Jazz-age villains of Australia

Here's a collection of photos from Sydney, Australia's Justice & Police Museum exhibition Crooks. These pictures were taken by Australian police in the 1920s, capturing "individuals they thought were, or were likely to become, professional criminals." They're collected in a high-quality photography book called Crooks Like Us, which non-Australians can also get a pretty good deal on at Amazon. The photos themselves are striking and their subjects run the gamut from properly scary villains to haunted and troubled souls.


      1. This is Australia. *Everybody* has a family history of crime. :)

        Yes, very funny.

        Having said that the family name Smith seems to be over represented. Back in the days before easy international transport and communication Australia may have been seen as a place to get away from a dodgy past. I have a great grandfather who abandoned his family in the UK, and started another in Australia.

  1. And the woman that BB links to…what’s up with that hexagonal pattern on her face? Almost looks like honeycomb a patterned vein structure.

  2. Because of the sensitivity of the chemicals they used on the glass plates to blue, all the blue-eyed people (like Mr De Gracy there) looked a bit on the scary/creepy side. It was a great exhibition! I’m very glad Doyle spent as much time with the negatives as he did; they were fascinating images.

  3. What? Does it go boiteverte-dangerousminds-boingboing? Geez, get on the stick, Buck Rogers. It’s the twenty-first century.

  4. I looked further at the book and descriptions, and it would appear that these were mug shots taken before trials, as best as I can gather. I wonder what happened to the children.

    Anyway, I am now oddly smitten with Mr. Ellis, he is kind of ‘hawt’.

  5. “individuals they thought were, or were likely to become, professional criminals.”

    No word on what the individuals were suspected of? A few look like drunks and a few have badass scars, but most look normal, kind of like people I know today.

    This guy must had been running a web site that published secret documents of the United States government.

  6. What stylistically interesting photos to have been taken by police. Current day fine art portrait photographers would be hard pressed to match the combinations of model, pose and environment in many of these.

    Does anybody else feel like our faces have been, to some degree, homogenized in the intervening years, and that they don’t make faces like some of these anymore?

  7. Those “likely to become criminals”?

    Hmmmm…i wonder if there’s any chance that photos of complainants, or witnesses, have been confounded amongst those taken as “mug” shots , that is, those known to have been taken after an actual arrest and charge.

    1. Thank you for sharing. That was an interesting collection. Warning to others; a few of these might be gruesome to certain sensibilities. I remarked on some below. The last one in the series, that I didn’t link, is timeless, in his documentation of violence. Too bad murder is a routine and consistent part of the human condition.


      Nude woman in painting looking down on dead body. Judging…maybe.


      Suicide. Dead girl. Matching dead doll. Irony. Baby Jane?


      Cocaine dealer, doesn’t mind his face shown.


      Sew room: so banal, and yet a good slice of the time period, outside of the dead body.


      Composition, exposure and texture including blood, so very artful, even though it’s a crime scene.

  8. Some of these “criminals” look like their only offense may have been crossdressing. Esp. the photo of the two people against a wall, with the person on the left smiling sunnily at the camera.

  9. Oh, I hope I didn’t piss anyone off responding to missjo, pointing out specific photos, or posting (too many) links. Sorry, if so.

  10. They weren’t kidding about properly scary villains.
    One guy has those eerie colorless irises.
    The other has a massive scar across his cheek.
    You can tell these guys have stories to tell
    just from the angle at which they keep their hats.

  11. I see A.Feutrill (crazy name, crazy guy) is in twice: once as a fresh-faced youth, then eight years later in a gang.

  12. As a historic researcher these photos are like gold dust to me as they are some of the few photos where people are not posing, where they didn’t put on their best clothes and cleaned up their homes for the photographer.
    It is morbid but somehow death is the only way to see what life was like.

    1. I found them absolutely fascinating. I hope my post didn’t come across as a criticism, it wasn’t. I merely meant to highlight that some of the images may have been distressful for some people. They were the most artful crime scene photos I have ever seen, and they were an unvarnished view ‘day in the life of’ (or death) of the time period.

  13. If the young man above had his shirt off, it’d easily be an Ambercrombie & Fitch store entrance photowall.

  14. I was surprised by the number of women in the photos, they must make up about half of them. ‘A. Cooke’, third from the bottom, has leading lady, Meryl Streep-ish good looks. Those are probably both sexist comments in some way, but oh well.

  15. Ahhh the jazz age. When man first fashioned crude tools from jazz.

    1. South Australia was colonised by free settlers. Thats where my family is from, South Australians never tire of mentioning it to people on the East Coast, they tire of hearing it very quickly.

    2. To everyone wondering how you tell if an Australian in the 20’s is likely to become a criminal, that’s easy. Check if they’re Irish. At least I’m pretty sure that was the system in place at the time. They don’t call them ‘Paddy wagons’ for nothing.

      1. No, i think maybe Robulus has this one right: the term was referring to the wagons as being full of “Paddy”s , Irishmen, who had been arrested.

        Like “turnip truck”, or “milk wagon”.

        1. Huh, learn something new every day. I love the origins of phrases.
          This was a great link, too. Thanks Cory. The vintage photos are always a pleasure.

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