Lemonade Ley

Thomas John Ley (1880 — 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.

image found here

The Australian Minister for Justice became known as the Hanging Minister because of his enthusiasm for the death penalty. In fact, the evidence suggests that he was a serial killer.

Ley was a millionaire in his 60s. He had a mistress and owned properties across fashionable London. As a young man, he lied about his age, raising it so that he could marry a wealthy older woman named Lewie Vernon. When it came to social status, Ley was unstoppable.

Fashionable London 1920s found here

Not only did he lie about his age but he lied his way into the NSW Parliament. In 1917, he campaigned against the evils of alcohol and called himself ‘Lemonade Ley‘, as if he were the scourge of the publicans. And the voters fell for it. But once he got inside he sold them out. In fact, ‘Lemonade Ley’ was in the pay of a brewing company.

Lemonade Pie found here

By the mid-1920s, Ley was riding high, revelling in the privileges of a conservative politician. Appointed Minister for Justice, he earned hatred from both sides of politics with his brutal enthusiasm for capital punishment. State Labor leader Jack Lang wrote of Ley, “There were many times in the NSW Parliament when we believed he was not only mad, but bad.

Hanging coffins found here

By 1925, Ley had his ambitions trained on the prime ministership of Australia and targeted the Federal seat of Barton. Ley’s campaign was to have deadly consequences for the man who held the seat, Labor’s Fred McDonald. He tried to bribe McDonald so that McDonald would effectively run dead in the election.

Fred McDonald found here

A defeated McDonald pursued Ley with allegations of bribery. But the wealthy Ley retaliated by threatening to ruin him with a defamation suit. McDonald backed down, he apologised and even, it was claimed, signed a document exonerating Ley. Then McDonald changed his mind. He would charge Ley with bribery after all. This placed Ley in a very sticky situation. But on 15 April 1926, his problem – Fred McDonald – simply disappeared.

Fred McDonald’s body was never found. Another politician, Hyman Goldstein,  fell prey to T.J. Ley some months later. Ley had set up a company to rid Australia of prickly pear, the weed that threatened the nation’s farmers and graziers. Goldstein had invested heavily in a business scheme of Ley’s to manufacture poison but he didn’t realise just how poisonous the scheme – or scam – would become.

Read how Australia eradicated prickly pear here

The Prickly Pear company went bust. Ley had stolen the funds and spent the shareholders’ money on a holiday with his mistress. Shortly after, Hyman Goldstein left his Coogee home at twilight for a stroll up on the cliffs. But he never came home. He was found later at the bottom of Coogee cliffs, stone dead.

Coogee cliffs found here

Under pressure to disappear, Ley beat a hasty retreat to England. Stanley Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, assisted by writing letters of introduction for Ley to take with him. He left behind his long-suffering wife Lewie and took along his mistress Maggie Brook instead.

As the years passed, Ley grew fat and rich. But then, sexual jealousy brought him unstuck. Ley became so delusional that he accused Maggie of having an affair with John Mudie, a barman half her age. Mad with jealousy, he paid to have Mudie kidnapped and killed.

When Mudie’s body was discovered in a chalk pit, the media went into a frenzy, with eager journalists digging up every last detail of Ley’s public life back in Australia. It had the sex angle: he had wealth, he had a mistress, he had a wife, he’d been a politician and he was a murderer. Front-page news right through the trial.

Ley denied the charges to the end. At the last minute, his death sentence was commuted on the grounds that he was insane. A petition from Australia probably helped his cause. The ‘Hanging Minister’ escaped the gallows.

Roof of the Gallows by Laszlo Baranyai found here

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37 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Plenty of sociopaths in high ranking positions – one can go far when lacking a conscience.

  2. I think the evidence about letters from Bruce is a bit ropy, in fact, but the story is still amazing.

    • A bit ropy? I haven’t heard that expression before

  3. There’s nothing funny about this guy is there. Just a nasty venal murdering megalomaniac.

  4. Never trust a man who drinks lemonade whilst out murdering the innocent. It’s just not done. I once travelled to a little Australian town in NSW by the name of Albury looking for a man who had defaulted on a debt in Glasgow. A nice part of the world, but hellish if you’re looking to dig a rapid midnight hole. That prickly pear can be a real problem to those in a hurry.

