By Michael Shelford © 2016
Part II of Margaret Dougan 'Rogue & Vagabond', written and researched by Michael Shelford of Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.
To read Part 1 of this article click on this link or scroll down the page.
Although Margaret Dougan preferred bilking to prostitution, there is no doubt that she actively cultivated the impression that she was a sex worker. She understood that it was more acceptable to pose as a prostitute than to be considered a thief and it also gave her an excuse for loitering in Collins St and other areas of Melbourne’s CBD. As mentioned previously, the penalties for theft from the person were much greater than those for soliciting - so it made sense to profess to be a prostitute in a court of law rather than admit to bilking as a source of income. Many of her side-street pilferings were conducted under the pretence of being a prostitute and took place whilst supposedly negotiating terms for access to her services.
Dougan was insightful, a clever manipulator, and would customise her approach according to the way she read her potential victims. Once she had them in a dark alley she took steps to ensure that they weren’t able to leave without a fuss. She would lock them in embrace by wrapping her legs tightly in and around theirs. This caused their feet to be stuck to the ground and meant they would overbalance if they attempted to back away. Planted to the spot, they faced quite a struggle if they wished to free themselves from her affections. If they persisted in their efforts to disentangle themselves, the scene became chaotic and usually generated some loud and colourful language from Dougan, particularly if she had not yet claimed her booty. Even the drunkest of men realised that if they were seen to be struggling with an upset woman in a dark lane - they were likely to attract the ire of passers-by and maybe even receive a good kicking from someone looking for an excuse to hand out a bit of street justice. And then there were the dangers presented by Dougan herself. On one occasion, when accused of robbery, she picked up a brick and hurled it at the purseless man’s head, only missing it by inches.
Prior to getting a revolver, Dougan’s weapon of choice had generally been the ordinary hatpin. Kept in the quiver of her bouffant, these razor tipped lancers were typically 20cm long and had a decorative pinhead which could be used as a hand grip whilst thrusting.(If you have a look at the 1909 newspaper drawing of Margaret Dougan in the slideshow below, you can see that the artist included her hatpin in their impression). In 1909, when charged with robbing a man in Bourke Street, she explained that she had tripped and grabbed hold of him to prevent herself from falling. She said that he had responded by striking her and fracturing her nose. She went on to explain that: “I drew a hatpin out to defend myself as he was coming to hit me a second time. He caught hold of the hand with a pin in it and threatened me. He took the hatpin from me. I drew another hatpin and made another hit at him on the hand.”
In 1908, another notorious Fitzroy local, Maud Gunter, had driven her hatpin into the side of a Ballarat policeman before giving him a kicking. In 1912, two of Margaret Dougan’s regular partners in crime, Ray Lacey and Doreen Livingstone, were involved in a seven person brawl in the Melbourne red light district known as ‘Little Lon’. Six women and one man partook in the fierce fight. The participants were said to have been duelling with hatpins and manicure implements and the carnage left behind included large amounts of spattered blood and long tufts of hair. Ray Lacey was arrested at the scene but the others managed to escape. Ray Lacey didn’t appreciate the attentions of the arresting officers and fought the two large constables so bravely that they were unable to gain the advantage until a third officer arrived to assist. The Argus newspaper reported that “The woman Lacey threw herself on the ground, and she kicked, swore and struggled, fastening her teeth, so it is alleged, in Constable Anstee’s arm, and making a vicious lunge at him with a sharp pointed instrument belonging to a manicure set. Constable Cooper managed to get hold of this, and after a fierce struggle lasting over half an hour, the woman was bundled into a cab and taken to the Russell Street Police Station. The police then went to the Melbourne Hospital and arrested Walter Johnson and Doreen Livingston, two others who had taken part in the fray. Their clothing was saturated with blood. Johnson complained of having been stabbed in the neck and head with a hatpin, while the woman had large puncture wounds in the arms and head, which it is believed were caused by the manicure instrument.” (The Argus, 29th October 1912).
Both Ray Lacey and Doreen Livingstone had been arrested on various occasions for being part of Margaret Dougan’s ‘act’ - and it was well known that they were her accomplices. How Walter Johnson had become mixed up in this melee was not noted but I know him well from my research. Walter ‘Cul’ Johnson was a member of the Bourke Street Rats or ‘Rats Push’ as they were also known; a criminal street gang which included the likes of the famous gangster Squizzy Taylor. Considering the methods of income employed by the Rats Push, it could be assumed that the women had taken violent exception to this gang’s standover tactics. By the time of the Little Lon brawl Margaret Dougan had armed herself with a revolver - and it goes without saying that the attentions of the Rats Push would have been a very good reason for her doing so.
