Historic Gay Convictions: The Case Of Alf & Freda Mae

Freda Mae Terry Lewis drag queen

In 2017, Queensland passed laws to enable gay men to apply for expungement of historic gay convictions from the years before the state decriminalised homosexuality. However, eligibility requirements mean the convictions of men such as Alf Stanton, aka Brisbane drag queen Freda Mae West, will stand. Arrested in 1954 for buggery by the infamously corrupt Terry Lewis, Freda died in 2010.

The law allows for an application on behalf of a deceased person by a personal representative. That person can be either a close relative or a person in a close personal relationship immediately before death.

Sadly, no one eligible survives to apply on behalf of many men. Those men suffered imprisonment, lost their homes, their jobs and even the roof over their head. Shunned and reviled by family and community, some took their own lives.

Terry Lewis

Terence Murray ‘Terry’ Lewis joined the police force in 1949.  ‘Plucked from obscurity’ by premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the 1970s, he rose rapidly through senior ranks. He was Queensland Police Commissioner from 1976 until 1987. He later went to jail for corruption.

As Queensland’s most notoriously corrupt police officer,  he will rightly never see his convictions expunged.

However, Alf Stanton, an early victim of his corrupt career in policing, will also never see his conviction expunged. Although buggery is no longer a crime, no one eligible to apply on his behalf survives.

Freda Mae West

For almost half a century, from the Swinging Sixties to the early 2000s, drag queen Freda Mae West was omnipresent in Brisbane’s gay bars. She was either a customer, a performer, behind the bar… or under it!

Alfred William Stanton grew up in one of Norman Park’s oldest and most respected families. His paternal great-grandfather served 23 years on the local Balmoral council, many of them as chairman. Alf’s maternal grandmother owned the Grand View Hotel at Cleveland, Queensland’s oldest licensed pub.

At 15, he left school for an apprenticeship at a Wharf Street hairdressers where he still worked in 1954.

During the 1960s, Alf frocked up in his Freda Mae drag queen persona for Sunday sessions in the public bar of a city pub. In the late 70s, Freda Mae frequented the Siesta Bar of Fortitude Valley’s Hacienda Hotel every Friday and Saturday night.

Freda Mae West Terry Lewis Drag Queen
Left: Freda Mae West with the author at Silver Dollar. Right: Freda Mae

At 10 o’clock closing time, the Queen of the Valley, her court of fellow drag queens and the evening’s hangers-on headed down Brunswick Street. They made a royal procession to the Silver Dollar Restaurant where she sometimes performed. The Terminus Restaurant, also a gay bar, later replaced the Silver Dollar. When the younger Terminus crowd of the 80s embraced more youthful drag queens, Freda Mae took her particular talents to the Bellino’s Trinity Place.

Later, she worked the bar of the Alliance Hotel, performing there and at myriad other venues. She performed her final stage shows at the Sportsman Hotel in the early 2000s. At one point, she performed in sunglasses after a cataract operation.

The twilight men

During most of those years, private, consenting, adult male homosexual acts remained illegal, punishable by up to fourteen years’ jail with hard labour. The police actively enforced the law. In 1954, the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) launched an all-out offensive against the ‘growing public menace of the twilight men’.

According to the Brisbane Telegraph, the police worried that “men who call themselves Elsie, Irene and Ivy meet in a well known city café.” The police described the group as ‘an all male vice cult… creating a No. 1 police problem’. This was, they claimed, ‘one of the worst headaches of Brisbane police’.

The main priority of the police was not murder, rape or armed robbery. More concerning was a bloke called Elsie and his drag queen mates getting together for a cup of tea.

The CIB, including Detective Terry Lewis, specifically monitored known homosexuals in New Farm, Red Hill, and Toombul. On October 9 they questioned Reginald Allan Noble who, at age 25, already possessed a police record worthy of a hardened criminal—five convictions and three jail sentences.

Noble never robbed houses, never stabbed people, never raped women, and never murdered anyone. Each and every one of his convictions resulted from consenting sex acts with other adult males.

When confronted by detectives, Reg Noble was strangely unmindful of the potential consequences of what he told them. He apparently freely admitted to sexual encounters with up to ten men in the previous year, providing the names and workplaces of two— Alf Stanton, a hairdresser, and Walter Herbert Zahnleiter, a storeman.

The Party at Norman Park

He even told detectives that he expected to see both men that night at a party organised by Alf Stanton. Courtesy of his family’s standing in the community, Alf had easy access to Norman Park’s best party venue, the Masonic Hall.

But Reg Noble never attended the party, instead detained in the city watchhouse charged with carnal knowledge of Alf Stanton and Wally Zahnleiter. Not only did detectives take his confession, they also took his place at the party.

Unable to see through the closed windows of the hall, the detectives entered through the unlocked front door. They took note of the dim lighting in the venue – the lights covered with orange crepe paper. They saw twenty men and two women.  Despite the suspicion aroused by the lighting, they witnessed no illegal activity – nothing at all which would sustain a conviction.

