Thomas Ley

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Thomas Ley
Thomas Ley.jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Barton
In office
14 November 1925 – 17 November 1928
Preceded by Frederick McDonald
Succeeded by James Tully
Personal details
Born (1880-10-28)28 October 1880
Bath, Somerset, England
Died 29 July 1947(1947-07-29) (aged 66)
Broadmoor Asylum, England
Nationality English
Political party Nationalist
Spouse(s) Emily Louisa Vernon
Occupation Solicitor

Thomas John Ley (28 October 1880 – 29 July 1947) was an Australian politician who was convicted of murder in England. It is highly likely that he was also involved in the deaths of a number of people in Australia.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ley was born in Bath, England, but his father died in 1882 and his mother brought him and three siblings to Australia in 1886. He attended Crown Street Public School in Sydney until he was ten; then he worked as an assistant in his mother's grocery store. Having learnt shorthand, he became a junior clerk-stenographer in a solicitor's office at 14. He married Emily Louisa (known as "Lewie") Vernon in 1898, the year she came to Australia from England. Both husband and wife were active in politics, she in the international suffrage movement, and he as a state (New South Wales) and federal politician from 1917 to 1928.[1]

State politics[edit]

Ley served in the lower house of the New South Wales parliament (1917–25) as member for Hurstville from 1917 to 1920, representing the Nationalist Party of Australia, and St George from 1920 to 1925, representing the Progressive Party from 1920 to 1922.[2] He was a prominent and vocal advocate of proportional representation, which the state adopted in 1919.[3] Both his electorates were in Sydney's southern suburbs.

As a teetotaller, Ley acquired the nickname Lemonade Ley, but the Temperance Movement accused him of betrayal when he supported legislation which eased requirements for the sale of alcohol. It later became evident that he was being paid by the brewery lobby. Despite this, he was appointed New South Wales' Minister for Justice from 1922 to 1925 – in the cabinet of Premier Sir George Fuller – and gained a reputation for harsh decisions.[1]

Shortly after he became Minister for Justice, Ley made an official visit to Western Australia and there was introduced to Maggie Evelyn Brook, a magistrate's wife. Shortly afterwards the magistrate died; Ley acted for her and her daughter in various financial and legal matters.[4]

Federal politician[edit]

In 1925, Ley was elected as the Nationalist Party of Australia member for Barton in the federal House of Representatives. Ley's fellow-conservatives began to have doubts about him after the election. Accordingly he was never appointed to a federal ministry, such as would normally have been expected with a man who had held a senior state government portfolio.

During the 1925 federal campaign Ley had unsuccessfully tried to bribe his ALP opponent, Frederick McDonald, with a £2000 share in a property at Kings Cross in return for withdrawing from the ballot. McDonald instead publicly revealed the attempted bribe. Ley won the election, and McDonald took the matter to court, but disappeared in mysterious circumstances; the case against Ley collapsed for lack of evidence when McDonald failed to appear.

McDonald's disappearance may have been a coincidence. But in 1927, Hyman Goldstein (himself member for Coogee in the NSW parliament's lower house, and another of Ley's public critics) was found dead after apparently falling from "Suicide Point" on the cliffs of Coogee. Then a group of businessmen, concerned at Ley's reputation for dubious business dealings (SOS Prickly Pear Poisons Ltd being one of the more infamous), appointed Keith Greedor, an opponent of Ley but formerly an associate of his, to investigate. Travelling to Newcastle by boat, Greedor fell overboard and drowned.[3]

Return to England[edit]

After his defeat in the 1928 election, Ley returned to England with Maggie Brook, his mistress of several years, leaving his wife in Australia.

Little is recorded of Ley's life during the 1930s. About all that can be said for certain is that he used his move to England to start afresh in dubious business ventures, and during World War II he was arrested and convicted for black marketeering.[1]

The Chalk-pit Murder[edit]

In 1946 Maggie Brook was living in Wimbledon, and Ley had his house at 5 Beaufort Gardens, London, converted into flats. Ley imagined (wrongly) that Brook and a barman called John McMain Mudie were lovers. Ley persuaded two of his labourers that Mudie was a blackmailer, and together they tortured and killed him. The case became known as the "Chalk-pit Murder" because Mudie's body was dumped in a Surrey chalk-pit.

With Lawrence John Smith, Ley was tried at the Old Bailey, and both were sentenced to death in March 1947. However, both Smith and Ley escaped the noose: Smith's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, while Ley was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. There he died soon after of a cerebral haemorrhage. He is said to have been the wealthiest person ever to be a Broadmoor prisoner.[5]

Ley's wife had followed him to England in 1942. From Broadmoor, Ley wrote letters and poems and protested his innocence to his wife and children. After his death, Lewie Ley returned to Australia; she died at Bowral, New South Wales, in 1956.[1]

External links[edit]

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Frederick McDonald
Member for Barton
1925–1928
Succeeded by
James Tully

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Berzins, Baiba. "Ley, Thomas John (1880–1947)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 26 April 2007. 
  2. ^ "The Hon. Thomas John Ley (1880–1947)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 26 April 2007. 
  3. ^ a b York, Barry (July 2001). "Thomas John Ley, Politician and Murderer". NLA News. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 26 April 2007. 
  4. ^ Lustgarten, Edgar (1974). The Chalk Pit Murder. London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0-246-64061-1. 
  5. ^ Jesse, F. Tennyson (1954). "Ley and Smith". In Hodge, James H. Famous Trials 4. Penguin Books. p. 109. "Ley is supposed to have been the richest prisoner ever sent to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum." 
  • F. Tennyson Jesse, "Ley and Smith", in James H. Hodge (ed.), Famous Trials 4, Penguin Books, 1954, pp. 105–142