Josie v The Nazis

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I know I promised to move on to Audrey and her amazing eyes, but since I needed to write up Josie’s story today, I thought I’d offer it here for general consumption.

Regular readers will have seen most of the details before, but there are (hopefully) a couple of added twists.

Enjoy:

What a story. What a dame. She was a peroxide blonde, French beauty who dominated Perth’s prostitution business for decades. She held wild, wild parties, was shot in the middle of the night, captured by Nazis, and owned a chain of service stations, one of which was the secret entrance to her Hooker HQ.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Princess Josie De Bray. Widely thought to be the first peroxide blonde Perth had ever seen.

Of course, she wasn’t really a princess. Except to those men who whispered her name in the Weld Club or in the Officer’s Mess. Nor was she even Josie De Bray, although that was the only name people knew her by. She was, in fact, Marie-Louise Monnier, from the small French Town of St Nazaire. But we’ll call her Josie.

Josie started working in the goldfields during the boom years. She probably started off as a working girl herself, but it wasn’t to remain that way for long.

Continue reading →

The shootout on the Rue de Roe

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.

A fortune on furs

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It is not easy to square the post war picture of Mme Marie-Louise Monnier with the pre-war image of her as a strikingly colourful peroxide blonde princess. But being held in a concentration camp might well make you a different person.

Undoubtedly, she came from a good French family. She had received a good education, and had contacts in France which suggested her family moved in the best circles.

She was pretty in her younger days, but grew very plump with increasing age. Her clothes came from Australia’s most exclusive stores. Her money was good, even if her profession wasn’t. And she spent a small fortune on furs while travelling in a smart car with her own chauffeur.

Her striking blonde hair was said to be a matter of her own taste, not necessarily a preference of gentlemen. In fact she was probably the first peroxide blonde in Perth.

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At 137 Joel Terrace, Princess Josie had an exclusive home with a river frontage. Neighbours turned an appraising eye as hundreds of pounds worth of expensive furniture went into the house, gazed with intrigued interest at the blonde, middle-aged, expensively dressed lady who followed it in.

But excitement simmered when whispers carried the name ‘Josie’—whispers that became almost a bellow of protest as some of the girls from Roe Street began to visit the house on social calls.

After Josie went overseas, the house was left in charge of one of her friends, who was tipped off by the police not to allow any of the girls from Roe Street to come there.

It was subsequently leased to a lady with several daughters. She exited hastily as soon as she learned the identity of its owner.

Introducing Princess Josie

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Wherever men get together, whether in the curse-charged ribaldry of an army camp or in the deep chairs of some of our most exclusive clubs, the topic often switches to Josie.

On All Hallow’s Eve we presented the secret backside of Josie Villa. Today we expose the front of 222 Roe Street, now sadly demolished to make way for tedious commercial buildings.

In our opinion, ‘Princess’ Josie De Bray deserves to be one of the most famous residents Perth has ever had. But her story appears little known.

Her profession was the world’s oldest. But she was the undisputed leader of that profession in Western Australia.

ML Monnier

Josie pictured in 1949

In the boom days on the Goldfields, Josie—real name Mme Marie-Louise Monnier—operated houses of ill repute on Hay Street, Kalgoorlie. Her friends in those days included some of the biggest in the mining world.

In Perth she acquired houses in Roe Street. For years she ran her various establishments herself, with the same efficiency as any modern businesswoman. To her it was simply a (profitable) business.

Josie bought and lived in a big house in Mt. Lawley, 137 Joel Terrace, which fortunately still stands and deserves to be recognised for its history, which was certainly controversial among the neighbours in its day.

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About 1937 she went home to her birthplace, St. Nazaire, France, and was trapped there when war started.

For years no one in Perth knew if she was alive or dead. While living in St. Nazaire it was bombed again and again. Josie spent some tough years as a German prisoner of war.

Finally she sold a portion of her inheritance and returned to Perth in 1949, seeking to re-establish her empire.

Josie died in 1953, leaving her Perth properties to a niece back in France.

Her story will be told here over the next few days.