Thomas Ley

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Thomas Ley
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 28 October 1880(1880-10-28)
Bath, Somerset, England
Died 29 July 1947(1947-07-29) (aged 66)
Broadmoor Asylum, Berkshire, 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. He was convicted of murder in England. He was probably involved in the deaths of three people in Australia.[1]

Early life[change | edit source]

Ley was born in Bath, England. His father died in 1882 and his mother moved the family to Australia in 1886. He attended Crown Street Public School in Sydney until he was ten. He then worked as an assistant in his mother's grocery store. He 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 was part of the international suffrage movement. He became a state (New South Wales) and federal politician from 1917 to 1928.[1]

State politics[change | edit source]

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. He then was member for St George from 1920 to 1925, representing the Progressive Party from 1920 to 1922.[2] The Progressive Party supported proportional representation, which the state adopted in 1919.[3] Both his electorates were in Sydney's southern suburbs.

As a teetotaller, Ley was given the nickname Lemonade Ley. The Temperance Movement was angry when he supported laws which made it easier to sell alcohol. They found out later he was being paid by the breweries. He was still made the New South Wales' Minister for Justice from 1922 to 1925. He gained a reputation for harsh decisions.[1]

Shortly after he became Minister for Justice, Ley made an official visit to Western Australia. He met Maggie Evelyn Brook, a magistrate's wife. After the magistrate died, Ley acted for her and her daughter in various financial and legal matters.[4] She later became his mistress.

Federal politician[change | edit source]

In 1925, Ley was elected as the Nationalist Party of Australia member for Barton in the federal House of Representatives. Other party members began to have doubts about him after the election. He was not given a federal ministry. This would normally have been expected for a man who had been a state government minister.

During the 1925 election, Ley had tried to bribe his ALP opponent, Frederick McDonald. McDonald also said that Ley had offered him a £2000 share in a property at Sydney's Kings Cross in return for withdrawing from the election. Ley won the election, and McDonald took legal action. McDonald disappeared and has never been seen again. Because McDonald could not give evidence in court, the legal action against Ley was dropped.

McDonald's disappearance may have been a coincidence. But in 1927, Hyman Goldstein, the member for Coogee in the NSW parliament's lower house, was found dead after falling from "Suicide Point" on the cliffs of Coogee. Goldstein had lost money in a business run by Ley and had made comments about him. A group of businessmen were concerned by Ley's business dealings. Many people lost money when Ley's company, SOS Prickly Pear Poisons Ltd, closed. Ley had sold his shares days before it closed and made a lot of money. Keith Greedor, who had worked with Ley, was asked to investigate. On his way to Newcastle by boat, Greedor fell overboard and drowned.[3]

Return to England[change | edit source]

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

Little is recorded of Ley's life during the 1930s. He again became involved in dubious business ventures, and during World War II he was arrested and convicted for black marketeering.[1]

The Chalk-pit Murder[change | edit source]

In 1946 Maggie Brook was living in Wimbledon, and Ley had his house at 5 Beaufort Gardens, London, converted into flats. Ley thought Brook and a barman called John McMain Mudie were lovers. Ley told two of his workers that Mudie was a blackmailer. 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, Smith's sentence was changed to life imprisonment. Ley was found to be insane and was sent to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. There he died soon after. 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]

Other websites[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Berzins, Baiba. "Ley, Thomas John (1880–1947)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A100091b.htm. 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. http://web.archive.org/web/20070929104520/http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/members.nsf/1fb6ebed995667c2ca256ea100825164/7775c6afe8af2285ca256e3e001a7f93!OpenDocument. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 York, Barry (July 2001). "Thomas John Ley, Politician and Murderer". NLA News. National Library of Australia. http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2001/jul01/story-4.pdf. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
  4. Lustgarten, Edgar (1974). The Chalk Pit Murder. London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0246640618.
  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