The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales on May 6, 1979 · Page 67
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The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales · Page 67

Sydney, New South Wales
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 6, 1979
Page 67
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n . o ;C,, ,. i. ' , , if-.,"' ,' . " , ' , 1 .". ' 'j ' y ' ' S- '"' ' '' mm u w w s s m a jy II ! , Kl w'iS i - "', ' ' v - ne ixiinisrer tor Murder is the first biography of Thomas Ley, the Australian politician who turned paranoiac killer. It was the eve of the 1925 Federal election, and the National Party candidate for Barton had murder on his mind. The campaign had been boisterous and vindictive, and during an interview at his Hurstville home, the Hon Thomas John Ley railed against "character assassins." , "My opponents have accused me of every crime except the gravest one of all," he told a Sun reporter. . "But even that kind of calumny is not beyond them," Ley, a former NSW Minister- of Justice, went on fretfully. "I have no doubt that some day someone will make out a plausible ' case against me of . murder." Twenty-two years later someone did. But by then, I think, Ley had killed twice. His first vicim? His rival for the seat of Barton, longtime Labor MP, Frederick McDonald, who disappeared from Martin Place, Sydney, on . April 15, 1926. After the 1925 election McDonald had petitioned the Court of Disputed Returns to declare the Barton result null and void, accusing Ley of trying to bribe him to "lose" his nomination papers. in 1 1 '' ' s J Wi By DAN MORGAN a farmer Sun-Herald' journalist whose book, The Minister for Murder, has iust been published by Hutchinson Australia. Ley was 27 and married with three sons when he settled in Hurstville in 1907. The suburb he had chosen as his 'springboard to power was semi-rural, conservative and God-fearing. Its requirements then for political success: you had to be a churchgoer "and you had to be a temperance advocate. Within weeks of his arrival in St George, Ley was taking it in turns to attend Anglican, Methodist,' Presbyterian and Congregational services. March 23. At 5.32 pm the 12 were filing back. It had taken them just 57 minutes to convince themselves that Ley's was the diseased mind behind one of the most macabre and senseless killings in criminal history. It took Lord Goddard just 27 seconds to sentence Ley and an accomplice, Lawrence John Smith, to death for the murder of a Scottish barman, John Mudie. Ley, who had lived in London since 1929, had lured Mudie to his house in Chelsea, near Harrods, on the pretext of offering him a job at a cocktail party, but in reality because he had an obsession. The fixation: that Mudie was having an affair with Leys mistress, Maggie Brooke, who was nearly twice as old as the 34-year-old barman. With 500 Ley bribed Smith, a foreman joiner, to strangle, or help strangle Mudie; to load the corpse into a hired 8-hp Ford saloon; and finally pitch the body into a derelict chalkpit at Wol-dingham, Surrey, 22 miles away. Neither Ley, then 66, nor Lawrence Smith was hanged for the chalkpit murder. when Jim McGirr peered into the baleful recesses of the mind of an incipient murderer and shuddered at the viciousness he glimpsed there. After harking back to Ley's onslaught on the cripple, McGirr told the Assembly that he sensed in the Minister the instincts of. a beast and he spoke of an evil which "sooner or later must come to the surface." Twenty-four years later McGirr, at Government House, Sydney, was sworn in as Premier of New South Wales while, 12,000 miles away, Ley was in Brixton Prison awaiting trial for the chalkpit murder. It was Tom Ley's boast when he entered NSW politics that he was only five years old when he discovered he had the "gift of the gab." Yet for one so enthralled by the sound of his own voice he was implacably silent on the subject of his origins. ' It was during a visit to Bath, Ley's English birthplace, that I discovered why he cloaked his childhood. . His Cornish father, an unemployed butler, died in the Odd Down Workhouse, the last refuge of Bath's ailing and defeated, when Tom was only 18 months old. And it was this infant link with pauperism that Ley was so desperate to conceal after he launched himself in NSW politics. Tom was six when he emi grated with his mother to a terrace house in Glebe, opposite the local police station. He became a paper boy for a newsagency in Glebe Point Road, wheeling a cart filled with copies of the Herald and the Sydney Echo through the streets. Eighteen months later Mrs Ley took over