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Author: Tara Oldfield
Every year on the 1st of January hundreds of state archives are made public as part of Public Record Office Victoria’s annual Section 9 record openings. Under Section 9 of the Public Records Act 1973 files of a personal or private nature are closed to prevent the violation of personal privacy. These historic records, which as of 1 January have passed their assigned closure period, are of particular interest to family historians waiting on files that mention members of their family tree.
Among the files made public for the first time are 1942-43 capital case files. Capital cases relate to those criminal trials where a sentence of death was given. This year the Victorian Government copy of the Eddie Leonski trial is included. Six months after Leonski was executed at Pentridge, two other men narrowly escaped their death sentences for murder, Norman Morris Searle and Charles Mills. Their files sit beside Leonski’s. Also among the openings this year are mental health records, prison registers and other criminal case files of 1943.
Scroll to the very bottom of this page for the full list of opened records this year. Or learn more about the stories that can be found within the files below – warning some of these records relate to death, violence and mental health and may be upsetting for some readers.
Capital case files
The case of “Brownout Strangler” Eddie Leonski is one of the most famous serial killer cases in Australia’s history. As Leonski was a US serviceman when he committed the murders, he was tried under American Military Law. The National Archives holds the official report (which is on open access). Among the files in our holdings is a copy of the NAA-held file made by Victoria Police after the trial. The Victoria Police copy includes later correspondence with the US and communication with a journalist writing a book about Leonski. To learn more about the case read our blog: Afraid of the darkness.
Norman Morris Searle
Sitting alongside the Leonski file is a file marked “N.M Searle.” Norman Morris Searle was 25 years old, single, and living in Burnley when he was arrested for the murder of a police officer, Senior Constable Frederick Edward Jones. According to the file Searle had recently lost both his mother and father and was working as a fitter, though he would go missing during his rostered night shifts as he became addicted to drink.
On 1 March 1941, Searle was drinking at the Australia Hotel, Bridge Road, Richmond when he saw police officer Teitz walk in. He recognised Teitz as being the officer who had arrested him once before. Searle evidently believed he’d been treated poorly during that arrest and held lingering hostility towards the officer. Upon leaving the bar, Searle had a taxi driver take him to pick up a rifle. Searle then directed him to the corner of Bridge Road and Church Street and fired a shot out the window. The driver didn’t see anyone fall and assumed Searle had been firing at a nearby Chemist. In fact, a police officer waiting nearby had been hit. The driver was then told “if you don’t do as I tell you I’ll shoot you.” When picked up later by officers, Searle asked them “Is it about the copper I shot?” According to the officers, he said:
“About six months ago he locked me up for being drunk, and at the station he slapped me in the face and called me a bastard at the Court; no man is going to do that to me and get away with it…”
In fact, rather than shooting Teitz, he shot and killed similarly built Constable Jones instead. Searle made this statement from the stand:
“I had no intentions of killing Constable Jones or harming anybody else. I am very sorry he is dead….”
The jury found him guilty with a strong recommendation to mercy. He was sentenced to death, the sentence then commuted to life in prison. In 1959 he was shown further leniency for being a “model prisoner” the file is marked in red ink: “Released on bond (4 years) on 6/7/59”.
In the same unit is Charles Mills’ Capital Case file. Upon the death of his mother in 1931, returned injured WWI soldier Mills went home to Bendigo and found his sister Kate, previously a well-known music teacher, had become ill in his long absence. He stayed to look after her. In the following years her health deteriorated further and they both became recluses. Charles said:
“She had many things wrong with her... She complained of backache; she had bad head noises; she was blind and she was deaf...
she had no life whatever, her life was intolerable.”
On the afternoon of 31 January 1943 Charles entered a funeral home in Bendigo and made arrangements for his sister’s burial. When the funeral director enquired about the doctor who had pronounced death, Charles admitted that there was no doctor and that he had killed his sister and would soon give himself up to police. But he wanted to arrange and pay for her funeral first. As promised, Mills went to the Bendigo Watch house at 5.45pm where he told Constable Bond “I shot my sister.”
Mills was found guilty with a strong recommendation for mercy. His death sentence was commuted.
Mental Hospital report books and admission warrants reveal what life in a mental institution was like between 1914 and 1943. For instance, the Head Nurses Daily Report Book, Female Wards, for Kew Mental Hospital reveal on the 29th of January 1942 that the weather was “fine”, 112 patients were “usefully employed” around the grounds such as in the kitchen or sewing room and Nurse Carey was bitten on the forearm by patient A Jacobson. Another patient apparently climbed onto the kitchen roof, broke into the tower and rang the bell that day while other patients were listed as in bed, talkative or restless.
The female admission warrants shed light on the personal stories of patients. The admission warrants for Sunbury show patients being transferred from other asylums. A woman named Selina who was admitted by her husband, claimed him to be the cause of her mental state. A nurse observed:
“She moans all the time about being married.” Another observed “She talks incessantly of one thing, that she should never have married.”
