Prisoner Purple: ‘Talkative’ con made cut for tree camp

purple, mug shot in jail
Two decades after his release from prison in Australia, Adam Purple handed out his fliers at the Rainbow Family Picnic in Central Park in 1986.   Photo by Carl Hultberg
Two decades after his release from prison in Australia, Adam Purple handed out his fliers at the Rainbow Family Picnic in Central Park in 1986. Photo by Carl Hultberg

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | In response to The Villager’s information request, the Australian Department of Justice has released files documenting Adam Purple’s imprisonment for sexually molesting his oldest stepdaughter.

At the end of last year, The Villager broke the shocking story — first told to the newspaper by Purple’s two daughters — of how legendary Lower East Side gardener Purple, real name David Lloyd Wilkie, spent up to two years in jail Down Under in the 1960s as a result of the conviction, and was then deported to America. A follow-up article included subsequent interviews with his two former stepdaughters, who further corroborated his history of child sex abuse.

Purple, who was born in Missouri and had worked as a journalist in the States, moved with his blended family to Australia after getting a job teaching English at a technical college there. The family included his second wife, Romola, her two daughters, Dorothy and Diane, and Wilkie’s own two daughters from a previous marriage, Jenean and Lenore. It was a far cry from “The Brady Bunch.”

As Jenean previously told The Villager, Purple’s sexual abuse of the girls — which had already been occurring in the U.S. — only rose to more debauched levels in Australia. The family lived in isolated areas, away from prying eyes, and Purple threw wild parties fueled with his high-octane home-brewed beer. He was also heavily into LSD.

The prepubescent girls were “trained” to perform naked sex shows for the partygoers, and schooled by Purple on how to use varnished wooden dildos that he carved for them, the now-adult women said. Dorothy told The Villager that Purple sexually abused her nightly for years — regularly performing oral sex on her — culminating in him raping her when he was 36 and she was 12, for which he was arrested. Wilkie was convicted on April 14, 1967, and sentenced a month later.

Despite all four women telling The Villager their own detailed and convincing stories of Purple’s sexual abuse, some Purple loyalists were unwilling to accept it, saying they wanted more proof of his conviction and imprisonment. Jenean and Lenore each provided The Villager with their own copy of a court document of the child-custody case in which Romola won custody of them, and in which the judge noted that Purple was then serving time in prison for the crime. Yet even that still didn’t satisfy the Purple true believers.

Australian privacy laws are known to be among the world’s strictest. However, the Office of the General Counsel of the Australian Department of Justice last month released to The Villager one file containing 15 pages of Purple’s prison records. This month, after finding more records pertaining to Purple, it released a second file containing six pages. (See Purple prison records here.)

A description of David Lloyd Wilkie in an Australian Department of Prisons report by a Classification Committee, which was trying to determine the best prison facility to send him for rehabilitative jobs training.
A 1967 Australian prisoner “Description Card” with a mug shot of David Lloyd Wilkie, the future Adam Purple, in scanned files provided to The Villager by the Australian Department of Justice. Unfortunately, the scan of this document was not very good and much of the writing is illegible.

The first batch of records includes a “case history” of David Lloyd Wilkie, and features reviews of him by prison committees conducted on various dates. The recommendations focus on whether he should be transferred from certain jails — or gaols, as the Australians call it — to tree farms or camps.

The reports note that Wilkie spent time in Long Bay State Penitentiary and Goulburn Training Centre, as well as the Laurel Hill and Mannus Afforestation Camps, where he apparently planted trees.

The records note that Wilkie’s sentence was two years, with no possibility of parole for nine months. They also say that he held a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and had spent two years in the U.S. Army and 10 years working as a journalist. (Purple, in fact, worked for the Army news service). He had also worked as a concrete finisher for half a year before prison, though had been injured on the job.

His offense is listed as “indecent asslt [sic] on female under 16 years.”

Wilkie had appealed his conviction, but then abandoned his challenge, the papers state.

“Future plans: Wants to be deported to the U.S.A.,” notes one of the reviews.

Under “Other Significant Data,” an official’s skeptical description of prisoner Wilkie paints him as garrulous yet self-centered and hardheaded, while refusing to accept his guilt:

“Poor appearance, good social personality. This rather peculiar looking American has a good education which could possibly extend to the university degrees that he claims. He is a ready talker who seeks to gain the greatest possible advantage for himself from any interview and finds extreme difficulty in seeing any but his own point of view. At present all he can think about is getting out of Australia as soon as possible. Naturally, concerning this offence he is a picture of outraged and injured innocence.”

Listed under Wilkie’s preferred “recreational and leisure activities” are: “hiking, swimming, read (history), push bike, drink.”

