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Femme fatale: The stylish female criminals of Australia, 1920s

1920s mug shot photo women

Vera Purcell led a group of two other teenage girls, aged 14 and 17, who stole a large quantity of clothing from a Darlinghurst house. They were convicted and the younger girls were sent to charitable institutions. Purcell, however, was sentenced to six months with hard labour at the State Reformatory for Women at Long Bay. Charged with: stealing. Aged: 19.

I was talking about my fascination with vintage mug-shot photos a few days ago and since then I stumbled upon these amazing photos of 1920s women who were incarcerated at the State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW.

What makes these photos so interesting is that they took a full length photo of each woman, as well as the usual head-shot. I love seeing the clothes they were arrested wearing. Some look totally non-plussed by the whole situation and some seem to treat it as a bit of a fashion show. Either way, this photographer got some amazing pictures. I particularly love the fact that they let the ladies keep their shoes and hats on when they were having their height measured!

1920s mug shot photo women

Charged with theft and possession of cocaine. Barmaid Patsy Neill was involved in various criminal activities including theft and selling cocaine. In 1932 she had a disagreement over money with the infamous sly grogger Kate Leigh, which led to Neill being threatened with a gun. Neill was described in the press as ‘looking like a mannequin on parade’. Aged 26.

[9 photos]

1920s mug shot photo women

Mary Harris, criminal record number 589LB, 15 August 1923.

1920s mug shot photo women

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.

1920s mug shot photo women

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.

1920s mug shot photo women

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.

1920s mug shot photo women

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.

1920s mug shot photo women

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

1920s mug shot photo women

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.

Image source and copyright: Images from collection held by Sydney Living Museums, Historic Houses Trust of NSW www.hht.net.au. Used with kind permission.

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