Her husband was still visiting her in the asylum when she passed away of pneumonia in 1950 aged 63. Under “cause of condition” many records note “worry”, “change of life”, “senility” or “not known”. “Nerves” is written as the cause of Cordelia’s deteriorating mental health. It is noted that she says she is Madam Melba and the best singer in the world. 26 year old Frances was a single woman with a four month old baby when admitted. She had been living in Gore Street Fitzroy.
“She was emotionally unstable and wept for no apparent reason. Said that people here say that herself, her mother and her child are all bastards and that she is nothing.”
The cause of her mental state was listed as “Not known.” She died at aged 31 of pneumonia at Sunbury.
Grace was one of the few with a discharge note attached to her record. She was discharged in 1966 after 24 years in the asylum. While Eunice was a chronic alcoholic who “does not remember her brother died… she dresses her brother’s bed daily and believes he is still alive.”
The Haven records
The Haven, North Fitzroy, was established by the Salvation Army in 1897 as a maternity home for young mothers from across Victoria. In 1932 accommodations were also made on the site for infants and toddlers who were either there with their mothers or wards of the state. The Admission and Discharge Day Books record details of infants who were admitted into the care of 'The Haven' from December 1907 to June 1919. Information recorded includes name, date and place of birth, date admitted, discharged and location following discharge if known (referred to as ‘How Disposed Of’).
According to this page for instance, Marjory Grace Burgess was born 25 July 1908 at the Women’s Hospital and admitted to the Haven on the 6th of August 1908. She was discharged later that month to her mother in Gippsland where she was living with friends.
Among the criminal case files this year is the murder of Ian Jeffrey by Cecil John Freeman in Brighton. In his statement Freeman said:
“On the 31st day of July 1943 at tea time I walked into the dining room of the Oriental Coffee Palace. I approached Ian Jeffrey who was being served by my wife. I said ‘Come with me, if you are good enough to have my wife, you have got to fight for her.’”
Outside he struck Ian Jeffrey multiple times, in full view of other boarders and diners at the Coffee Palace. Women ran to Jeffrey’s side as he lay motionless on the ground. Men called for the police. But there was nothing any of them could do - Jeffrey died of his injuries.
“The detectives told me that almost every bone in Jeffrey’s face was broken,” Cecil said.
In court he said he believed his wife to be having an affair with the victim while he’d been away at military camp. Ian Gordon Jeffrey, known as ‘Snowy’, was 25 years old when he was killed. He had resided at the Coffee Palace in Brighton with Cecil and his wife, and many other boarders who spoke highly of him, for more than twelve months. He liked to go dancing and often took Freeman’s wife out with him, though friends stated they didn’t believe the pair to be having an affair at all. Freeman was found guilty of manslaughter. He was released from Pentridge in 1946.
Full list of records opened 1 January 2019
|Series number||Consignment||Series Title||Agency||Units||Date range|
|VPRS 30||P0000||Criminal Trial Briefs||Office of Public Prosecutions||units 3025 - 3089||1943|
|VPRS 30||P0030||Criminal Trial Briefs||Office of Public Prosecutions||unit 11||1943|
|VPRS 264||P0001||Capital Case Files||Law Department||unit 15||1941-1943|
|VPRS 266||P0001||Inward Registered Correspondence||Attorney-General's Department||units 67 - 78||1942-1943|
|VPRS 283||P0002||Divorce Case Files, Melbourne||Supreme Court of Victoria||units 365 - 396||1942-1943|
|VPRS 515||P0000||Central Register of Male Prisoners||Penal & Gaols Branch||unit 96||1942-1943|
|VPRS 552||P0001||Divorce Case Files||Ballarat Courts||unit 8||1943|
|VPRS 736||P0000||Children's Court Register||Castlemaine Courts||unit 2||1915-1919|
|VPRS 1100||P0002||Capital Sentence Files||Governor||unit 15||1943|
|VPRS 1752||P0000||Wages Records||Coutry Roads Board||units 44 - 50||1942-1943|
|VPRS 1759||P0000||Civil Construction Corps Wage Records||Coutry Roads Board||units 1 - 7||1942 -1943|
|VPRS 1792||P0000||Children's Court Register||Richmond Courts||unit 11||Jun 1917-Mar 1919|
