jewellery company. She reported to police that her Bondi flat had been broken into and a quantity of jewellery stolen. It was later discovered she had pawned the jewellery for cash. A career criminal, Randall was sentenced to 18 months with light labour.
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. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
Mrs Dorothy Mort was having an affair with dashing young doctor Claude Tozer. On 21 December 1920 Tozer visited Mort’s home intending to break off the relationship. Mort shot him dead and then attempted to commit suicide. She was released from gaol shortly after this photograph was taken and disappeared from the public eye.
No information about E. Walker has been found. She may have been a vagrant: her clothes are dirty, she wears what appear to be army boots and her head has been shaved to eradicate head lice. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
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.
Convicted of stealing. Eileen O’Connor first appears in police records as a ‘missing friend’, or missing person. She is eventually arrested for stealing a wallet and is described by police with the odd epithet ‘inclined to be weak’. Aged 17. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
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.
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. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
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.
Jean Wilson had numerous convictions for housebreaking and theft. She preferred stealing jewellery as it could be easily pawned for money. She also robbed her employer. Wilson was charged with larceny, for which she served a 12-month sentence. Aged: 23
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.
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.
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.
Mary Harris, criminal record number 589LB, 15 August 1923. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW
Annie Matthews, criminal record number 634LB, 3 July 1924. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW
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.
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. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
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.
Crime: 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 35. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.
Kate Ellick had no family to support her and no fixed address. In the early 20th century employment options were limited for women of her age and there was no aged pension. Ellick was homeless when arrested in Newcastle and was sentenced under the Vagrancy Act to three months in prison.
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.
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.
Mug shot Isabella Higgs, 21 February 1924, Central Police Station, Sydney.
via Sydney Living Museums