One month prior to this brawl, Griffith William Tasker, a boot clicker and champion swimmer from Fitzroy, had been walking along Lonsdale St in the city when Dougan grabbed hold of him and refused to let him go. He was a strong healthy young man who’d previously been proclaimed a hero after diving deep into the Swan River to save a woman who had fallen from a pleasure craft and sunken like a stone. Even he, the strongest of swimmers, explained that he had to struggle for three minutes before managing to get away from Dougan. After his escape he stopped to light his pipe and noticed that the end of his neck chain was hanging loose. Attached to the chain had been a sovereign case containing money and two diamond rings. Tasker followed her to a Chinese cookshop and then went for a police officer. When she was searched they didn’t find his valuables but they did find a nickel plated revolver and six cartridges. She was fined £3 for carrying firearms without permission of the authorities and let off on the charge of larceny.
A few months later, Dougan again was found to be carrying a revolver after being arrested for theft from the person of George Bentley in Equitable Lane, just off Collins St. Dougan had called out “Hello sports, want a sweet heart?” and had rushed up to him and given him a hug. Bentley managed to push away, noticed Dougan pass something to another woman, and instantly noticed that his purse missing. He called out to his friend Baxter to make a citizen’s arrest while he went after her accomplice (the accomplice fitted the description of Doreen Livingston - the one injured in the Little Lon hatpin brawl). After struggling with Baxter for a few minutes Dougan managed to reach into her handbag and pull out her revolver. “If you don’t let me go you bastard I’ll shoot you” she said. Baxter’s reaction was not immediate so she repeated herself. About this time Bentley returned puffing and panting. He had been outrun by Dougan’s accomplice. On being released, Dougan placed her gun back in her bag and walked voluntarily with the men to Elizabeth St where a passing Constable was located and she was given in charge. She was relaxed about the situation because the stolen items had left the scene of the crime with her accomplice. Dougan claimed in court that she had only threatened to shoot because she thought the men were going to rob her and that she used the gun to protect the £300 worth of jewellery that she carried in her bodice. Surprisingly, the police returned the revolver to her part way through the trial. She was sentenced to 6 months in prison for larceny but appealed the decision. Three juries then failed to agree before she was finally found not guilty in March 1913 and given her freedom.
During this era there were as many ingenious ways invented to relieve a person of their money as there were mugs to part with it. Two other girls from Fitzroy, Violet Clifford and Maud Manning, worked a daylight scam in downtown Melbourne for years. Their modus operandi was to select a wealthy looking man from the crowd and then create a scene by loudly accusing him of stealing their purse. They would continue to harass him as he walked along the street until, bewildered and embarrassed; he would settle the matter by replacing their ‘lost property’ with a donation. In 1908, a fellow named Ehrlich was harried from the street into the foyer of his lodgings at the Grand Hotel, where the hotel manager said “Give the girl her money or I’ll pitch you out on your head.” Violet Clifford then whispered to Ehrlich “If you don’t square this I’ll give you in charge”, to which he replied incredulously “This is deliberate blackmail, you can go to hell!” When the hotel manager called the police, Violet and Maud felt obliged to stick by their story and Ehrlich found himself in the lockup and then later facing trial in a court of law. After it emerged that Violet and Maud had been involved in other cases of a similar nature, their attorney decided to drop the charges against Ehrlich. In striking out the case, the judge stated that it was one of the more remarkable matters that had ever come before him in the police court.
Dougan’s methods were a lot more refined than the last example and could be re-enacted multiple times on the same night. If she felt that a dupe may return, she could temporarily shift her base to another location in the city. If she didn’t feel like changing locations there were other means by which she could continue her calling for a full shift. She was a trained dressmaker and had transferred these skills to her more recent mode of employment. On one occasion she robbed a drunken man who decided to report it to the police. After taking down the description of the perpetrator: “a pretty woman wearing a conspicuous red dress, red hat and red shoes”, the sleuths from the Criminal Investigation Branch believed that they had her at last. They’d seen Dougan in town earlier that evening - and she’d been completely clad in dazzling red. Detectives were sent to look for her in her usual haunts but when they found her she was not dressed in red, she was suited completely in vibrant blue. She had apparently travelled home for a costume change. When she was presented to the drunken businessman for purposes of identification, he said immediately “no that is not her, she was wearing all red, this lady is dressed in blue.” Later that night another man reported being robbed by a woman dressed in blue.
