They were some of Australia’s shadiest sheilas.
Murderers, bigamists, cocaine dealers and back street abortionists, all manner of vampish villain and fallen floozy scooped off the streets and photographed for police files. Their blank expressions hiding a catalogue of appalling crimes.
The incredible pictures – part of a collection of 2500 mugshots taken by New South Wales Police Department photographers between 1910 and 1930 – give a fascinating glimpse into the role of women in the seedy underbelly of early 20th century Australian life.
There is 32-year-old Dorothy Mort. She may look harmless but behind that innocent-looking face lurks a terrifying femme fatale who turned to murder when her toyboy lover starred into her dark eyes and said their affair was over.
The 32-year-old shot dashing Dr Claude Tozer dead on December 21, 1920 – when he arrived at her house to end their romance – before trying to kill herself.
Her portrait, taken four months later at the State Reformatory for Women in Long Bay, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, forms just one story among thousands revealed by the mesmerising collection.
How about Harry Crawford, real name Eugenia Falleni, a devious and deadly woman who spent most of her life masquerading as a man.She married widow Annie Birkett in 1913 and was later convicted of her murder. The case whipped the public into a frenzy as they clamoured for details of the ‘man-woman’ murderer.
Then there were mother and daughter cocaine dealers Ada and Hazel McGuiness.
A police witness described Ada as the ‘most evil woman in Sydney’ when she appeared in court on charges of possession. A judge heard how as one of the city’s most active suppliers of cocaine, she ran a drug’s business from a quiet terrace house in Hargreave Street
Several shop lifters and thieves appear in the roll call of career criminals, who stole jewellery and pawned it for quick and easy cash.
Family affair: Mother Ada McGuinness (left), age unknown, was called the ‘most evil woman in Sydney’ by a police witness when she appeared in court on charges of cocaine possession. Her daughter Hazel(right) also appeared in court at the same time, on similar charges, but was released on a bond. A judge heard how McGuinness senior, who occupied a terrace house in Hargreave Street, was one of the city’s most active cocaine dealers
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’. While nothing is known of E. Walker who was believed to be a vagrant from her scruffy appearance
Jean Wilson, 23, had numerous convictions for housebreaking and theft. She preferred stealing jewellery as it could be easily pawned for money. She also robbed her employer and served a 12-month sentence.
Similarly Clara Randall 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 and she was sentenced to 18 months with light labour.
Illegal abortions also put a few of the women in these photos behind bars such as Janet Wright, 68, who nearly killed a teenage patient during the procedure.
Edith Ashton 37, was a backyard abortionist who also dabbled in theft and fencing stolen goods. Described in the media as a ‘social somebody’ she was suspected of contributing to the deaths of at least two women during abortions.
And Alma Smith worked as an illegal abortionist in the northern NSW town of Tamworth. A young woman died as the result of a botched abortion, and identified Smith as the abortionist. Although she denied it, Smith was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail.
Elizabeth Ruddy (left) 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 but there are no details relating to a Mrs Osbourne (right) who arrested at an undisclosed location in 1919
Man-woman murderer: Harry Crawford, above looks like a man but her real name was Eugenia Falleni (right). She spent most of her life masquerading as a man. In 1913 she married 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. (below), her full file photos