The 'Apache' Thief

Jack Dennison, special photograph number 27a, 30th April 1925, probably Central Police Station, Sydney

Jack Dennison, special photograph number 27a, 30th April 1925, probably Central Police Station, Sydney NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice and Police Museum, Sydney Living Museums

Join Nerida Campbell, curator of the Underworld exhibition as she continues to uncover interesting stories from Sydney’s seedy underworld.

During research for the Underworld exhibition Sydney Living Museums staff scanned all of the ‘Special’ mugshots held in the NSW Police Forensic Photography archive. The images that did not make it into the exhibition continue to reveal interesting stories of Sydney’s underworld. 

I can’t help but admire the theatrical flair of my latest discovery, a knuckleheaded teenage thief who adopted the alias ‘Apache’. 

The Apaches were French street gangsters renowned for their violence and during the 1920s a series of films and books featuring Apache characters led to a craze for their clothing and dancing style. The glamourisation of their criminal lifestyle in popular culture proved fascinating to romantic and naïve youths like Dennison.

In 1925 Sydney police were mystified by a series of break-ins at which taunting notes were left signed ‘Apache’. Although he had adopted the name of Paris’ toughest street gangsters ‘Apache’ proved to be a gormless South African eighteen-year-old, Jack Dennison, who was not particular skilled at his chosen profession of thief. It seems he failed to ‘crack’ every safe he tried to open and only succeed in stealing items left lying around the city warehouses and shops he targeted in Washington Street. 

"Apache" signed note regarding safe, undated, 1925. Believed to have been left by Jack Dennison FP08_0003_008.
Note left by Apache at John Clark. Ltd., 16-18 Washington Street, Sydney on 14 April 1925. NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums

He hocked some of the tools he stole from an engineers’ workshop at a pawnbroker’s shop and the staff were able to provide a description of Dennison. Police traced him to Haymarket and officers found a note in his pocket signed ‘Apache’. 

"Apache" signed note left with blown safe, Dr to John Clark notepaper, c 1920s. Apache was Jack Dennison an 18 year old thief and he left this note when he broke into Cremo Coffee Co. on the 14th April 1925.
Note left by Apache at the Cremo Coffee Co., 72 Washington Street, Sydney on 14 April 1925 NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums

He received a sentence of 12 months hard labour for breaking and entering and the Magistrate said he would allow him to be deported instead of going to jail if the Prisoners’ Aid Association paid for his ticket to South Africa.

About the author

Nerida Campbell

Curator

Nerida’s passion for history was influenced by childhood holidays spent at her grandmother’s farm, happily rifling through chests brimming with family photographs, generations of clothing and things she still can’t identify.