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Jean LEE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Torture
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 7, 1949
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: December 10, 1919
Victim profile: William "Pop" Kent, 73
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Status: Executed by hanging at Pentridge prison, Coburg on February 19, 1951. The last woman to be executed in Australia

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Jean Lee (10 December 1919 – 19 February 1951) was an Australian woman, convicted of murder, and notable as the last woman to be executed in Australia.


Born Marjorie Jean Maude Wright in Dubbo, New South Wales, Lee was the daughter of a railway worker. She had an unremarkable childhood in rural New South Wales and later in suburban Sydney and was remembered as an intelligent, popular student at her Roman Catholic school, although she was inclined to be rebellious on occasion.

She married in 1938 and the following year gave birth to a daughter. After several years, her husband abandoned her and their child, and Lee gave her daughter to her mother to raise. After Lee's mother successfully sought legal custody of Lee's daughter, Lee moved to Melbourne where she became involved in petty crime.

She met Robert David Clayton, who had some criminal convictions, and their relationship soon became abusive and Lee was subjected to violence. She began to work as a prostitute.

The couple found a method to extort money from unsuspecting men, and later called it "The Badger Game". Lee would lure a man into a sexually compromising position, and Clayton would burst into the room, and surprise them. Clayton played the part of the outraged husband, and blackmailed the other man into giving him money in return for his silence. As many of the men were supposedly respectable married men, they would often give Clayton money, rather than risk him telling their wives. On occasion, the man would refuse and Clayton would then beat and rob him.

The couple were later joined by Norman Andrews, another criminal that Clayton had first met while in prison.

The Murder

In 1949, the trio targeted an elderly man, William "Pop " Kent. Kent, 73, was an SP Bookie. Kent invited the trio to have a drink at his flat - 6 pm closing time was law in Victoria. They had heard that he kept money in his home, and thought Kent would be a soft target. While Lee kept Kent busy by performing oral sex, the two men would search the flat for money. The trio later gave conflicting statements to Police but what is known Kent was tied to a chair, by Lee, and over a period of hours all three kicked and beat him, while demanding to know where his money was kept, they took his money roll he had in his pocket but wanted more. Kent was at first defiant, but eventually insisted that he had no extra money. He was tortured then stabbed several times, before Andrews strangled him. Neighbours heard Kent's screams and called police, but by the time they arrived, Lee, Clayton and Andrews were gone, and Kent was dead. Kent was found under a pile of sheets and clothing, his furniture had been broken and his home had been ransacked. A later report claimed that Kent's penis had been cut off and stuffed down his throat.

The three were soon apprehended in a hotel room, still wearing blood-stained clothing. Lee and Clayton had more blood on their clothes than Andrews and Lee had an abrasion on her nose. Lee confessed to the crime and in an effort to save her lover, claimed that she had acted alone and that he had no knowledge of the events. All three were charged with murder but by the time their trial began on 20 March 1950, they had turned on each other, with each person attempting to shift blame onto the other two. Lee was charged under the principle of "common purpose" which meant that although it was accepted that she had neither stabbed nor strangled Kent, she had played an active role in his death and was therefore equally culpable. The three were found guilty and sentenced to death. Lee became hysterical as she heard the sentence.

On 23 June 1950, the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that their confessions had been improperly obtained and ordered a retrial, but this was overturned by the High Court and the verdicts and sentences were confirmed. Lee's mental state declined after this, and she alternated between violently attacking her prison guards and begging for mercy, while stating repeatedly that she was innocent and that they had never meant to kill anyone.

Lee also commented that she did not believe a woman would be hanged. As the date for her execution drew near, Lee grew increasingly erratic.


On 19 February 1951, the morning of her execution, she became hysterical and had to be sedated. She fainted when the executioner came to her cell, and she was strapped semi-conscious to a chair. She was executed at 8:00 a.m. At 10:00 a.m. her accomplices Robert Clayton 32, and Norman Andrews 38, were also hanged. Clayton's last words were Goodbye Charlie and Andrews's last words Goodbye Robert.

Jean Lee was one of two women executed in Australia during the 20th century, the other being Martha Rendell, who was hanged for murdering her de facto husband's children in 1909.

She was the last woman to be hanged before the death penalty was abolished.


Lee, Jean (1919–1951)

By Joy Damousi

Jean Lee (1919-1951), murderer, was born on 10 December 1919 at Dubbo, New South Wales, fifth and youngest child of Australian-born parents Charles Wright, railway ganger, and his wife Florence, née Peacock. Her names were registered as Marjorie Jean Maude. After the family moved to Sydney in 1927, she was educated at Chatswood Public School, at a convent in North Sydney and at Willoughby Central Domestic High School (1932-33). She did not sit her Intermediate certificate examinations.

