By Michael Shelford © 2019
On the 15th May 1933, Patricia O’Brien and George Harper entered Our Lady Help of Christians’ Catholic Church, in East Brunswick, and got themselves hitched.
By this point, Patricia had a list of convictions in the double digits. They were fairly minor offences, which included: resisting arrest, insulting words, indecent language, and loitering for prostitution. To the legal institutions, Patricia represented herself as being born in 1912, whereas her birth record confirms she was actually born in 1915, meaning that her first convictions were not as an adult, but as a child of 15, and that she was convicted 3 times under the charge of loitering for prostitution when only 17 years of age. When she married George she was only 17, but she must have lied to the priest as her marriage record states that she was 19.
At the time of their wedding, George’s criminal record was more extensive than Patricia’s. He’d just been released from Pentridge Prison after serving 2 years for larceny. In 1930 he’d done 6 months in Geelong for receiving stolen goods, and before that he’d accumulated a string of minor convictions including: drunkenness, insulting words, unlawful possession, offensive behaviour, and loitering with intent to commit a felony.
What could possibly go wrong?
They'd been wed less than a week, when their marital home was raided by police, and they both found themselves under arrest. It turns out that George had taken possession of 22 silk shirts without making payment for them. He was charged with larceny, and Patricia was charged with having insufficient lawful means of support.
The charge of having insufficient lawful means of support meant that it was the opinion of the police that you were living of the proceeds of crime. The onus was then on you to prove in court that you were making an honest living.
Patricia was the first to be tried, and she called her mother as a witness. Her mother testified that there was always a place at home for her daughter. Patricia then called her husband George to the witness box. He didn’t have to travel far, he was being held in the court cells awaiting his own trial. George’s testimony was make or break for Patricia, because, in that era, the husband was expected to be the ‘bread winner’. If he could demonstrate that he was supporting her financially, then she could not be found guilty of having insufficient lawful means of support.
George didn’t do a very good job though. Under questioning he denied that he’d been living off Patricia’s earnings as a prostitute. He stated that instead, he had been supporting her. When the Magistrate asked George what he’d been doing since he got married, George replied “Oh, just running about town”. “What means have you of supporting her?” the Magistrate then asked, “You can see what I have been charged with”, was George’s reply.
Patricia was then sentenced to a year in prison.
When George’s turn came to be tried, it was proven that he had stolen the silk shirts. He pled for leniency, explaining that he’d just gotten out of prison after doing a sentence of 2 years for receiving stolen goods. The Judge sentenced him to the maximum he could give: 12 months prison. After delivering the sentence, the Judge said to George, “I will probably be seeing you again”. To this George replied, “I hope you will not be so severe next time.”
Keep an eye on this page for Part 4 which will be coming soon.
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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.