Frank Fogarty Escapes

Frank Fogarty’s rap sheet read like an ode to burglary. He was first convicted of breaking and entering and stealing and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in 1897. In subsequent years he was found in possession of skeleton keys and housebreaking implements; was unlawfully on premises; and gave a false name. By 1903 he was the known leader of a group of “crib-crackers, safe dynamiters and bold bad burglars” known to the police as the Fogarty gang.

He was considered to be one of the “cleverest safe openers in Australia” and had no qualms about regularly putting that skill to use.

On 30 January 1905, Thomas Donegan of Newcastle (Toodyay) opened up his store and found that the safe was gone. He reported the robbery to the police and they ascertained that access to the premises was acquired by carefully making a hole in one of the door’s glass windows. Once inside the burglars removed the safe, took it to the banks of the Avon River and used explosives to blow it open.

The damaged safe was found by the river (behind St Stephen’s Church) with the cheques and bills strewn on the ground nearby. £153 was missing. Along with the money from the safe, a search of the premises later found that 20 shillings from the counter tills was gone and the thieves had also “helped themselves liberally” to several pounds of tobacco.

Every bit of evidence pointed that the business in hand had been transacted by the nocturnal visitors in a thoroughly deliberate manner and without the suspicion of confusion, which stamped them as being masters of their profession and no blundering amateurs.

Newcastle Herald and Toodyay District Chronicle; 4 February 1905; Page 5; Robbery at Newcastle

Police were confident arrests would be made and sure enough, by mid February, William Davis and Frank Fogarty were charged with breaking and entering and Fogarty’s girlfriend, Ethel Gardiner, was charged with being an accessory after the fact. The hearing took place at Newcastle and after several days’ evidence Fogarty and Davis were committed for trial while the charge against Ethel was dismissed.

Fogarty and Davis appeared in the Criminal Court on 19 April 1905 and were found guilty. In summing up, Justice Robert McMillan stated that they “were evidently of the class which would not live honestly out of gaol.” He sentenced them to five years’ imprisonment with hard labour at Fremantle Prison. Without a care in the world, the pair descended the dock laughing heartily and ran off to the cells.

Frank Fogarty’s mug shot circa 1897. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia.

For six months Fogarty served his time and was put to work within Fremantle Prison. On 10 October 1905 he was working in the shoe making department when, at about 3:45 pm, prison officials realised that he had disappeared.

An immediate search of the prison grounds was conducted and when that was unsuccessful, various police stations around the State were notified and detectives, plain clothes police officers and constables joined the search. That evening and throughout the night all unoccupied houses in the vicinity of Fremantle Prison were thoroughly investigated. No trace of Fogarty was found.

Described in the newspapers as a “smart criminal“, Fogarty was from Collingwood in Victoria and was 28 years of age. He was single and worked as a labourer or miner. He stood at five feet six inches tall, was of medium to thin build, had dark hair and dark blue eyes. He spoke quickly in a deep voice and in a manner that was considered brusque. He walked fast with a tendency to be knock kneed and was a good bicycle rider.

Prison officials were understandably tight-lipped about the escape. At first they refused to divulge details to the press however, as several days passed and Fogarty remained elusive, more information came to light.

Some time between 1:30 pm and 3:45 pm Fogarty calmly walked out of the shoe making department when a guard was distracted and entered the tailor’s shop next door. The shop was empty so he simply collected a hemp rope that was hidden, slid up a few iron bars attached to the window and climbed outside and up to the roof. He then walked along a wall, proceeded towards another building, got onto the roof and headed to a wall which bordered the yard of the superintendent’s quarters. At that wall he tied the rope to the top and lowered himself to the ground.

As the rope, which was found late yesterday afternoon, measures only about 12ft., and as the wall is over 23ft. in height the escapee must have had a considerable drop to the ground.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 12 October 1905; Page 11; Later Particulars

Further enabling his escape, while in the tailor’s shop Fogarty changed out of his prison uniform and helped himself to some plain clothes. Dressed like a civilian, he would not have attracted much attention as he strolled out of the superintendent’s yard and beyond the prison walls.

The presence of the rope and the fact that the superintendent was on holidays at the time led people to believe that Fogarty’s escape must have been planned. It was also clear that he had help both inside and outside the prison. Police could not find him straight away and it resulted in the assumption that he was probably lying low with associates.

It was an open secret amongst many of the prisoners that Fogarty was going when he did.