Another page notes that Wilkie stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 13 stone, or 182 pounds.

The second Australian Department of Justice file is listed under “David Thomas Wilkie.” The confusion over his middle name is not explained, though Purple used various names during his lifetime, going by Lloyd in Australia and David in America, for example, and of course Adam Purple once he hit the Lower East Side.

This file includes a May 15, 1967, mug shot of Wilkie. It also notes that he had been sentenced to “2 years h.l.,” apparently referring to “hard labor.”

(In a May 15, 1967, letter provided to The Villager by one his of daughters, Wilkie’s wife, Romola, had written to Jenean and Lenore’s grandparents that he was, in fact, facing two years hard labor.

“Lloyd was sentenced Friday,” she wrote. “He refused to co-operate with the Psychiatrist. Had he done so, he would have been out on bond & under treatment. Since he refused to see any psychiatrist after the first one, he was sentenced to 2 (two) years ‘Hard Labor.’… He will never be able to get a decent job unless he goes for treatment.”

Earlier, on April 14, 1967, his wife had written, “He was found guilty on two counts of assault (indecent) & sentencing has been postponed…pending his examination by many competent Psychiatrists. The Judge said that this was the most demented man ever to appear in his court.”)

This second batch of records provided to The Villager notes that Wilkie, at that time, was working in Goulburn Training Centre as a “sweeper” and a “bookbinder.” Indeed, it may have been in prison in Australia that he created 600 hundred copies of “Zentences,” his famed miniature-size flip book of mix-and-match Zen koans. He certainly had the time on his hands to do it.

A report by Goulburn’s “chief overseer” notes that Wilkie always had a lot to say for himself — apparently a bit too much yakking for the overseer’s taste.

Under “Report of industry and disposition,” the overseer notes of Wilkie: “satisfactory — Talkative — always.”

Under “General conduct in prison,” he states of Wilkie: “satisfactory — asserting his rights — otherwise cooperative.”

In summary, the officer in charge notes of Wilkie: “In his short term at this centre he has been a satisfactory though talkative prisoner. General conduct also satisfactory. I recommend his transfer to a camp.”

This second file ends in March 1968 with the comptroller general of prisons scrawling a one-word affirmative decision: “Mannus.”

And so, David Lloyd Wilkie was transferred to Mannus Afforestation Camp, where he planted trees. Based on the records provided, this was the last Australian prison facility in which he was held.

After serving his time, he was deported to the U.S., as he had requested — to California, according to his estranged family members. After a brief stint amid the hippies in Haight-Ashbury, he then made his way to New York City, where before long he recreated himself as Adam Purple, going on to become an environmental icon.

His Garden of Eden on the Lower East Side covered 15,000 square feet between Forsyth and Eldridge Sts. near Stanton St. With planting beds in Zen-like concentric circles, it featured corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, raspberries — and a number of trees.

“It was a work of art — an earthwork,” Purple was quoted as saying.

Who knows? Perhaps the enforced forestry skills he learned as a prisoner convicted on child sex-abuse charges a world away in Australia helped him — even inspired him — as he cultivated his magnificent Garden of Eden.

Purple claimed he had 45 trees in his garden. Carl Hultberg, a photojournalist and environmentalist who documented the legendary green thumb and his green oasis, said that probably is basically accurate.

“Adam had a bunch of small dwarf fruit trees in the garden and one large tree which he called a Chinese Empress tree, though it might have had a Western botanical name as well, ” Hultberg recalled. “That fast-growing tree seeded itself near the center of the garden out of the horse manure Adam collected in Central Park. There may have been some sumac or alanthus trees, but they grow everywhere. After the demolition, only the central Empress tree remained. You can see people huddled around it the day of the razing. 

“I don’t know if this is true but I heard from George Bliss that tree is still there, next to the low-income housing built on the site.”

A forlorn Adam Purple on Eldridge St. in 1986 on the site of his former Garden of Eden — standing next to what he called a Chinese Empress tree — after the city razed the green oasis for an affordable housing complex. The garden sported a number of small fruit- and nut-bearing trees. Only the central Empress tree survived the demolition. Photo by Carl Hultberg

When she e-mailed this second batch of prison records on Wilkie, Alisi Kaleti, the information access and privacy officer for the Office of the General Counsel of the Australian D.O.J., wrote that even more of his records are available — though cannot be released.

“Additional records have been located that fall within the scope of your application,” she said. “My supplementary decision…is that you have been granted [only] partial access to the newly located records because I consider that on balance there is an overriding public interest against full disclosure. … Under the public interest consideration in…the Government Information Public Access Act of 2009, these records have not been released in full because it would reveal personal information about people other than Mr. Wilkie.”