They were some of Australia’s toughest criminals. Their crimes ranged from bootlegging to drug dealing to robbery to murder.
No, you did not want to mess with these women.
The following female mugshots were originally taken by New South Wales police between 1910 and 1930. Now archived by the Justice & Police Museum in Sydney, the vintage crime photos offer an intriguing glimpse into the criminal underworld of early 20th century Australia.
Scan through the case files of Australia’s dangerous women below, then click through the museum’s extensive archive for more true crime tales.
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.
Convicted of selling liquor without a license. Alice Clarke was an entrepreneur who took advantage of Australia’s restrictive liquor regulations, which forced pubs to close at 6 p.m. As a “sly grogger” she sold high-priced alcohol from a private residence. Clarke’s arrest came only weeks after the legislation was introduced.
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.
Clara Randall worked as a traveling saleswoman for a jewellery company. She reported to police that her apartment 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 labor.
STATE REFORMATORY FOR WOMEN, CRIMINAL RECORD NUMBER 773LB
Mrs Dorothy Mort was having an affair with dashing young doctor Claude Tozer. On December 21, 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 jail 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.
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 labor.
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.
Leslie Rees was convicted of bigamy at the Moree Quarter Sessions and was sentenced to four months light labor. Women from regional centers were transferred to Sydney to serve their time.
Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine used a razor to slash a man’s face in a barber’s shop and was sentenced to two years in jail. 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.
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 labor.
When this photograph was taken, Alice Fisher, 41, was serving two consecutive sentences of four months for larceny.
Ellen (“Nellie”) Kreigher was one of four people arrested and charged over the murder of Gertrude Mabel Heaydon, who had visited Kreigher’s apartment the previous year to procure an illegal abortion. The procedure was botched and Heaydon died in the apartment.
Valerie Lowe and Joseph Messenger were arrested in 1921 for breaking into an army warehouse and stealing boots and overcoats to the value of 29 pounds 3 shillings. The following year, when this photograph were taken, they were charged with breaking and entering a dwelling. Those charges were eventually dropped but they were arrested again later that year for stealing a saddle and bridle from Rosebery Racecourse.
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.
All images and captions courtesy of Justice & Police Museum. Special thanks to Hayley Gallant for facilitating this feature.
Photos: Justice & Police Museum