The Mysterious Madame Pellier

On the afternoon of October 16 1977 Sydney socialite and designer Florence Broadhurst known to many as 'Madame Pellier' was brutally murdered in the upstairs dressing room of her Paddington studio, apparently after just having had tea with her assailant. Her fingers had been broken, and jewellery worth up to $100,000 taken. Near her body lay the gruesome murder weapon - a piece of blood-stained timber.

Incredibly though the 78 year old businesswomen seemingly knew and trusted her killer, the murder remains unsolved to this day. Florence had many acquaintances within Sydney's social set, many of whom were questioned following her killing - including a young lover. She also catered to a wealthy and elite clientele which included the likes of Estée Lauder, Qantas Airways and a chain of Saudi Arabian hotels.

As her death was intriguing so was much of her life. In her heyday she was described as a tall, fine-framed red head with a penchant for flamboyant clothes and perfectly coiffed and hennaed hair. At the age of 17 she sang a duet with Nellie Melba and was invited on a world tour with her, but was prevented from doing so as the result of a car accident. In the early 1920s she travelled to India and South East Asia as a singer and dancer, and established a Performing Arts Academy in Shanghai. Later she went to England where in 1929 she married her first husband and became co director (as well as designer and dress consultant) to Pellier Ltd, a fashionable dress salon in New Bond Street, Mayfair. In 1949 she returned to Australia, this time with her second husband, Leonard Lloyd Lewis, and spent the next 10 years painting and organizing high-profile society fundraisers. In 1959 she established her famous wallpaper studio in Sydney.

Very little information is available on Florence's family background or genealogy. At various times she had presented herself to her acquaintances as an aristocratic Englishwomen with entry to "sub-royal circles"; as a one-time concert singer who came to Australia and stayed, or as an Australian cattle heiress. Although greatly exaggerated it was this last description that was the closest to the truth. Florence Maud Broadhurst was born on July 28 1899 in Mt Perry, Bundaberg, Queensland, where her family ran a modest outback cattle station.

Additional Notes:
(1) Florence's archive of designs numbered some 800 at the time of her death. Today they are owned and promoted by Sydney-based print company Signature Prints (2) The identity of Florence's first husband - the enigmatic Monsieur Pellier is an enduring mystery. Florence has a son by her second marriage Robert Lloyd Lewis who apparently knows his identity but has chosen to keep it secret.

Principal Sources:
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia) May 9, 2000, p.50 "Designs Outlive Murder" by Skye Yates