a boarding house in Albion Street and enrolled Tom at Crown Street School. At Crown Street he laid the foundations for self-education of a calibre to carry him to a partnership in a prominent legal firm. When he was 10 he was packed off to a live-in job on a Windsor dairy farm. His room was ah open veranda of the farmhouse and at night he propped himself up in bed and by the light of a storm lantern taught himself shorthand. For practice texts, Tom used the Herald's reports on NSW Parliamentary debates. In his imagination the boy with the gift of the gab was wafted over his shorthand outlines into the heady legislative world of men with the gift of the gab. At 12, as he waded through the Herald's verbatim parliamentary reports, Tom Ley learnt that politics was power and the discovery thrilled him. Ley returned to Sydney when he was 14. His shorthand speed clinched a job for him as a junior clerk and stenographer with a law firm. He joined the Sydney School of Arts Debating Society and he was on the way up. He disappeared a week before the case was to be heard, leaving a maudlin note addressed to the then Premier, Jack Lang, saying he would either take his own life or clear out of Australia. His body was never found. Despite a difference in slant I have detected similarities in the handwriting of genuine letters of Ley and a photo-copy of part of the McDonald note which Jack Lang gave me some years later. An expert who analysed the letters reported: "The evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that the questioned writing (the McDonald note) was executed by T. J. Ley." I'm sure the suicide note was a clever forgery which deceived McDonald's closest friends and threw everybody off Ley's track. On March 19, 1947, Ley entered the dock of London's Old Bailey and the Crown counsel, Anthony Hawke, began to unfold a story which, in Lord Chief Justice Goddard s words, was as "remarkable as any ; ever told within these grim walls." The jury retired at 4.35 pm on Soon he was so rabid a prohibitionist that people were calling him Lemonade Ley. As an alderman of Hurstville Council from 1908 until 1911 he was a lynx-eyed sentinel of the municipality's sobriety and morality. No misdemeanour was spared his hectoring reproaches. He was a pillar of puritanism with a penchant for pious moralising and niggling law enforcement. By 1914 he had served his Articles and qualified as a solicitor; and by 1917 he was in State Parliament. Then at Government House in 1922 the stage was set for the ultimate Australian political irony. A murderer in the making waj administered the oath of Minister of Justice. Of all portfolios, Justice; of all politicians, Tom Ley. MP To Lord Goddard's chagrin, both escaped the gallows after two doctors, appointed by the Home Office, found that Ley was suffering from paranoia. . ; Ley died in Dartmoor four months after . his conviction, and Smith spent 15 years in jail. It was during a political tour of southern NSW that Ley first flaunted his paranoia in public. He was in his first year as Nationalist MLA for Hurstville when the Premier, W. A. vHol-man, in 1917 assigned him to address conscription rallies in Goulburn, Crookwell, Yass, Te-mora, Gundagai and Coota-mundra. After speaking in the Coota-mundra picture hall, Ley strode into the town square and began heckling anti-conscriptionists who were holding a rival rally. There was uproar, and Ley knocked a cripple off his crutches. I was a young reporter in Goulburn in the late 1940s when I first heard of Tom Ley's rural odyssey. My informant was Peter Loughlin, who served as Deputy Premier and Lands Minister in Jack Lang's first government. Some years before he died in a road accident, Peter Loughlin showed me a yellowing Hansard, proof of what probably was the most eerily prophetic speech ever made in State Parliament. The speaker was James McGirr, the Labor member for Cootamundra. It was 1923 and Ley was in his second year as Justice Minister FOR HUNTER DOUGLAS PERMaLUM ALUMINIUM O WALLS O ROOFS O GUTTER SYSTEMS 10 OFF HUNTER DOUGLAS RECOMMENDED RETAIL PRICE PLUS Jjj (a) (Oj A. ftfe. I s 10 VG An IV Ann AN TV rzi en nn en I To: BETTER HOME IMPROVEMENTS r uaiiway nu, mcauuwudiiK, .1 it. D Ptose wring a FREE on-tin measun and quote . I am interested in WALLS ROOF WINDOWS GUTTERING D TEL 807 2077 A.H. 85 6429. 80 2822 Phone or post coupon now CASH OR TERMS SPECIAL ALUMINIUM WINDOWS 'Registered trade Mark of Hunter Douglas Name .... Address D TkAm .inhn i av former NSW Minister Phone 6579 of Justice who turned paranoiac 73 ' ' THE SUN-HERALD, MAY 6,' 1979 ' 73

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