The State Archives and Records NSW has a new exhibition online and at the Western Sydney Records Centre in Kingswood titled ‘Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930’. It explores photographs and stories of men, women and children who were incarcerated in NSW gaols. It’s a great exhibition, and prompted us to think about some of Sydney’s criminals who appear in the Dictionary. We’ve talked about some of these like Kate Leigh, Tilly Devine and Iris Webber before, so let’s take a look another shady figure from our past.
Thomas John Ley migrated from England as a 6 year old with his mother and siblings in 1886. In 1907 he moved from Glebe to Hurstville where he became involved in community groups and religious organisations, as well as the temperance movement, earning him the nickname ‘Lemonade’ Ley. He became a solicitor in 1914 and stood several times unsuccessfully at council elections for the position of Mayor.
Ley then entered state politics, becoming the National Party member for Hurstville in the Legislative Assembly in 1917. He served as Minister for Justice from 1922 to 1925, and it was during this time that his reputation began to crumble. Hated within his own party, he also came under fire for double crossing the temperance lobby.
In 1925, Ley stood for the federal seat of Barton and his opponent, Frederick McDonald, claimed Ley had tried to bribe him to withdraw himself from the ballot. Ley won the seat but McDonald disappeared without a trace while on his way to see NSW Premier Jack Lang. Concerns were raised about shady dealings of his law firm, Ley, Andrews and Company and then, on 3 September 1928, one of his main critics, Hyman Goldstein, was discovered dead at the bottom of cliffs at Coogee.
After suffering defeat in the 1928 federal elections, Ley left for England with his mistress, Maggie Brook. Brook’s husband had also died in mysterious circumstances.
It took almost another two decades for the law to catch up with Ley, when he was convicted in England of planning the murder of a barman named John McBain Mudie in March 1947. His death sentence was commuted three days before his execution, and he was committed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he died a few months later.
Questions still remain over the deaths of McDonald, Goldstein and Brook.
If you’d like more local true crime stories, you should head out to State Archives and Records NSW’s Western Sydney Records Centre in Kingswood where the free exhibition ‘Captured’ will be on until 28 April 2018. Check out some of the stories from the exhibition on their YouTube channel here or through the fantastic online exhibition catalogue here.
Nicole Cama is a professional historian, writer and curator, and the Executive Officer of the History Council of NSW. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.
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