Communications Officer Tara Oldfield

Author: Tara Oldfield

Communications Officer

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

Eddie Leonski

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.

black and white photo of young man looking at the camera
Norman Morris Searle mugshot contained within the file vprs264 p1 unit15 59/5680


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”. 

Charles Mills

black and white photo of old man wearing glasses, facing the camera
Charles Mills' mugshot within vprs264 p1 unit15 45/2731

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.

orange paper with type writer text saying sentence of death to be commuted to imprisonment for four years.
Sentence commuted, vprs24 p1 unit15 45/2731


Asylum records

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.  

Admission warrants, female patients, Sunbury vprs8261 p1 unit22


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’).

The Haven, vprs17821 p1 unit1


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. 

Criminal cases

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.’”

streetscape black and white photo
Brighton crime scene photo from vprs30 p0 unit3070


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 mid 2020. 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.