Dougan had an extraordinary work ethic. A lot of other pickpockets and bilkers would get a decent haul and then lay low or live large until they were short on cash and then they’d go and do it all again. Not Dougan, she was such a constant at the Paris end of Collins St that she was almost part of the furniture. The police grew so tired of filling out Criminal Offence Reports that constables were placed on duty with the specific task of directing men away from her. One night in 1909, Constable Brennan saw Dougan talking to a man in a doorway on Collins Street and stopped to warn him: “This woman is a thief. See if you have lost anything”. “ Don’t take any notice of him”, retorted Dougan, “he thinks he is a Sherlock Holmes”. Constable Brennan claimed that she then berated him with bad language and for this reason he placed her under arrest. Dougan’s solicitor counter-claimed that Constable Brennan had grabbed her by the throat and that she still had bruising to show for it. Brennan did not deny this assertion; excusing his actions by saying “She bit another constable on the hand and threatened to run a hatpin through him!” The judge found that Dougan had been provoked by Constable Brennan and that he had caused the drama by interfering in a situation where no complaint had been made. Dougan was let off with a very small fine - a nominal fee seemingly designed to save face for the police force.
If Dougan decided that the subject of her attentions was not suitably inebriated, she would attempt to stupefy them by offering a bottle of beer laced with drugs. She kept a bottle in the laneway near where she was positioned and would encourage passing men to join her for a drink. She would then pretend to take a sip before passing the bottle to them. The only time Dougan was convicted of robbery came from such an attempt, unfortunately for her she had miscalculated and chosen a teetotaller. The year was 1914 and, five years after the hotel strangulation incident, Dougan and Ginger Liz had teamed up again. Two men by the names of James Manley and James Forbes were passing along Elizabeth St, between Little Collins and Collins St, when they were hailed by the women. Dougan called out to them “Goodnight boys. I have something to show you.” She then backed into an alcove and produced a bottle of beer and beckoned to Manley. Manley explained that he was not a drinker and went to move along but she leant into him and wrapped her leg around his. Ginger Liz and Forbes were meanwhile having a conversation out on the footpath. Manley made his excuses, promised that he may hook up with Dougan the following night and then he and Forbes made off along Little Collins St. Dougan and Ginger Liz didn’t give up so easily though and they followed the men and called out to them again. Dougan pulled Manley into a side alley, saying “Come here lovie, I want you” and tried to get him to drink from the bottle once more. Feeling suspicious, he moved his purse from his trouser pocket to an inside coat pocket. Dougan wrapped her leg around his and leaned against him. Manley felt her hand touch is coat pocket then saw her pass something to Ginger Liz. He immediately checked his pocket and noticed that his purse was gone. He caught Ginger Liz by the arm and called out to his friend Forbes “Come here, they have picked my pocket.” Forbes held on to Ginger Liz and Manley to Dougan. Just then a policeman happened to be walking past on his beat and they were caught red-handed. Dougan’s luck had run out. The policeman saw Ginger Liz throw the empty purse and it happened to land between his feet. The stolen bundle of pound notes sat on the ground behind Dougan. On the way to the watchhouse both of the women tried to intimidate Manley. Ginger Liz said “You are not going to sign the charge against us are you?” Dougan then said to him “I’ll swear all kinds of lies imaginable in the Court tomorrow against you. I’ll give the Truth Newspaper half a crown to get you exposed.”
In court, the police prosecutor made a point of questioning Dougan on whether or not she had put anything in the drink that she had kept offering to Manley. The detectives were quite confident that she had been drugging men but it may have been a better idea for them to have collected the bottle for testing rather than ask her about it in court. The evidence in regard to the theft from the person was irrefutable on this occasion and both Dougan and Ginger Liz were convicted and given a 6 month holiday in Pentridge Prison. The police would soon be reminded of how difficult it was to keep Dougan in the coop. She wasted no time in appealing the decision and was allowed out on bail whilst awaiting her next trial.
Before the police could blink she had skipped town and ‘gone into smoke’.
Margaret Dougan P III coming soon.
You can read Part I of this article by clicking here or scrolling down the page.
The photograph at the top of this article and the two prison photographs in the slide show below were reproduced with permission of the Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office, Victoria, Australia. © State of Victoria through Public Record Office Victoria.
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Michael Shelford is a writer who specialises in Australian true crime. He is currently completing a book on Melbourne's crime scene c1890's to 1920's. He is also the creator and guide for the walking tour company Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.