Dallying Doctor Was Dying To Dump Deadly Dorothy

- September 2nd, 2012

 

New-Dorothy-Mort-mugshot-1921

 Mugshot of Dorothy Mort, taken in April 1921 prior to the start of her trial for the murder of Dr. Claude Tozer.

 

Gather closer, children, while I tell you the sad story of Dorothy Mort.

 

Dorothy (nee Woodruff) lived a rather ordinary, suburban married life in Sydney, Australia, in the years just after World World I. Dorothy’s orderly, unspectacular life as a chatelaine and mother of two went topsy-turvey, however, when dashing Dr. Claude John Tozer came on the scene in 1919.

 

As well as being a doctor, Tozer was a first-class cricketer (ESPN.com actually has an athlete bio on him more than 90 years after his death) and had served with distinction in the Royal Australian Medical Corps during the war, rising to the rank of major and receiving a gong for the Distinguished Service Order. Unfortunately, it seems Tozer was also a bit of a cad.

MajorCJ

Although he was engaged to be married, Tozer (for whatever reason) surreptitiously wooed the older, married Dorothy and swept the previously staid matron off her feet. While the children were at school and Dorothy’s husband — the unsuspecting Harold Sutcliffe Mort — was off at his office job in downtown Sydney, the doctor had his way with the infatuated Dorothy in the Morts’ drawing room through the languid days of 1920. As the Sydney Morning Herald would later phrase it, the doctor was there in the guise of making “allegedly professional” house calls to treat Dorothy for anxiety and depression.

 

Just before Christmas, Dr. Tozer made the very grave mistake of trying to break off the affair. When Tozer broke the news of the breaking-off to kimono-clad Dorothy (“Terribly sorry, m’dear, but I’m engaged to marry another woman “) on the morning of Dec. 21, 1920, Dorothy broke down. But not in a weepy, ineffectual way. She broke down in a “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” sort of way.

 

She shot the duplicitous doctor. Shot him three times, in fact — once in the chest and twice in the head for good measure. Shot him dead, in other words, with her husband’s big Colt revolver.

 

The gunfire brought housekeeper Florence Fizzelle rushing to the locked door of the drawing room. Through the closed door, a calm and composed Dorothy Mort assured Fizzelle all was well.

 

The rattled housekeeper returned to the kitchen but, 10 minutes later, heard another gunshot. As the frazzled Fizzelle fretted and fulminated in the foyer, Dorothy emerged from the drawing room — a tad unsteady on her feet but still calm and collected, wrapped in a shawl now — and locked the door. She slowly climbed the stairs to her bedroom without a word to the housekeeper.

 

It’s probably no surprise to you to learn that the last shot had been aimed by Dorothy Mort at herself — a shot to her already broken heart. But, of course (since we already know Dorothy walked out of the drawing room and up a flight of stairs), her suicide was less successful than her murder.

 

After dithering for an incredibly long time — two hours, she later testified — Fizzelle finally went up to her employer’s bedroom where she found Dorothy Mort lying semi-conscious on the bed, bleeding from a bullet wound to her chest and clutching a half-empty bottle of laudanum (a potent concoction of alcohol, opium and codeine highly recommended in the 19th and early 20th Centuries as a soothing nerve tonic and cough suppressant).

 

The police were called, Dorothy Mort was taken to hospital and the body of the dead doctor was found slumped on the sofa in the drawing room.

Tozer-crime-scene

New South Wales Police crime scene photo showing the murdered Dr. Claude Tozer.

 

A policeman later testified that, as she was being wheeled away, the drugged and delirious Dorothy said: “If I cannot have him, then no other woman shall.”

 

A respectable contingent of Sydney’s sporting fraternity (and his mourning fiancee, we assume) turned out for Tozer’s funeral a few days later and flags at the Sydney Cricket Grounds were lowered to half-staff in memory of the fallen batsman.

 

Dorothy was patched up, propped up and stood trial for the sensational murder in a remarkably short span of time — less than four months. Justice — and apparently medical convalescence — was much swifter in those days.

 

After a short, sensational trial in April 1921, Dorothy Mort (attended in court by her mortified husband, Harold Mort) was found NOT guilty of murder by reason of insanity and was committed to an indefinite stay at the State Reformatory for Women at Long Bay, just outside Sydney.

 

Dorothy whiled away her time there reorganizing and expanding the reformatory’s library. Eight years later, in October 1929, a panel of doctors “declared Mrs. Mort to be normal mentally” and ordered her release.

1929-prison-release

Prison photo of Dorothy Mort, taken in 1929 just prior to her release from custody. 

Waiting for her was her long-suffering husband Harold, who took Dorothy home to “Inglebrae,” the house on Howard Street where she had killed Dr. Claude John Tozer almost a decade earlier. I’m sure the two Mort children, now teenagers, were more than a little apprehensive when mommy came home.

 

Dorothy Woodruff Mort faded back into a life of genteel obscurity. She outlived husband Harold by 16 years (and outlived Claude Tozer by 45 years), dying at “Inglebrae” in 1966 at age 81.

 

And the moral of this story, kids?

 

I should think it’s obvious: Never marry a man named Mort.

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

 

The main reason I looked into this story and did the full Max Haines treatment on it was because a few days ago I stumbled across the police mugshot of deeply sad, mildly deranged Dorothy Mort you saw at the top of this piece (and immediately below, just for good measure). Who could resist nosing out the story behind a face like that?

 

Mugshot-Dorothy-Mort-1921

 

Dorothy’s mugshot is just one of thousands taken by the New South Wales Police between 1910 and 1964 that are now preserved in the forensic photo collection of the Sydney Justice & Police Museum, administered by Australia’s Historic Houses Trust.

 

Femmes Fatales, an exhibit of some of the most evocative mugshots of female felons in the collection (most from the 1920s), has just ended a two-year tour of Australia.

 

Here are a few of my favourite mugshots.

Tilly-Devine-age25-brothel-keep-razor-slash-1925

Tilly Devine, although only 25 when this mugshot was taken in 1925, was already one of Sydney’s most prominent brothel keepers. But that’s not why she was in police custody: Tilly was charged with assault after walking into a barber shop and slashing the face of a man (with whom she was having a dispute) with a straight razor. Tilly did her time for the crime, then resumed her decades-long career running bordellos.

Annie-Gunderson-age19-fur-coat-thef-1922t

Annie Gunderson, age 19, was arrested in 1922 for stealing a fur coat from a department store. One can only assume the coat she is wearing in the mugshot is the one she was accused of stealing.

Eliz

Elizabeth Singleton was arrested for prostitution in 1927. She gave her age as 22. Either Elizabeth was a convincing liar or life on the mean streets of Sydney took an even heavier toll than one might imagine.

Philomena-Best-age33-stole-silk-1927

Philomena Best, age 33, was arrested in 1927 for stealing a bolt of silk from the shopkeeper who employed her. Fashion-conscious Philomena has adopted an endearingly bravura pose for her full-length photo.

And here’s a link to the Australian blog Twisted Sifter where I first saw Dorothy Mort and where you’ll find 30 of the mugshots from the Femmes Fatales exhibit. (By the way, Dorothy’s age is listed incorrectly at this site; she was 35 at the time the photo was taken, not 32.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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