Actress Toni Pearen makes a welcome return to the small screen with her dramatic turn as Australia’s first lady of crime, Tilly Devine, in the next episode of TOUGH NUTS 2: AUSTRALIA’S HARDEST CRIMINALS, premiering on Thursday, September 29 at 7.30pm AEST on CI Network.
Episode four of the hit documentary series will expose the true facts behind the fiction and delve deeply in to the colourful life of Tilly Devine, from her birth in England right through to her death in Sydney in 1970, offering a revealing and often shocking insight in to what made Tilly become one of Australia’s most vicious underworld identities.
Presented by bestselling crime author Tara Moss, this episode combines compelling interviews with psychologists, police detectives and investigative journalists – and Pearen is almost unrecognisable as she transforms herself in to Tilly Devine in a series of remarkable dramatised scenes.
Born in 1900, Tilly Devine was Australia’s most notorious female underworld figure – a drug dealing brothel madam and a criminal sociopath who violently clawed her way to the top of Sydney’s sex trade with a razor in her hand, establishing a criminal empire that spanned right across the mean streets of Sydney.
Growing up as a child prostitute in London, Tilly met Jim Devine, an Australian soldier, during World War One. After moving to Australia and spending five years working the streets of Sydney, she and her husband began building a network of brothels around the Palmer Street area of Woolloomooloo in inner city Sydney.
As gang members reached for their cut-throat razors in gang fights, which proliferated in the 1920s, Tilly did the same, slashing the face of any man who got in her way. Her propensity for violence and impulsive bursts of rage never left her and Tilly remained in a sea of explosive anger until the day of her death in 1970.
Tilly survived two World Wars and the Great Depression and became incredibly wealthy from the proceeds of her sex and drug empire. Like the gangster Al Capone, Tilly’s empire collapsed when she was exposed by the tax office and handed a fine of 20,000 pounds.
Tilly was forced to liquidate everything and lost her empire overnight. By the time of her death in 1970, Tilly had become an embarrassment – an historical anomaly, a ghastly monster of a past that the people of Sydney no longer cared to dwell upon.
TOUGH NUTS 2 is produced by Bryan Cockerill at The Full Box and is exclusive to Crime & Investigation Network.
The 8 x 1 hour episodes profile the following criminals: Nikolai Radev, Stan Smith, Ray Denning, Tilly Devine, Jockey Smith, Stewart John Regan, Dino Dibra and George Freeman.