Meet Sidney Kelly: The Style of the Criminal Element

As many on this blog know, I have a certain (perhaps curious) affinity for old mugshots. The latest is from the New South Wales police department of a wonderfully sinister-looking fellow named Sidney Kelly from June 1, 1924. The police caption reads, “Illicit drug trader. Drives his own motor car, and dresses well. Associates with criminals and prostitutes.”

Kelly was well known to the police with priors for shooting and assault

Now here is what really drew me to this photo. I love old black and white films, particularly gangster and film noir. Doesn’t he look a lot like George Raft in this picture?

Here is another:

36 thoughts on “Meet Sidney Kelly: The Style of the Criminal Element”

  1. BBC News has a powerful story about the Naples Mafia and the associations in England.

    1. just another crook turned snitch trying to gin up a book deal. but thanks benson i tried it out for 5 minutes

  2. And perhaps one of my favorite figures associated with Kelly:

    “Leigh, Kathleen Mary (Kate) (1881–1964)

    A former N.S.W. Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr W. R. Lawrence, will attend the funeral of former Sydney underworld identity Mrs Kathleen Ryan, also known as Kate Leigh.

    Mrs Ryan, who was reported to be about 84, died on Tuesday night in St Vincent’s Hospital.

    She had spent recent years quietly in a relative’s home in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills — the area in which she had been a colourful and well-known figure for many years.

    Convicted by Courts many times, Mrs Ryan was stoutly defended by her friends as being kind-hearted.

    She told the Bankruptcy Court, which examined her in 1954, that “Good Samaritans” had given her £1700 to pay her back taxes.

    On that occasion she said, “I’ve helped a lot of people when they were down and out and now they’ve come good when I’m down and out.

    Police and criminals who knew her well are expected to attend the funeral service which will be held at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Surry Hills, at 12.30 p.m. tomorrow.

    She will be buried at Botany Cemetery after the service.

    Announcing that he would attend the service, Mr Lawrence said:

    “Kate used to go to the Courts nearly every day and she would do all she could to help first offenders.

    “On many occasions I saw her actually paying the fines of people who were not in a position to pay.

    “I spent 19 years at the C.I.B. and Kate was one who gave me lots of information and help.

    “There was another side to her life.

    “Certainly she had a criminal record, but she did all she could to help the needy and young offenders.

    “She warned many of the youngsters about the futility of crime.”

    Original publication
    Sydney Morning Herald, 6 February 1964, p 5

  3. And here is another obit from another criminal acquaintance of Sydney Kelly. Click on the link below to see her photograph:

    Cameron, Ellen Katherine (Nellie) (1910–1953)

    from Mercury (Hobart)

    Nellie Burke, or Cameron, one of the Sydney underworld’s “fabulous characters,” is dead, aged 41.

    The body was found in her flat in Denham St, Darlinghurst, last night.

    The body was in the kitchen, near a gas oven with all taps turned on. Nellie had been a figure in the underworld for more than 25 years.

    She was a blue-eyed blonde, only 15 years old, when she first appeared—girl friend of notorious gangster Frank Green.

    Soon she had the distinction of becoming the first woman in Australia to be convicted of consorting with criminals.

    She came from a good family, and was educated at an exclusive girls’ school on the North Shore.

    But while still in her teens, she became the mistress of one of Sydney’s worst gunmen and razor slashers, Guido Calletti.

    Her family and police tried to win her from the under-world, but she stayed with Calletti.

    She was the despair of welfare workers, but she continued to dress daintily and maintained her well modulated speech.

    In 1929, Nellie and Calletti were living in Darlinghurst when another criminal, Erick Connolly, “fell” for her.

    Connolly was found soon afterwards lying wounded in Woomerah Ave., Darlinghurst.

    While Calletti was serving a two-year sentence, Green won Nellie back.

    One night he found her with another man. Green was shot.

    Green once spirited Nellie away from Newcastle Hospital by putting an overcoat over her head while police waited to arrest her.

    In June, 1934, Green was admitted to Sydney Hospital with a terrible wound, which had almost severed the right wrist.

    While he lay in agony, Calletti, the man he hated most, married Nellie.

    Green was killed in a brawl in 1939. Nellie’s later friends included violent character Alan Pulley and a gunman-slasher who now “works” the East Sydney hotels as an S.P. bookie.

    Mrs. Matilda Parsons (“Tilly Devine”) commenting on Nellie’s death today, said she could “hardly breathe” from the shock of hearing of it.

  4. Here is an interesting obit. It’s for one of Sidney Kelly’s known associates. (Thanks, Cindy B for the tip to look at his obit!) One can view the photograph of the rather drab, understated infamous lady of Sydney.

    “Devine, Matilda Mary (Tilly) (1900–1970)

    from Daily Mirror (Sydney)

    Tilly Devine, the Queen of Woolloomooloo, is dead.

    She died in Concord Repatriation Hospital last night.

    Times changed Tilly as they changed the ‘Loo.

    In her heyday she admitted wearing more diamonds than the Queen of England (“And better ones, too”).

    But she died, as Tilly would have put it, broke.

    Tilly’s married name was Mrs Matilda Parsons.

    With her first husband, underworld identity Big Jim Devine, she came to Australia from London in 1919.

    She made a fortune during the war from sly grog.