This frustrated the three earnest upholders of the law and defenders of public morality. A member of the CIB whined to the Telegraph newspaper.

“Unless twilight men are caught committing an indecent act, police cannot sustain charges, even under the elastic definitions the courts allow to disorderly conduct.”

But on this occasion, the detectives came armed with evidence, namely Reg Noble’s confession.

Detective Terry Lewis approached one of the women and asked for her name.

“Alfreda Joyce,” came the reply.

“I have good reason to believe that you are not a woman at all, but a man dressed in women’s clothing,” Lewis said.

“We decided to have a party and Evie Wynne”—a straight friend—”helped me get dressed up in these clothes at her residential in Wharf Street,” Freda Mae told Lewis. “I like wearing them and it makes a nice party for the boys.”

Back to CIB headquarters with Terry Lewis

The detectives took Alf and Wally back to CIB headquarters to answer the allegations contained in Reg Noble’s confession.

There, in the old derelict church building in Queen’s Park, George Street that housed Brisbane’s most corrupt police, Alfred William Stanton and Walter Herbert Zahnleiter confessed that they allowed Reginald Allan Noble to bugger them. Stanton’s crime took place  on or about December 6, 1953 and Zahnleiter’s occurred on or about August 10, 1954.

They further incriminated themselves by disclosing that Alf buggered Wally in February 1951, nearly four years earlier. Noble, Stanton and Zahnleiter, three men with nothing to lose if they said nothing, and everything to lose if they confessed … confessed.

It’s impossible now to ascertain how Lewis obtained those confessions in 1954. Only Lewis, who turned 90 in February 2018, survives of all the participants. The criminal court records of the time lie embargoed in the State Archives until 2029.

All available information comes from court reports in the papers of the time and what information the police shared with reporters. Based on his past behaviour, Lewis is unlikely to shed any light on the matter any time soon.

Sir Terence Murray Lewis served in the CIB, founded the Juvenile Aid Bureau, became an Inspector and vaulted over more than a hundred more senior officers to become Police Commissioner. He eventually became the first serving police commissioner in the entire British Commonwealth to receive a knighthood.

He also received an Order of the British Empire (OBE), the George Medal (for gallantry), a Queen’s Police Medal (for merit) and a National Medal (for service).

Terry Lewis and Corruption

Despite this apparently glittering career, allegations of corruption shadowed Lewis throughout his years in the force. The 1987 Fitzgerald Inquiry proved the allegations well-founded. At a consequent court case, Lewis, charged with 23 counts of corruption, perjury, and forgery, received a maximum 14-year prison sentence on August 5, 1991.

Even when released on parole in 2002, Lewis continued to protest his innocence. However, the last of his appeals failed in August 2005.

The first serving commissioner in the Commonwealth to receive a knighthood became only the 14th person since the 14th century to be stripped of his knighthood. Subsequently, the Queen also stripped Lewis of his OBE and Queen’s Police Medal.

On the subject of stripping, we do know that Lewis stripped Freda Mae at the CIB. We know because he said so in court. Then, he catalogued every item of apparel, bringing it all into court to shame her. One by one, he listed the components that together comprised Freda Mae West. The dress, gloves, hairpiece, feather, petticoat, stockings, four false breasts. (Why four false breasts? We will never know. No further explanation for the number of breasts was forthcoming.)

Lewis charged Freda with two counts of carnal knowledge of male persons (Noble and Zahnleiter) against the order of nature.

Freda Mae West in court

In court, Alf’s barrister told the judge he recommended to his client that he change his ways. Alf should spend time with more manly men—road workers, wharfies, cane cutters and the like. Many can attest that Alf took that advice on board. Freda spent a lot of time with more manly men over the years.

After listening to the evidence, Justice Townley admonished Stanton and Zahnleiter sternly. However, neither had previous convictions and Townley himself noted Stanton’s otherwise good character. Alf never associated with juveniles, which stood him in good stead.

The judge gave Alf a £100 three year good behaviour bond. Zahnleiter copped two years with hard labour on each charge—concurrent—suspended upon his entering a £50 good behaviour bond for the period of his sentence. However, poor Reg Noble with his previous convictions, obviously an incorrigible homosexual, went back to prison for another two years with hard labour.

After the court case, Reg and Wally disappeared into obscurity, but not Alf.


Freda Mae West Terry Lewis Drag Queen
Freda Mae on the front page of the Brisbane Truth

Alf was lucky. His family did not disown him. He stayed in the family home and remained a hairdresser, opening his own salon, La Moderne at Stones Corner. For many years he lived dual lives. Alf Stanton, hairdresser, held office as the respected president of the Master Hairdressers Association by day. Miss Freda Mae West, drag queen extraordinaire, brought her own special qualities to the gay scene by night.

He inherited the family home in 1979 and stayed in it almost all his life.  Declining health forced him into care at the Tricare Annerley Nursing Home in May 2007. He died in June 2010 at age 82.

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