Criminal Exhibitions in the Justice and Police Museum


Black and white mugshot of man against wall, left hand side image closeup without hat, right hand side image full standing shot with hat on, leaning on chair.

Two new exhibitions are currently doing the rounds at Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum: Notorious Criminals: A Snapshot of Sinister Sydney, and Breakers: The Dying Art of Safebreaking. Following on from the hugely successful series City of Shadows and Suburban Noir, both of which were curated by Dr Peter Doyle, these latest exhibitions focus on notorious Sydney gangsters from Kate Leigh to John ‘Chow’ Hayes. Curated by Nerida Campbell, the Notorious Criminals series delves into Sydney’s crime world from the 1860s to 1990s, while Breakers features the tools confiscated from real-life breakers. Here is a description of Notorious Criminals:

Sydney’s first European settlers were criminals – not an auspicious start – and the city has maintained its reputation for breeding some of the world’s hardest, most malevolent and cunning crooks. From surreptitious poisoners, smoothing their victim’s brow while holding a poisoned cup to their mouth, through to low-lifes who would kill you for the coat on your back, this city has seen them all….

The newest display at the Justice & Police Museum tells the story of nine of the city’s most notorious criminals. Stretching from the 1860s-1990s it features well known gangsters like sly-grogger Kate Leigh as well as forgotten criminals such as the Parramatta River murderers Lester and Nichols. Using intriguing objects and crime scene images it showcases a remarkable array of criminals including bushrangers, gangsters and a serial killer. Previously unpublished crime scene images of a cold-blooded murder committed by gangster John ‘Chow’ Hayes will be on display along with deathmasks, cut-throat razors and a poison bottle. Visitors can also explore the museum’s courtrooms and cells where many of the featured criminals spent time before doing time in jail.

Here is the description of the Safebreakers exhibition:

Sydney was once infested by safebreakers. Some were sophisticated specialists like Richard Reynolds, who used the latest technology to crack safes. Others like Kong Lee had a more slap-dash approach – stuff the safe with explosives and hope the neighbours don’t complain about the noise when it blows. Investigating safebreaks was an everyday occurrence for police. Legendary undercover policeman Frank ‘the Shadow’ Fahy  used his superior surveillance skills to foil many safebreaking plots. He was so successful at blending in with criminals that he was regularly arrested by cops who were unaware of his true identity. In the Breakers display you will see the tools confiscated from safebreakers, hear a policeman talk about his experience investigating  safebreaking during the 1950s and see the remarkable story of Sydney’s safebreakers as captured in the NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive.

Both exhibitions are open only on weekends in Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum, corner of Albert and Phillip Streets, Circular Quay, Sydney.

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