Burglar Bill – William Thompson

Burglar Bill – William Thompson

William Thompson, known in every state in Australia as Burglar Bill; has been an associate with some of the country’s most notorious criminals.  Some of them cold blooded killers who have ended their days on the gallows.

William Thompson

Alias:  Burglar Bill, William David Thomas, James Hooper, William Thomas.

Native Place:  England

Age: 47 Years

Stature: 5ft 6 ¼ inches

Make:  Slight

Complexion: Dark

Hair: Black

Eyes: Brown

Weight: 10 stone

Previous Convictions: 22

Remarks: No eyelashes; scar left shin; small scar right shin.


William Thompson, known in every state in Australia as Burglar Bill; has been an associate with some of the country’s most notorious criminals.  Some of them cold blooded killers who have ended their days on the gallows.

When first entering a life of crime he thought he could beat the law.  But after twenty-seven years in and out of gaol, in 1937, he finally realised that crime does not pay.  In a rare treat, the Truth newspaper in Brisbane published his full story, perhaps he would tell it best anyhow!


I can look back on those wasted years- years that I cannot recall to live over again, now that I have learned a bit of sense.  Perhaps, as crooks go, I have had a particularly eventful life; I have met and consorted with many of the ‘big’ men; I have witnessed executions from inside and I have spent some weeks in a cell that once held the famous Ned Kelly.  But those memories are nothing to be proud of.  I am well aware that today I am regarded as one of the most persistent burglars in Australia, and I am certainly not proud of my title “Burglar Bill”. Still, those years of my life have passed. I am a habitual criminal, and, I fervently, hope that others may benefit from my experience.

Starting out in 1904 as a sixteen-year-old kid, I was so small that they stood me on a fruit case so that I could see over the edge of the dock.  Then it came, slowly and sombrely, my first term, Four years.

There was plenty of dry bread and water and each prisoner was chained to a heavy ball.  There were no children’s prisons in these days.  These were the old prison days where you served every minute of your sentence.

Imagine being sixteen and living under those circumstances. My associates were all hardened crooks.   I drifted into a life of crime and met many infamous crooks.

Angus Murray

One I knew well was, Angus Murray who shot a bank clerk in Melbourne with his mate Richard Buckley.  Murray paid for his crime at the end of a rope.   I was one of the last men to speak to him before he marched to the gallows.  By then I had been in and out quite a few times and was in fact a “habitual criminal” and noted cracksman.

Meeting Murray

My meeting with Murray happened this way:  I chanced to be in Melbourne shortly before they hanged him.  I was arrested on a charge of being a suspected person and while I was in court a chap gave me a message to give to Murray if I went “In” well I duly collected my three-month term.

I made it my job to get near Murray’s cell to give him the word.  This was the message I gave him:

“The boys are trying their hardest to get a reprieve for him and if they were successful they would spring him.”

I was to tell him that “the boys were going to tunnel under the prison, up to the chapel, and then get him out after church service. Of course, Murray didn’t get a reprieve and the plot was never discovered.

Another man I met was “Squizzy” Taylor.  “Squizzy” was my daily companion in the years 1907 and 1908 when he was married to Dolly Gray and before he became the gangster that died by the gun.

Burglar Bill’s career was hardly a successful one and by his own admission. It was a very monotonous one.   For a burglar and safe cracker Bill never really got away with too much loot.

Why I remember the time when I practically broke my back carrying a safe for miles only to find after breaking it that there was 11s in the till!  Other times I had gone to a lot of trouble to get the safe door open only to find the magnificent total of two two- penny stamps or something like that!

Invariably the result was the same.   Bill was caught and sent back to Gaol.  It wasn’t until 1929 however, that Queensland was ‘blessed’ with the presence of the infamous “Burglar Bill”.



To Boggo Road Gaol


HM Prison Brisbane Number 2 Division 1930s


William Thompson was arrested in Bundaberg in November 1929 for Breaking, entering and stealing from the store owned by Vincent Patrick Breslin in Gladstone. He with an accomplice Alice Wilhelmina Dalton stole goods and some money.  The goods were recovered after they had been sent by train. He appeared before the circuit court and was sentenced to a year and ten months imprisonment with hard labour.

No sooner had he been released, as always, he committed another crime.  Fortunately for him Burglar Bill appeared before Justice Macrossan, who, had been trying to change a thing or two about the sentencing of criminals in Queensland.  William Thompson appealed to the Judge that his life had been difficult and that he would like another chance to go straight.  This being exactly the type of case Justice Macrossan had in mind.  Thompson became a test case.  He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, but he was released on a hundred-pound bond not to reoffend within the three years.

Well…  I will let Burglar Bill tell you the rest.


I’m the chap who Mr, Justice Macrossan, back in 1931, conducted the historic experiment with. I let –

him down, God knows why! I remember it all very vividly. I had been found guilty of breaking and entering a store at Ipswich and on October 6, 1931, I stood before the Judge to receive my medicine. I remember I did not feel good as I stood up in the dock and asked straight out to be given a chance. I told of all my troubles and the outcome of It was that his Honour did give me a chance. It was too good to be true!

After that other weird and wonderful things happened to me. I did something I had never been

guilty of before— I fell In love!

I proposed, she accepted, and we got “spliced.” We didn’t ‘have much cash in the coffers though, and I wanted to see the little woman well dressed. So, guess what I did? I stole some nice dresses for her. Of course, I was caught, dragged before the “beak” and collected a three months’ term. That wasn’t so bad, although It meant that I was torn away from my bride. The worst of It was that I had broken the three years’ bond’ the judge gave me.

Well, I felt pretty ashamed of myself when they dragged me before Mr.Justice Macrossan. I was really very upset, because It’s not often on old crook gets such a break as the judge gave me on the Ipswich job. Well, the blow duly fell. I collected the three years’ term, and was declared an habitual as part of the sentence. “

That meant three things I had broken my word to a very decent Judge, my wife was heart-broken and disgusted, and I was back in gaol for decent sort of a “stretch.”

Burglar Bill served three years and three months with hard labour in Boggo Road Gaol. When he was released, he was ordered to leave the state.   Unfortunately, Bill didn’t have two cents to rub together.   Local charities and even the detectives of Queensland chipped in ‘a few pounds’ to get Burglar Bill out of Queensland for good.

William Thompson and his wife lived in Victoria where he returned to his family and friends and went back to his old occupation fruit hawking.

Perhaps Burglar Bill turned over a new leaf.  Somehow, I suspect not.

This Sunday at Boggo Road Gaol is our monthly Prisoner Tour.  Come along, get locked up, and hear from one of our former prisoners Wayne Weaver what life behind bars was really like! Tickets are selling fast, you do not want to miss this! You can book your tickets here

This article was contributed by Research Coordinator Sue Olsen as part of the ongoing research program for Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd. The aim of the program is to bring to light and share articles relating to Boggo Road for the purposes of review and study. Do you have a story to share or something you would like us to know about? You can contact the research team here

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