Jean Wright turned her hand to a number of jobs, working as a milliner, waitress, stenographer and as a labourer in a canned-goods factory. Aged 18, on 19 March 1938 at the Methodist Church, South Chatswood, she married Raymond Thomas Brees, a 25-year-old house-painter; their daughter was born in April 1939. From the beginning the marriage was strained by financial difficulties; Brees was regularly out of work and drinking heavily. The couple separated and were divorced in April 1949.

As a single mother, Jean Brees found it difficult to make ends meet. Increasingly she became caught in a cycle of poverty, petty crime and prostitution in Sydney and Brisbane, using numerous aliases, among them 'Jean Lee'. In 1943 she had begun an association with Morris Dias, a criminal who managed her earnings from prostitution. Three years later she met Robert David Clayton, a 'con man' and gambler with whom she formed an enduring, if violent, relationship. Between May 1945 and July 1948 she appeared twenty-three times at Sydney's Central Police Court, mostly on charges of offensive behaviour.

In October 1949 Lee travelled to Melbourne with Clayton, who had just been released from gaol. There they teamed up with another criminal, Norman Andrews. The three committed minor offences which brought them into further conflict with the law. On 8 November a 73-year-old, part-time bookmaker William ('Pop') Kent was found murdered in the front room of his house in Dorrit Street, Carlton. The police alleged that Clayton, Andrews and Lee had accompanied Kent to his home, bashed him, tortured him to find where he had hidden his money, and finally strangled him. Angry and bitter about the charge, Lee pleaded innocence and insisted she was an onlooker rather than an active participant in the crime.

On 25 March 1950, after a long and dramatic trial in the Supreme Court, the three were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The media and a majority of people were in favour of the sentence being carried out, but, spearheaded by the Labor Women's Organising Committee and groups opposed to capital punishment, some public sympathy emerged for Lee. No woman had been hanged in Victoria for fifty-six years. Telegrams of protest were sent to the McDonald government, but a subsequent legal appeal failed to reverse the decision. At 8 a.m. on 19 February 1951 Jean Lee was carried to the scaffold and hanged at Pentridge prison, Coburg, while protesters and the press gathered outside. Clayton and Andrews were hanged two hours later. Survived by her daughter, Lee was buried within the prison walls. She was the last woman to suffer the death penalty in Australia.

Joy Damousi, 'Lee, Jean (1919–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.


Jean Lee, the last woman to hang in Australia

Jean Lee, an attractive 31-year-old redhead, made history as the last woman to hang in Australia when she went to the gallows in Pentridge prison in the Coburg suburb of Melbourne in Victoria state on the morning of Monday February 19th 1951. She and her two male companions were hanged for the murder of 73-year-old dwelling house landlord and bookmaker, William "Pop" Kent.

Jean Lee was apparently quite intelligent and a bit rebellious at school and had a succession of dead end jobs from which she soon left or was fired.

She married at 18 and lived with her husband for about nine years before leaving him and entrusting her daughter to her mother. She had a relationship with a petty criminal who got her into prostitution with American servicemen. He acted as her pimp whilst she worked to support them both.

She left him for another professional criminal, Robert David Clayton with whom she fell deeply in love. As is so often the case she was caught in a downward spiral. She was in love with a criminal who abused her and used her in his criminal activities.

These centered principally on what was known as the "badger game". Lee, at the time, a voluptuous and attractive woman would pick up men and get them to a hotel room, their own home, or a car where she would appear to be about to have sex with them. Once they were semi-naked and vulnerable Clayton would appear in the role of outraged husband and demand money from them.

Usually the victims handed over their ready cash but kept quiet for fear of their wives finding out or of being ridiculed - so it was a fairly safe bet. If they were not forthcoming Clayton beat them up. It was a scheme that had worked well, although at least two previous cases had been reported to the police.

On the evening of November 7th 1949, Lee, Clayton and a third accomplice, Norman Andrews whom Clayton had met in prison, saw William Kent in a Melbourne hotel lounge. Jean Lee had several drinks with Kent and soon succeeded in persuading the old man to take her back to his apartment where she tried to pick his pockets.

However Mr. Kent, although inebriated and quite elderly, was of sterner stuff. He put up a fight with Lee which was ended when Clayton and Andrews entered his room. Mr. Kent was systematically kicked, beaten and tortured over the next hour in an attempt to get him to reveal where he kept his money. His hands had been tied behind his back and his thumbs tied together with bootlaces. He had been repeatedly stabbed with a small knife and was finally manually strangled.

The trio were soon arrested at their hotel and blood stained clothing was found in Lee's and Andrew's rooms. At police headquarters they were questioned in separate rooms where each initially denied their involvement and then started to blame the others.

