In 1928, with a failed political career trailing behind him in Australia, 48-year-old Englishman Thomas John Ley returned to England with his mistress looking to start again. In the late 1920s, London had almost recovered from the First World War which had ended ten years earlier, and with money in his pocket, Ley was in a good position to buy property and present himself as a successful and trustworthy businessman. In reality, he was a shady individual who liked to cut corners quite happy to make money illegally if and when the opportunity presented itself.
Thomas John Ley also proved to be a jealous man when he mistakenly believed his mistress was having an affair with a man living in the same boarding house. His response was to orchestrate the man’s kidnap and murder, dumping his body in a chalk-pit in Surrey.
Born in the city of Bath in England, Ley moved to Australia with his mother in 1886 when he was 6-years-old. An intelligent lad, as he grew older he was determined to achieve and entered into politics working his way up the ladder to become a member of the New South Wales Parliament and gaining the position of Minister of Justice. He married an English girl, Emily Louisa Vernon, in 1898 but soon began an affair with a magistrate’s wife, Maggie Brook, which would eventually be his downfall.
Highlighted in an article published in Smith’s Weekly on 19 April 1947, Ley was not the law-abiding politician that would be expected. As his political career in Australia took a nose dive, he was convicted of illegal product trading, most likely contributing to his decision to return to the UK. By 1946, the relationship between Ley and Brooks was not a happy one. Ley remained living in Kensington in London, pushing forward getting his large house converted into flats, while Brooks moved to Wimbledon, 8 miles away.
35-year-old barman John MacBain Mudie rented a room in the same boarding house that Brooks moved into and they had met briefly inside the residence. Ley, however, was convinced the pair were having an affair behind his back and a black rage took over.
A heavy man not in good physical shape, Ley recruited the younger and fitter John William Buckingham and Lawrence John Smith to help him in his plan to abduct and kill John Mudie. The two men were contractors working on Ley’s house conversion and were told that Mudie was an evil man who had seduced Ley’s girlfriend and was now blackmailing her. As a result, Ley said Mudie needed to be taught a lesson.
An innocent John MacBain Mudie was tricked into going to Ley’s home in Beaufort Gardens in Kensington in late November 1946, believing he was going to do some freelance bar work at a cocktail party to earn some extra money. Upon his arrival, he found himself kidnapped and tied to a chair.
“We kidnapped him by throwing the rug over his head, and my job was to tie the clothes-line round his arms, legs and body so that he could not escape.”
On 30 November 1946, a local dog walker found John Mudie’s body in a chalk pit on Woldingham Common in Surrey, 30 miles away from Thomas John Ley’s home. With no mud evidence on the man’s shoes, it was quickly established his body had been dumped at the site after being murdered elsewhere. The post-mortem revealed Mudie had been strangled with a rope.
Former Surrey Police Chief Superintendent Tom Roberts details how John William Buckingham, after seeing news of the murder in the press, went to Scotland Yard to tell them Ley had paid him £200 to kidnap Mudie. Buckingham said once at Ley’s house, Mudie was met by Lawrence Smith. Smith, however, gave police a different story, claiming both he and Buckingham tied up and gagged Mudie before leaving the man alive with Thomas Ley. Ley continued to deny any involvement in the crime.
Witnesses were able to place Lawrence Smith in the car he had rented a few days before the murder at the chalk-pit where John Mudie’s body was found. Buckingham could not be identified by any witnesses and agreed to testify against Smith and Ley, who were both charged with murder.
Thomas John Ley is a man who can be connected, although only circumstantially, to a number of deaths, all of which occurred in Australia under clouds of suspicion. One political opponent, Frederick MacDonald, accused Ley of trying to bribe him to withdraw from a Federal campaign election. Ley won the seat regardless but McDonald continued to push against Ley and his character seeking to void his election win. In the middle of this work, MacDonald mysteriously disappeared in April 1926.
The following year, Ley had established a legal firm and was facing many allegations of irregularities, with one accuser being his legal partner, Hyman Goldstein. In September 1928, Hyman Goldstein was found dead at the bottom of cliffs at the beachside suburb of Coogee in New South Wales, conveniently ensuring his allegations against Ley went away.
A third death surrounding Thomas Ley was that of Keith Greedor. He was a man appointed by a group of businessmen to investigate the dealings and operations of Ley, who fell overboard and drowned on a boat trip in the middle of his investigation. Another suspicious death of a man accusing Ley of wrongdoing which could damage his reputation and career.
Was he involved in their deaths, or were they just coincidence? If indeed he had been involved, his murder of individuals even before he returned to the UK may have laid the foundations for a leap into kidnap and murder of his lover’s supposed boy-toy.
On 19 March 1947, Thomas John Ley and Lawrence John Smith stood trial at the Old Bailey in London and were quickly found guilty of John Mudie’s murder. In May the same year, two death sentences were handed down but never carried out, with Smith’s sentence being commuted to life imprisonment and Ley being declared insane and transported to Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital. It was there that he died, just months later from a brain hemorrhage. What he left behind was a story forever associated with the brutal killing of an innocent man and a crime labelled the ‘Chalk-Pit Murder’.