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Dadswell Family

The Turbulent Life of Thomas Croft

Thomas Croft, the man formally accused of shooting Tom Norwood at Carnegie railway station on 1 October 1934, was born Lionel Charles Thomas on 28 December 1905, the second child of Thomas Charles and Emily Jane (Stubblety) Thomas. The younger Thomas identified himself at various times as a baker, mechanic, bread cart driver and labourer.

He spent some of his growing-up years at Mildura, where his father worked for the Victorian Railways as a train examiner. This part of his life may well explain his later claim to 'know about railways' and why he came to be living at Red Cliffs (near Mildura) in later life.

He described himself as a 21-year-old baker when he married Agnes Victoria Rankin, a milliner and daughter of Alexander and Charlotte (Hunt) Rankin, at Holy Trinity Church, Port Melbourne, on 3 March 1927.

An early brush with the law came in 1931 when both he and his older sister Florence Stephens were arrested during police raids in Melbourne which recovered stolen goods. On April 13, Lionel Thomas and Florence's husband, Frederick Arthur Stephens, were jailed for a series of house and shop break-ins said to have taken place over the previous year.

About this time, it appears that Lionel Thomas adopted the name Thomas Croft, perhaps because of his involvement with a woman (Muriel Croft) he subsequently identified as his 'wife' (no record of marriage has been found). He retained this name until at least the late 1940s.

He would have been aged 30 at the time of the 1934 Carnegie shooting of Tom Norwood. Croft said he was not living in Melbourne that year - he had been living with his parents and only visited Melbourne in mid-1934 when he tried to effect a reconciliation with his wife, who, he said, had left to live with another man.

A little over a year later, in October 1935, he was arrested in Sydney and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. It was alleged at his trial that he entered into an arrangement with a Kenneth Charles O'Connell to undertake the robbery.

Croft was said to have attacked a John Wilson by throwing pepper into his eyes and striking him on the face, breaking three of his teeth, snatching a cash bag from O'Connell who was accompanying Wilson, and then escaping.

During the trial, Croft gave sworn evidence — he said his real name was Lionel Charles Thomas, he travelled from Melbourne with Muriel Croft on July 8, had hired a car from Kenneth O'Connell but that he was at home in Helensburgh (midway between Sydney and Wollongong) on the day of the attack. He agreed he had made a detailed statement about the robbery to police but said he did so to save Muriel Croft from a threatened prosecution. Croft agreed he was carrying a loaded pistol when arrested.

A jury convicted both men, and the judge sentenced Croft to four years in prison with hard labour, and O'Connell to three years with hard labour. They were also ordered to make a restitution of almost £600. The judge also ordered that £80 which Croft had paid as cash bail for "a woman in Long Bay Gaol" be confiscated as part of the reparation. Presumably this referred to bail money for Muriel Croft who had been charged with stealing a car (a charge later dropped).
herald story
In 1945, eleven years after the Carnegie shooting and at the age of 39, Croft was arrested at Red Cliffs, Victoria, where he was working as a mechanic. He was charged with the murder of Tom Norwood.

At his trial, it was Kenneth O'Connell who appeared as a police witness, telling of conversations where Croft had told of the shooting. But it may well have been that O'Connell's criminal background (he also had another conviction in Tasmania) was used to discredit his evidence to the juries in the three trials that Croft faced over the shooting.

Following three trials where juries could not agree on a decision, Thomas Croft returned to NSW and resumed living under the name of Lionel Charles Thomas. His arrest in Perth, Western Australia, in July 1950 for the murder of a Sydney woman caused a sensation.

At his trial, he was alleged to have used other names, induced one widow, Phyllis Mary Page, to sell her house and travel with him to Melbourne. She disappeared near Eden, in NSW, never to be seen again, but Lionel Thomas later tried to encourage another woman to join him, offering her some of the missing woman's jewellery. And when arrested in Perth, he was about to marry yet another woman.

Police told the court that Lionel Thomas had told them he had shot and killed Mrs Page and disposed of her body. In his unsworn statement in court, he denied this. Although no body had been found, the jury took only an hour to convict him of the murder of Mrs Page. He was sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted to life imprisonment.

In September 1951, the life of Lionel Thomas came to a sudden end — at the age of 45, he took his own life in a Long Bay (Sydney) jail cell by hanging himself. He was cremated at Rookwood Crematorium, with his death certificate making no mention of any marriage or children. (When his wife Agnes (Rankin) Thomas died in 1985, her death certificate mentioned two children, both deceased).

- Information compiled May 2008

Related information

The Shock of a Family Murder

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