    She did her bit for the war effort by reducing the sly grog price of a bottle of beer by threepence to the men in uniform.

    She had lived in later years in a cottage at Maroubra.

    The same cottage outside which Big Jim shot dead a gunman and where gangsters Guido Colletti and Frankie Green once shot it out.

    Tilly was noted for her lavish wartime parties.

    For one, her own “ball-of-the-year,” she hired the Maccabean Hall at Darlinghurst.

    She told the hall management the function was for charity.

    It was, too — to raise bail for a man named Kelly charged with attempted murder.

    Big Jim and East Sydney identity Cliffie Thomas stood at the door.

    A girl known in Kings Cross as Carbine Lottie worked in the cloakroom.

    The ticket auctioneer was Bandages Cosgrove, so-called because he usually showed the effects of his profession of a bouncer.

    Tilly announced to the patrons — “I don’t want you turning this into a rort. If anyone does I’ll hoist him myself.”

    Tilly Devine always claimed the best man she had ever known was her late husband, ex-navy man Eric Parsons.

    She married him a month after being charged with trying to murder him by shooting him in the leg.

    In her later years she was even known to shed a tear for the late Eric.

    She wrote her own obituary in a letter she once sent to Truth newspaper.

    She wote: “Give a dog a bad name and it sticks.

    “I wasn’t as bad as I was painted.

    “There’s lots in Sydney who will miss me — even coppers.”

    Original publication
    Daily Mirror (Sydney), 24 November 1970, p 9″

    And here is Sydney Kelly’s info:

  5. I dunno, Jonathan, I don’t think Sidney Kelly looks anything like George Raft. But, hey, to each his own. After I read the police caption about Kelly: “Associates with criminals and prostitutes” struck me. Kelly really more resembles a young version of Donald Trump. Maybe it’s the hair.

  6. He actually looks MORE like one of my relatives, but okay. Even more interesting are stories of his life, or lifestyle, and the legal environment that created it – worthy perhaps even of a “Peaky Blinders” styled series which, by the way, was excellent in my opinion.

  7. Sidney passed away in 1948…….His obituary, which has the makings of a wonderful short story, imo, is online:
    Sydney Patrick Kelly (“Siddy”)….1900-1948

    1. Cindy, hi!

      My wife does genealogy as a hobby in her spare time.

      One line we thought was really funny was out of the Wheeling West Virginia area.

      Her relative was hit/killed by a train…. what, 100 yrs back?

      I should have retyped it so I could post it on line as I think it’s a classic.

      Whom ever wrote the obit in the local paper used every adjective in the book to describe just how brutal, violent & bloody that guy had been torn asunder & sent back to the Lord.

      My daughter joked that she guessed that was written before they had tack.

      Sad for the Guy/family, but it’s was written in such a humorous way.

      I can only hope to have such a humorous Obit.

      1. Hi Oky:

        Oh, I hope you do post that obit here at some point. What a look back into the past. Your wife’s poor relative, though. That sounded ghastly.

    2. When I work on our genealogy, it strikes me how much shorter the average person’s life was.

  8. I’m thinking the picture needs photo shopped & to put someone else’s head on the body who’s is truley evil, you know, like Fm DOJ’s Rod Rosentein or “Andy”, Lisa blushed, Mccabe.


    President Trump takes a lap in “The Beast” at NASCAR’s Daytona 500.

    “Gentlemen, start your engines”

    Dang! Look at all those Americans!

    1. George……..loved it!
      But I’m sure the liberals set a new record for the number of clutched pearls.
      Can you imagine the hysteria?? 😁

  10. “Illicit Drug Trader”

    In the United States there can be no such thing.

    The first consideration is the fact that if people cannot obtain the desired products or services on the white market, they will obtain them on the black market. America knows its battle against “illegal” drugs has been futile.

    More pertinent, removing people’s rights and freedoms by statute in the interests of precluding property damage and bodily injury is rational. In the absence of compelling evidence of invariable, inexorable, absolute and undesirable outcomes, Americans irrefutably have the right to and freedom of substance ingestion and every other conceivable natural and God-given right and freedom per the 9th Amendment. All considerations must defer to the superior, prevalent and maximal rights and freedoms of individuals over the inferior, severely limited and restricted powers of Congress.

    The American thesis is freedom through self-reliance.

    Caveat Emptor.

    People must adapt to the outcomes of freedom.

    Freedom does not adapt to people…

    dictatorship does.

  11. Thank you, Professor…..You have great tastes in photography/film.
    I love the sepia toned black and whites, like Mr. Kelly’s, as well as straight up b/w.
    Re-mastered b/w movies are so gorgeous……more so than color, imo…….and of course, the nostalgia!

    1. He looks a lot like the guy on my “19 Crimes” can of beer- brewed in Denver and enjoyed by me last night.

      It seems there were 19 crimes that could get you transported down under.

  12. “Illicit drug trader. Drives his own motor car, and dresses well. Associates with criminals and prostitutes.”
    That’s a great silk knit tie and cap toe oxfords (probably Endicott Johnsons, if not custom). The Churchillesque and undented homburg hat seems a bit much. He could try a fedora but nobody … but nobody … could compete with Bogie in that department.

    1. I wondered about that knitted tie. I’d never seen one. I never knew there were silk knitted ties. Looks like he is wearing a suit vest and a cardigan.

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