Geraldton Express (WA : 1906 – 1919); 30 March 1906; Page 4; Inside Fremantle Gaol!

Despite claims in The West Australian that police had a clue that would “lead to his early arrest” nothing ever came of it. They watched an “intimate friend” of Fogarty’s who was in Fremantle and believed to be “in league” with him but it too lead nowhere. By 13 October Fogarty had not been caught and police had taken to carefully watching the ships to ensure he did not board and leave Western Australia.

The initial excitement associated with the escape soon gave way to criticism, particularly from the Sunday Times. They declared that the walls of the prison were inadequate and that the supervision was lacking. They went further in their ‘They Say’ column, claiming that an ex-prisoner stated it was “easier to escape than to enter” Fremantle Prison and that the only deterrent was the possibility of a longer sentence if they were caught.

Towards the end of October, Police Gazettes in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania all printed details of the Fremantle Prison escapee. All Gazettes provided the description while several also included more recent photographs of Fogarty.

Victorian Police Gazette (26 October 1905)
South Australian Police Gazette (25 October 1905)

By 2 November 1905 Fogarty had not been recaptured. Three weeks had passed and, indicating that there was a lapse in attention, it was reported that the warder who was on duty was reprimanded and fined ten shillings.

A month went by with no news. However, after another escape from Fremantle Prison as well as the escape of three prisoners from Rottnest Island, the Police Department decided to offer a reward of £100. £20 for each man for information that would lead to their apprehension. Descriptions of the men were placed in the newspapers and photographs were posted outside the Criminal Investigation Branch on Beaufort Street.

The reward did not elicit the information police were hoping for. Fogarty and his escape soon dropped out of the news and was not mentioned until March 1906 when Bert Leighton wrote a series of articles detailing his time incarcerated in Fremantle Prison. According to Bert, other prisoners knew Fogarty was planning to escape and even helped him brainstorm the best possible method.

Over six months had passed since he was last seen and it was clear Fogarty had most likely left Western Australia. While the date and means of his departure is unknown, there is a clue as to his destination. In the New South Wales Police Gazette dated 9 May 1906, it was reported that he was in Sydney.

No longer in the State, the Western Australian Police essentially washed their hands of Fogarty, a man who had been a thorn in their side since his arrival less than ten years earlier. Reports ceased and the only references to him in the future was when there was an article about someone who knew him or there was a story mentioning Fremantle escapees.

In September 1907 convicted criminal, William Slee (one of the five men in the earlier mentioned reward) wrote a series of articles chronicling his escape from Rottnest Island. In his second instalment he referred to Fogarty and claimed that he had actually been arrested while on the run but was let go. Considering the heavy police presence searching for him it seems a rather outlandish statement to make. Whether there was any truth to it however remains to be seen.

On 7 December 1907, Fogarty’s previous girlfriend, Ethel Gardiner, was described in the Sunday Times as “a dying wreck of humanity“. She was an alcoholic and her continual abuse of alcohol resulted in her admittance to hospital. Her condition was so poor that she was unable to answer a charge of disorderly conduct and Sergeant Thomas predicted that she would not leave the hospital alive.

Fogarty was mentioned in the article as Ethel was said to have been his “favorite paramour.” At the time he escaped Ethel was serving a three year sentence and was released early in the hope that he would make his way to her. The police watched her closely however they never saw Fogarty. He had reportedly “got clear from this State“. As predicted Ethel never recovered from her illness and died in 1908 at age 28.

After Ethel’s death, Fogarty truly departed from the public’s consciousness. It was not until 1938 that his name once again made the papers. After 42 years working at Fremantle Prison, the chief warder, James Proud, was retiring. His long association with the institution resulted in a lifetime of memories and stories. He was there during three or four prison strikes as well as several escapes, one of whom was Fogarty. Providing additional information to the reporter, he stated that Fogarty had managed to leave the State by donning a Salvation Army uniform and posing as an officer on a ship travelling overseas. He never returned to Western Australia and it was Mr Proud’s belief that throughout his years of employment, Frank Fogarty was the only prisoner who managed to get “clean away.”

Sources:

  • 1903 ‘BURGLARS BOLD.’, Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931), 7 November, p. 3. (CITY EDITION : SUPPLEMENT), viewed 22 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207386104
  • 1905 ‘DARING SAFE ROBBERY AT NEWCASTLE.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 2 February, p. 6. , viewed 29 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25373323
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