The red light area on Roe Street, shortly before the brothels were closed (image 1958).
The red light area on Roe Street, shortly before the brothels were closed (image 1958).

Josie Villa wasn’t always at 222 Roe Street. Just after the Great War, it was located closer to town at number 98 on the same street.

It was at this location that Josie De Bray was wounded in a shooting, possibly carried out by drunk soldiers.

In August 1919, at 3.30am, a car was driven along the red light district, with the occupants demanding admission to the houses there.

At this time of night, the only occupants of Josie Villa were Josie herself and Esther Miller. They had just eaten a late supper, and were preparing to retire to their rooms, when they heard the car pull up outside the house.

Footsteps were heard on the front verandah, and a rap on the door followed. Although Esther said she would answer, Josie was ahead of her. She approached the front door and asked who was outside.

One of the men demanded admission, but Josie replied that no one would be admitted at that time of day. Looked through the peephole in the door she saw some of the visitors were wearing military uniforms.

The men repeated their demand, but Josie again refused them admission. They clearly became agitated and started shouting.

Suddenly two shots rang through the house. A revolver had been placed close to the peephole and fired into the passageway.

At the first shot, Josie felt a stinging pain on her left elbow. The second bullet missed her, sped through the length of the passage, leaving a hole in the wall at the end.

If Josie had not, by sheer chance, stepped aside from the peephole at the right moment, she could easily have been killed.

After firing the shots, the men fled the scene.

Josie managed to get to the rear of the house, leaving a trail of blood along the way. A doctor was summoned, and she was carried to a nearby private hospital on St George’s Terrace.