They came to trial on March 20th 1950 at Melborne's Criminal Court and the proceedings lasted 6 days. As each had tried to shift the blame on to the others in their statements to the police, the trial judge Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy explained the law of "common purpose" to the jury, i.e. that when three people take part in a violent robbery and murder they are all equally guilty, irrespective of which one had actually strangled Mr. Kent. The jury took less than three hours to find them all guilty and they were sentenced to death. Lee became hysterical whilst Clayton shouted abuse at the jury.

Their appeal was heard by the Court of Criminal Appeal and was upheld by a two to one majority decision on the 23rd June 1950. The Appeal Court ruled that their statements to the police had been obtained improperly as the statement of one was used to extract confessions from the other two. They were thus granted a re-trial. However this was not to be as the High Court overturned the Appeal Court and reinstated the convictions and sentences.

There was considerable protest, led by left wing and feminist groups, when Lee was sentenced to death. However it seemed to primarily be against the execution of a woman by hanging, rather than the execution of women per se.

Lee would became the first woman to be hanged in Victoria since 1895. She had aged noticeably during her time in prison and suffered violent mood swings - now abusing her warderesses next begging them for an alcoholic drink. She told one of her warderesses: "I just didn’t do it. I haven’t enough strength in my hands to choke anyone. Bobby was stupid but the old man was trying to yell for help. None of us meant to kill him."

It was decided that Lee should be the first to hang the two men being executed two hours later.

She was heavily sedated as she shuffled under escort to a double cell near the gallows.

Sheriff William Daly was required to read the death warrant to her. But she collapsed on seeing the hangman and his assistant - both goggled and wearing felt hats - a strange Australian practice. A doctor examined her and found she was unconscious. However the execution had to proceed so Daly continued to read out the details of her conviction and sentence although she would not have heard a word of it - if she had, she would have spotted a mistake (the date on which she had been sentenced).

Because of her state of collapse, the executioner pinioned her arms in front of rather than behind her back as was normal. His assistant then pinioned her legs with a strap whilst he put the white hood on her head and they carried her from the cell the few yards to the gallows, where she had to be placed on a chair on the trap. Her head drooped to her chest and the executioner had to pull it back in order to adjust the noose correctly.

The flap of the hood which was to cover her face had been left open. At a signal from the sheriff the executioner dropped the flap to obscure her face, stood back from the trap and pulled the lever. The trap fell and both she and the chair plummeted through. The chair had been secured to the gallows by a cord and although it fell with her the two parted company at the end of the drop leaving her suspended normally.

Two hours later Clayton and Andrews, both mildly sedated, shared her fate.

Capital punishment ended in Australia with Victoria's next execution, that of Ronald Ryan on the same gallows at Pentridge prison on the 3rd of February 1967.

A recent book - "Jean Lee - The last woman hanged in Australia" by Paul Wilson, Don Trebl and Robyn Lincoln casts doubt on the justice of her conviction and execution based upon the police interrogation methods and her part in the murders.


LEE, Jean (Australia)

Jean Lee, deservedly described as a gorgeous redhead, was a much sought after prostitute in Australia in the 1940s who, not content with the payment handed over by clients, thought up a scheme whereby she could obtain everything else of value the punters might have in their possession. Accordingly she teamed up with a minor criminal named David Clayton and embarked on what, in the jargon of the Victorian criminal underworld, was known as the ‘buttock and file’ game; she would lure a man into a highly compromising situation and Clayton, purporting to be her husband, would ‘surprise’ them. Under the threat of humiliating exposure to the press and the authorities, the victim would hand over his wallet and valuables. Any necessary reinforcement was provided by Norman Andrews, the heavy member of the villainous trio, who was endowed with particularly persuasive fists.

However, one man who was determined not to be robbed, come what may, was William Kent. On 7 November 1949, after enjoying Jean’s voluptuous charms and a drink or two in a hotel bedroom, he fell asleep, only to wake up to find her going through his pockets. He resisted strenuously, but was knocked out by a blow to the head with a bottle deftly wielded by Jean.

Summoning her two confederates, she then searched their victim, but on finding nothing worth stealing, the trio tied him up and proceeded to torture him with a broken bottle before leaving.

Kent’s dead and badly lacerated body was discovered the next day by hotel staff, who described the two men and the redhead so accurately to the police that it was only a matter of hours before all three were arrested and charged with murder. Despite a desperate appeal, Jean Lee and her criminal companions were hanged on 19 February 1951 in Sydney.

Women convicts in the Australian penal colonies were harshly punished for misbehaving, some sentenced to spend hours on the treadwheel, pacing ever upwards to keep the huge paddle-steamer-like wheel turning, their legs throbbing, panting for breath, with only minimal breaks to recover.

Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott



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