    • Did you also go to Wodonga?

      • Funnily enough I did. If memory serves it was some kind of fruit fly check point between the two states. The guy there was adamant that we couldn’t bring fresh fruit in from NSW to Victoria and confiscated the bage of fresh passionfruit and oranges that are the best I have ever tasted. I seem to recall that there was a high bridge that bordered the two states and below us flowed the violent looking rown waters of the Murray River. Half way down on a rock ledge was a wedged car of which a local told us it had been used by a woman to kill her children in a family suicide bid back in 1970. It stuck in my mind due to the ferocity of the water.

      • I also crossed through A and W this weekend! I threw my kiwi fruit out the window before I crossed the bridge.

  5. Classic sociopath.

    And that prickly pear be the curse!

    • It’s an ugly plant isn’t it?

      • Aahh, but delicious- nopalitos are a fine addition to a taco plate and you can make a tasty jam from the juices of the red ‘pear’. Got to strain it carefully though, there’s plenty of wee spines.

  6. Blody hell. talk about power corrupting… I’m relieved that our MPs stick to fidling expenses, marital indiscretions and the occasional autoerotic asphyziation!

  7. Love those autoerotic asphyxiation stories.

  8. The movie version: “Prickly Pear and The Prick”. This guy gives politicians a bad name…. oh…. wait…. never mind….

  9. I just finished reading a great book called “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson about a serial killer who was also a prominent social climber during the era of the World’s Fair in Chicago, U.S. If you’re interested in these kinds of stories, you should check it out!

    • I read that book as well. The parts about the serial killer were great…the worlds fair parts…not so much.

      • I’ll order it for my kindle on Friday, sounds good.

  10. How convenient to be a minister for Justice and have a passion for serial killing!

  11. This is one of those rare instances of role reversal…..Australia sends criminal to England!

    • I thought: payback, too ;-)

  12. So it didn’t take absolute power to corrupt this pol absolutely – he was already corrupted and rotten.

    The hanging coffins – I wonder how that practice got started in the first place.

  13. These tales you have unearthed are truly fascinating!

    • thanks Timoteo, I like your movie reviews too

  14. I often suspect that all politicians are serial killers in disguise. Ghastly, power crazed nutters, the lot.

    I’m rather fond of prickly pear; they sell it in garden centres here.

    • well it does appear to be strangely useful…

      “Today, paradoxically, the fruit of the pear is still highly prized for jam-making, but there are other applications for which the plant has proved useful in the past. Matthew Goggs or his cook made pies out of the fruit and mixed it with apples and rhubard. Children also enjoyed jellies made from the fruit. The juice from the ripe fruit has been used as a kind of household paint and as a timber preservative. The thorns have been used as gramophone needles. The juice made an adequate ink. It has even been used for a cough medicine.”

  15. there is an argument in favor of politicians being serial killers, seeing as how they are largely responsible for most of the wars that are going on right now. . .

  16. The story of the prickly pear infestation was quite interesting. How very many invasive exotics we have moved from place to place… here in the Ozarks we are inundated with Japanese honeysuckle, Russian thistles, seretia lespediza, autumn olive, and multiflora rose.

    • Apart from Russian Thistles, those plants have rather benign sounding names

  17. Could you imagine if the “plain packagin” campaign extended from cigarettes to alcohol in this country? There would be riots, mayhem and all the Lemonade Leys would terrorise the countryside.

  18. *hic*
    Sorry. I’ve had a bit too much hard lemonade, I guess. :)

  19. Ok, I’m feeling quite adhd after reading this post; totally fixated on hanging coffins and the eradication of prickly pear neither of which I’d ever heard about before – not to mention the Lemonade Leys. Whew, I’m tired.

  20. Scary guy. It’s weird that he was so enthusiastic about the death penalty, but his own murders seemed to be for some sort of tangible gain, not because he liked killing people.

  21. Perfect for a tombstone: “he had wealth, he had a mistress, he had a wife, he’d been a politician and he was a murderer.”

  22. Those hanging coffins are COOL!


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