Ronald Ryan

11 November 2016

He was the only son, with three sisters, of Australian born parents John Ronald Ryan and Eveline Cecelia Thompson. John who was an invalid former miner violently abused Ronald and Eveline who was a domestic servant emotionally neglected him. Ronald’s childhood consisted of his parents’ alcoholism, poverty through there family, and poor health, particularly his father’s chronic phthisis. In November 1936, Ronald was sent to Rupertswood, Sunbury, the Salesian Order’s school for orphaned, wayward and neglected boys.

Ryan escaped from the school in September 1939 and worked with his half brother in and around Balranald, New South Wales. Spare money that he earned was sent to his mother looking after his sick alcoholic father. At the age of twenty, Ryan had saved enough money to rent a house in Balranald and eventually settled there with his mother and three sisters, worked as a labourer and kept out of the hands of the law.

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Ryan’s father stayed in Melbourne and died a year later aged 62, after a long battle with miners’ disease, phthisis tuberculosis.

At the age of 23, Ryan returned to Melbourne where he was employed as a storeman. On the 4th of February that year at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Richmond, he married Dorothy Janet George, a secretary, educated at a private school, who had rebelled against her wealthy parents. Ryan had a long list of criminal chargers and these first started in 1953 when he was acquitted on a charge of arson. In 1956, Ryan used a number of forged cheques to pay for his gambling debts, and was only placed on a good-behaviour bond.

Although, by 1959, Ryan was virtually a professional criminal, leading a gang that broke into many shops and factories. After been in custody by the police in April 1960, he and three accomplices escaped from the police, but were recaptured after several days later. On June 17, Ryan pleaded guilty to eight charges of breaking and stealing, and one of escaping from legal custody. Ryan was sentenced to eight and a half years imprisonment. Appearing to want to rehabilitate himself, Ryan was released on parole in August 1963, but soon returned to crime.

He started robbing butcher shops and used explosives to blow their safes. Ryan and two accomplices were caught after a butcher shop robbery on January the 4th 1964. Ryan was charged with breaking and entering and theft offences. Bailed on the 3rd of February 1964, Ryan skipped town and fled to New South Wales where he later admitted to nine robberies, in New South Wales, between 4 April and 11 July 1964. On a visit home on the 14th of July, the Victorian Police caught Ryan.

On the 13th of November 1964, Ryan received another eight-year prison sentence for breaking and entering where he was sent to Pentridge Prison. Within 10 months of this new sentence, his wife divorced him. I wouldn’t describe Ryan as a dangerous criminal. I think that he thought he had to do these crimes for a living or in order to survive. I believe that Ryan’s life in crime started due to his traumatizing childhood. In my opinion, I believe that family background matters a lot in determining how a person will grow up to be.

Ronald Ryan did not have a great childhood and this obviously affected him. I do think that Ryan could have rehabilitated himself and started a new life for him and his family. Ronald Ryan escaped from prison with Peter Walker on Sunday 19th of December 1965 at 2. 07pm. Both Ryan and Walker were serving prison sentences for robbery. Ryan had planned to escape from prison after being informed that his wife was filing a divorce. After Ryan was to escape he had plans to take his wife and three daughters and live overseas. However, things did not go according to plan.

As prison officers were taking turns attending a staff Christmas party, Ryan and Walker scaled a five-metre prison wall with two wooden benches, a hook and blankets. Running along the top of a prison wall, they overpowered a prison officer who was on duty in a watchtower. Ryan took Lange’s M1 carbine rifle. Apparently, Ryan had pulled the cocking lever of the rifle with the cocking-lever switch on, and then released it. This would have forced a round of ammunition to fall out of the gun onto the floor of the watchtower. Ryan threatened Lange to pull the lever that would open the watchtower gate.

Ryan quickly realised that Lange deliberately pulled the wrong lever so he jabbed the rifle into Lange’s back and made him pull the correct lever. After finally getting the main gates open, Ryan and Walker ran out onto a busy street where they planned to steal a car. In this time, Lange had raised the prison alarm indicating a prison escape where armed prison offices quickly appeared to try and stop the two. Eye witnesses testified to seeing Ryan waving his rifle around to cars, while George Hodson, a warder, was seen chasing after Walker.

Armed prison officers were also seen aiming their rifles in the direction of Hodson, Walker and Ryan. Ryan apparently had another attempt to cock the rifle, which caused another round of ammunition to fall out of the rifle. In these scenes of chaos, one gunshot was heard and prison officer George Hodson fell dead on the ground. A single bullet had struck Hodson on the right shoulder, travelling from front to back in a downward angle, suggesting the shot had been fired from a distance at an elevated position.

The bullet had exited through Hodson’s back, an inch lower than the point of entry. Although the bullet was never found. Ryan and Walker successfully escaped using a car they stole outside the prison. On the 24th December 1965 the Victorian government announced a $10,000 reward for the capture of Ryan and Walkers arrest. They were finally captured in Sydney on January 5th 1966. On the 30th of March the jury convicted Walker of manslaughter and Ryan guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Ryan was hanged in “D” division at Pentridge Prison 8. 00am on Friday 3rd of February 1967.

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