In the early 20th century, Spencer Cosens was Australia’s greatest showman. With his wife, projectionist Senora Spencer, “the world’s only lady operator”, he pioneered motion picture exhibition, establishing the first permanent cinema, introducing sound and colour films and championing local feature production. But a business betrayal would ruin Spencer’s career, permanently sabotage the Australian film industry and result in a bloody tragedy that unfolded like something out of the movies.

Born Spencer Cosens, the showman changed
his name to Charles Cosens Spencer.
Senora Spencer — Spencer’s wife Mary (nee Huntly)
Spencer’s film of the Jack Johnson – Tommy Burns World Championship Fight in Sydney in 1908 originally ran 80 minutes and was an international box-office hit.
Spencer’s 1909 film of the VFL Grand Final between Carlton and South Melbourne is the oldest surviving footage of Australian Rules football.
Spencer’s Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City Of The South was released in 1910
and is the oldest surviving documentary about the city.

The main suspect, John Patrick Reynolds, pictured for his 1939 enlistment in the AIF.

In June 1928 sisters Esther Vaughan and Sarah Falvey were shot and killed in the lolly shop that had made them favourites in the Sydney suburb of Dulwich Hill. Who killed the sisters and why? For the first time the mystery and main suspect are reinvestigated.

Reynolds’ mugshot, circa 1930.

Truth newspaper pulled out all stops to sell copies.
The Daily Telegraph’s front-page artist’s conception of the murders
The Daily Telegraph sets the scene for readers

In 1937 Jean Burns was widely reported as Australia’s first woman parachutist — but the newspapers were out by nearly half a century. For six months in 1890, Valerie and Gladys Van Tassel — under the management of “Professor” Park Van Tassel, their supposed brother — caused a sensation with their dazzling parachute jumps from trapezes suspended beneath crude hot air balloons thousands of feet in the air. But along with the spectacle came scandal and tragedy whose mysteries endure to this day.

The only known photograph of the Van Tassel sisters together.
The racy front page illustration from the
Melbourne Herald newspaper on 9 March 1890.
Adelaide advertising flyer
Park Van Tassel — who wasn’t a Professor nor a Captain
and who didn’tseem to have done any balloon jumps himself.
A photo of “Miss Van Tassel”, reported dead in India,
from Australian Town & Country Journal, 14 May 1892
The mysterious Leila Adair, who appeared out of nowhere in 1893 as a parachuting balloonist, and who claimed many of the Van Tassel sisters’ experiences as her own. Was she actually Gladys or Valerie working under a new “balloon name”?