|VPRS 1870||P0002||Minute Books||Pharmacy Board of Victoria||unit 4||1965-1968|
|VPRS 1941||P0000||Children's Court Register||Prahan Courts||unit 7||Apr 1917-Dec 1919|
|VPRS 3524||P0000||Criminal Trial Brief Register II||Office of Public Prosecutions||unit 51||1943|
|VPRS 3524||P0001||Criminal Trial Brief Register II||Office of Public Prosecutions||unit 51||1943|
|VPRS 3848||P0000||Master Patient Index Cards||Alfred Hospital||units 122 - 127||1941-1943|
|VPRS 4527||P0000||Ward Registers||Chief Secretary's Department||units 137 - 138||1918-1919|
|VPRS 4527||P0001||Ward Registers||Chief Secretary's Department||units 1 - 3||Apr-Dec 1919|
|VPRS 4839||P0000||List Of Prisoners||Pentridge Goal/Prison||unit 2||Nov 1928 - Jun 1943|
|VPRS 5334||P0001||Divorce Cause Books||Supreme Court of Victoria||units 11-12||May 1942-Dec 1943|
|VPRS 6063||P0001||Children's Court Registers||Fitzroy Courts||unit 12||May 1917-Feb 1919|
|VPRS 7440||P0002||Head Attendant's Daily Report Books - Male Department||Kew Mental Hospital||unit 14||Dec 1941-Jan 1943|
|VPRS 7449||P0001||Clinical Notes of Male Patients||Kew Cottages||unit 1||26 Jul 1912-10 Nov 1919|
|VPRS 7483||P0001||Asylum Records||Pleasant View Licensed House||unit 6||Jul 1940 - May 1943|
|VPRS 7692||P0001||Head Nurse's Daily Report Book - Female Wards||Kew Mental Hospital||unit 23||1941-Jan 1943|
|VPRS 7856||P0001||Bound Circulated Photographs and Criminal Offences of Convicted Persons||South Australia Police Department||unit 47||Oct 1942-April 1943|
|VPRS 8261||P0001||Admission Warrants - Female Patients||Sunbury Mental Hospital||unit 22||May 1941-Mar 1943|
|VPRS 9509||P0001||General Subject Files||Education Department||units 1 - 662||1978-1988|
|VPRS 10008||P0001||Presentments||Supreme Court of Victoria||units 58 - 61||1942-1943|
|VPRS 10563||P0000||Children's Court Registers||Geelong Courts||unit 5||Jul 1918-Sept 1919|
|VPRS 10874||P0003||Register of Prisoners Received and Discharged, "J" Division||Pentridge Goal/Prison||unit 1||Aug 1939-Jun 1943|
|VPRS 11549||P0001||Professional Officers' Cards||Teachers Tribunal||unit 1||1946-1968|
|VPRS 12612||P0001||Children's Court Register||Collingwood Courts||unit 1||1907-May 1919|
|VPRS 12739||P0001||Tramway Employees Record Cards||Melbourne And Metropolitian Tramways Board||units 83 - 89||1962-1963|
|VPRS 13279||P0001||Correspondence with Australian Railway Union regarding industrial issues, Transportation Division||Victorian Railways||unit 9||1962-1963|
|VPRS 13531||P0001||Accident Compensation Claim Register, Claims Branch||Victorian Railways||unit 22||1962-1963|
|VPRS 13536||P0001||Accident Compensation Claim Book||Victorian Railways||unit 8||1961-1963|
|VPRS 13969||P0001||Classified Technical Teachers Record Books||Education Department||unit 11||1961-1968|
|VPRS 14019||P0001||Examination Results||Swinburne Technical College||unit 11||1940-1943|
|VPRS 14351||P0001||Minutes||Country Roads Board||unit 67||1968|
|VPRS 16503||P0002||Board Minutes and Papers||Dental Board of Victoria||unit 3||1967-Sept 1968|
|VPRS 16852||P0001||Register of Applicants for Nursing and other Positions.||Royal Children's Hospital||unit 4||Apr 1959-Jan 1968|
|VPRS 17020||P0003||Criminal Presentments and Final Orders, Melbourne||Court of General Sessions||units 15 - 18||1942-Oct 1943|
|VPRS 17769||P0001||Children's Court Register||Heidelberg Courts||unit 2||Sept 1915-Sept 1919|
|VPRS 17792||P0002||Admission and Discharge Register of Patients||Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital||units 9 - 10||Jul 1918-Dec 1919|
|VPRS 17821||P0001||Admission and Discharge Day Book||Salvation Army - The Haven||unit 1||Dec 1907-Oct 1919|
|VPRS 17823||P0001||Infant Life Protection Register- Applications to Board Out Infants - State Ward and Non-Ward Infants||Children's Welfare Department||unit 2||Apr 1910-Jun 1919|
|VPRS 17871||P0001||Admission and Discharge Register of Patients: Voluntary Boarders||Mont Park Mental Hospital||unit 3||Mar 1939-Mar 1943|
|VPRS 18101||P0002||Observation Ward Report Books:Male Patients||Beechworth Mental Hospital||unit 3||Feb 1942-Mar 1943|
Due to ongoing digital archive work, these records will not be available to order via our online catalogue until later this year. In the meantime, if you would like to order and view any of these records in our Reading Room, please contact us via this contact form.