Thomas Ley

Thomas John Ley (28 October 1880 – 29 July 1947) was an Australian politician who was convicted of murder in England. He is widely suspected to have been involved in the deaths of a number of people in Australia, including political rivals.[1]

Thomas Ley
Thomas Ley.jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Barton
In office
14 November 1925 – 17 November 1928
Preceded byFrederick McDonald
Succeeded byJames Tully
Personal details
Born(1880-10-28)28 October 1880
Bath, Somerset, England, UK
Died29 July 1947(1947-07-29) (aged 66)
Broadmoor Asylum, England, UK
NationalityBritish subject (Australian)
Political partyNationalist
Spouse(s)Emily Louisa Vernon

Early lifeEdit

Thomas Ley was born in Bath, Somerset, England, but his father died in 1882 and his mother took him and three siblings to Australia in 1886. Ley 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. Ley married Emily Louisa (known as "Lewie") Vernon in 1898, the year she emigrated to Australia from England. Both husband and wife were active in politics: she in the international suffrage movement, and he as a state and federal politician from 1917 to 1928.[1]

State politicsEdit

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, and St George from 1920 to 1925, representing the Progressive Party until 1922.[2] He was a prominent and vocal advocate of proportional representation, which the state adopted in 1919.[3] Both of his electorates were in Sydney's southern suburbs.

As a teetotaler, 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 emerged that Ley was being paid by the brewery lobby. Despite this, he was appointed as 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 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 politicianEdit

In 1925, Ley stood for the seat of Barton in the federal House of Representatives. He unsuccessfully tried to bribe his Labor opponent, Frederick McDonald, with a £2,000 share in a property at Kings Cross in return for withdrawing from the ballot. McDonald instead publicly revealed the attempted bribe. Despite that, Ley won the election on a large swing as part of the decisive Coalition victory that year.

Conventional wisdom would have suggested that Ley, as a former senior member of the New South Wales government, would have been considered for a post in the federal cabinet. However, Ley's fellow conservatives, including Prime Minister Stanley Bruce, began to have doubts about him after the election. As a result, Ley was not considered for ministerial preferment.

McDonald took the matter of the bribe to court, but disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The case against Ley collapsed for lack of evidence when McDonald failed to appear. While the disappearance may have been a coincidence, later events put the matter in a more sinister light. In 1928, state legislator Hyman Goldstein, 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, appointed Keith Greedor, a former Ley associate turned opponent, to investigate. Travelling to Newcastle by boat, Greedor fell overboard and drowned.[3]

Return to EnglandEdit

After his defeat in the 1928 election, Ley returned to England with Brook, 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 the Second World War he was arrested and convicted for black marketeering.[1]

The Chalk-pit MurderEdit

In 1946 Brook was living in Wimbledon, and Ley had his house at 5 Beaufort Gardens, London, converted into flats. Ley falsely believed that Brook and a barman called John McMain Mudie were having an affair. 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 chalk pit on Woldingham Common in Surrey, thirty miles away from Ley's home.[5]

With Lawrence John Smith, Ley was tried at the Old Bailey; 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.[6]

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 linksEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Berzins, Baiba. "Ley, Thomas John (Tom) (1880–1947)". Ley, Thomas John (1880–1947). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
  2. ^ "The Hon. Thomas John Ley (1880–1947)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b York, Barry (July 2001). "Thomas John Ley, Politician and Murderer" (PDF). 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. ^ "Thomas John Ley: The Chalk-Pit Murderer". Sword and Scale. 21 March 2018.
  6. ^ Jesse, F. Tennyson (1954). "Ley and Smith". In Hodge, James H. (ed.). Famous Trials. 4. Penguin Books. p. 109. Ley is supposed to have been the richest prisoner ever sent to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
  • Morgan, Dan (1979). The Minister for Murder. Richmond, Victoria: Hutchinson of Australia. ISBN 0091306701
  • F. Tennyson Jesse, "Ley and Smith", in James H. Hodge (ed.) (1954). Famous Trials 4. Penguin Books, pp. 105–142
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Sam Toombs
Member for Hurstville
District abolished
New district Member for St George
With: Bagnall, Cann, Gosling, Arkins
Succeeded by
William Bagnall
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Mutch
as Minister for Public Instruction
Minister for Public Instruction and Labour and Industry
Succeeded by
Thomas Mutch
as Minister for Public Instruction
Preceded by
Greg McGirr
as Minister for Labour
Succeeded by
Edward Kavanagh
as Minister for Labour
Preceded by
William McKell
Minister for Justice
Succeeded by
William McKell
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Frederick McDonald
Member for Barton
Succeeded by
James Tully