Desire La Court arrived in Australia before the outbreak of WWI as George Ohl, from Frankford. Like so many others he was interned as an enemy alien, initially in Queensland, from where he escaped, and then at the huge Holsworthy camp in New South Wales. It was impossible to keep George in captivity. He was only five foot five, but incredibly fit and could leap fences with ease.

On Sunday morning two additional internees failed to answer the morning roll call at the Holsworthy camp. George Ohl, one of the men, escaped from a compound on two previous occasions in 1918, but was recaptured. (The Herald, Mar. 10 1919)

Desire La Court
Holsworthy Internment Camp where Desire la Camp spent time.

After escaping in 1919 George changed his name to Desire La Camp, and encouraged people to believe he was French, or Belgian.

In 1920 he married Gertrude Salberg. Gertrude was from a respectable family and appears to have had a social conscience. She had given up a job in a major department store to work as a volunteer nurse during the flu epidemic.

Gertrude, Desire La Court' s wife.

Desire La Court was a bit of a ‘dandy’ . He wore well cut suits, silk shirts, gloves, and velour hats. He would swagger along holding a silver topped cane. There was only one problem; he stole everything from upmarket Sydney clothing stores. He was also a house-breaker. In 1921, residents of north shore Mosman found themselves missing all manner of goods, which La Court had ‘appropriated’. He was eventually arrested in the city after giving police the run around by jumping on and off trams.

At one point he worked as a fitness trainer, and sparred with boxers. His wife revealed that a major element of his ‘muscle maintenance ‘ diet was raw steak covered in spices.

In 1924 there was a tragedy for the La Court family when their infant son John ‘Jack’ died. As Desire was helping his wife and children into their buggy for a trip to Parramatta the horse bolted;

Still holding the baby, the father made a grab for the off-side rein. The horse quickened its pace and the father, in trying to grab the other rein, allowed the baby to slip from under his arm. La Court was knocked down by the runaway, and the wheel of the buggy passed over him. He got up and continued the chase. His wife fell out of the sulky and sustained severe bruises to the back. La Court eventually stopped the horse. The baby, when the father reached the doctor, was beyond mortal aid – it had died from a fracture of the skull. (Cumberland Argus Apr. 9 1924)

I’m afraid the loss and his wife’s heartbreak did not cause La Court to alter his criminal ways in the slightest. Within months he was stealing from shops and residences again and evading police. In one lengthy pursuit five shots were fired at him, but he just kept going. Finally, he was nabbed at the point of a revolver as he walked from the surf at Cronulla Beach. He appeared in court, but to the frustration of the prosecution he somehow managed provide an alibi, and claimed he had been framed. The judge commented that it was all highly suspicious, but there was not enough proof for a conviction. Desire La Court walked free, looking ever so dapper in more stolen apparel.

Among the charges he had faced on that occasion was that on Christmas Eve he had walked into the toy department of Webber and Co., at Auburn and stolen two dolls and a mechanical toy. Oh dear Desire, I guess these were for your children, but it’s hard to condone such behaviour.

He was truly living on the edge and soon his luck would run out in the most dramatic fashion. In March 1926 officers arrived at his home in Manly searching for more stolen property. While Gertrude was swearing her husband wasn’t there he escaped over the back fence and stole a car. It was tracked down to the garage of the historic Black Horse Hotel at Richmond.

Black Horse Hotel where Desire La Court was shot dead.

Police arrived in force, but La Court was nowhere to be seen. He was being driven around the area by some tourists. They had found him utterly charming and asked him to point out the local beauty spots.

When the touring party returned La Court spotted the police and took off. He was dressed as immaculately as ever, in expensive flannels and snazzy sports shoes. He ran through the hotel and headed for the open back gate. In usual fashion he ignored repeated calls to stop, and a warning shot. A second shot was fired by Constable McGeoch, who was in such a hurry that he did not even take aim. That bullet struck La Court in the head. He was rushed to Richmond Hospital, but later died, with Gertrude at his bedside. An inquest found that the shooting was justified, although as he was unarmed the death created a great deal of controversy.

The press dubbed him a fatalist, and the most ‘slippery’ criminal to have ever operated in New South Wales.

I suppose the police will get me in the long run’, he is said to have once remarked to a friend. ‘And they will get me by shooting me’, he added.

I’ll say this for La Court’, said a police officer yesterday, ‘He was a brave man. He has been shot at on a number of occasions, but the shots never frightened him. It was his motto to keep going. As well as being brave he was exceptionally clever at getting out of a tight corner. In that direction I would compare him to an eel. You never knew when you had got him.’

Perhaps the real tragedy of the shooting lies in the fact that Mrs La Court has two little children, a boy and a girl. (Daily Telegraph, Mar. 16 1926)

Gertrude was charged as an accessory to theft as she had been seen with her husband in the stolen car. However, when the matter came to court no evidence was tendered. There simply wasn’t the will to put her though more pain and she was discharged.

What on earth happened to the poor woman and those two young children? Five year old Arthur is pictured below at left, beside his little sister.

The children of Desire La Court

Sections of the old hotel at Richmond remain, behind the modern facade of what is known as the Black Horse retail centre.


Desire La Court was laid to rest beside his infant son Jack in Rookwood cemetery, on March 17 1926.

Source – Cumberland Argus.
1 Comment
  1. What a Cad! But a sad tale all the sale.

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