She dropped a headless torso into the Yarra River and shot her ex-husband full of holes — and these were just two of the horrific crimes alleged against Nurse Hannah Mitchell in the 1920s. The full story of “Melbourne’s Most Notorious Woman” is told for the first time in a special three-part episode.

Bertha Coughlan went missing in November 1922. She was found three months later, having been dumped in the Yarra River.

Nurse Hannah Mitchell, tried in 1923 for the
murder of Bertha Coughlan.
Mugshot of Hanna Mitchell’s husband when he was arrested for running an illegal casino.
Senior Detective Frederick Piggott, known as “Melbourne’s Sherlock Holmes”, led the investigation into the murder of Bertha Coughlan.
From left to right: Frank Bonfiglio, star witness for the prosecution; Margaret Milward, Mitchell’s sister, who testified against her; and Thomas Cook, Bertha’s “friend”.

Mitchell and her daughter “Queenie”, who was charged with being an accessory after the fact, leave the City Coroner’s Court in 1923.

Mitchell was represented by Percy Ridgeway, who was rumoured to be her lover and who defended numerous Melbourne underworld figures in the 1920s.
The case was reported all over Australia.

Most cops are on strike. The few loyalist police left on duty risk life and limb because tens of thousands of citizens are crowding the streets and the mood is turning darker as fists and bottles fly. When the last cops defect or retreat just after dark, rioters become looters and the city becomes a war zone. With blood flowing in the streets, politicians summon a militia and order the military to protect the city. But this isn’t Berlin or Moscow. It’s Melbourne, November 1923, and Australia’s sophisticated southern metropolis is descending into anarchy.

Specials - medium shot

Specials were often former soldiers. Each was given an armband and a baton.


Former members of the Light Horse were summoned to Melbourne to act as mounted Specials.


Outside the Leviathan clothing store, on the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets, sailors fought with the crowd. The consequences were tragic.

Flinders & Swanston Street

100,000 people poured into Melbourne to witness for themselves the carnage wrought by the riots.

Specials in car

Specials roamed in motor vehicles, busting up crowds with their batons.

Shopkeepers Spent Late Saturday Night Repairing Damage and Barricading

By Sunday shopkeepers were cleaning up damage and barricading their storefronts.

The Herald - The Mob In Charge

The mob stormed trams and tried to set one on fire.

Melbourne's Streets Were Jammed

100,000 people flooded into the centre of Melbourne.