EXPLORE key places and events involved of the infamous Ronald Ryan saga.
On Sunday 19 December 1965, Ronald Ryan (1925-1967) and Peter Walker (1941-2022) escaped from Pentridge prison to an Elwood hideout. The escape precipitated a saga of murder, manslaughter, bank robbery and public terror. Newspapers and television warned the community to be vigilant or indoors during an Australia-wide police hunt.
Ryan was eventually convicted and hung for the murder of warder George Hodson despite intense opposition to the Bolte Government with widespread protests and legal interventions to prevent the last and 186th execution in Australia. Ryan’s hanging on 3 February 1967 influenced the abolition of capital punishment in all states by 1985.
INVESTIGATE six locations in Elwood and the history of pivotal events in this extraordinary saga.
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Ormond Road, Elwood Hardware Store: The escapees purchased paint for license plates for a bank robbery on 23 December, when Ryan and Walker, armed with the warder’s stolen rifle, robbed the ANZ bank at 553 North Rd, Ormond. Ryan herded 13 people into the bank’s strongroom and stole £4500. A witness told reporters, “a bandit told me: ‘This gun shot a man a few days ago’. Ryan and Walker also went to Grey Street, St Kilda to rob a bank but the presence of police cars deterred them.
Vautier Street, Elwood: In the early hours of the morning of the hanging, Brian Jones MP, Edgar Tanner MP and Barry Jones, leader of the anti-hanging committee were meeting at Tanner’s home in Vautier street in a last minutes attempt to intervene. The police arrived after an erroneous tip-off that a plot by the three men to kidnap Chief Secretary Arthur Rylah was overheard by the switchboard at a motel in Albert Park.
Ormond Road, Elwood: Walker and Ryan hid out in a block of flats from 22 December after the 19 December 1965 escape. From Ryan wrote a ‘Ned Kelly’ letter to the media. On 24 December (Christmas Eve), there was a party at the flat. A petty criminal, John Fisher, who knew Ryan, and Arthur Henderson (Aitken’s boyfriend) were there. After all their beer had been consumed, Walker and Henderson left to purchase sly grog in Albert Park. An hour later Walker returned alone to the flat. He had killed Henderson in a Middle Park toilet block after collecting beer in Buckhurst Street.
Docker St, Elwood: A plot was hatched to bomb Pentridge and liberate Ryan (Brosnan, Grindley). Three criminal associates with ringleader Edward Jockey Smith obtained guns, ammunition and rope. Jocka Bell sent as a messenger.
Kingsley Street, Elwood: the home of Ryan’s friend: Ryan tried to contact his wife using coded adverts signed ‘Little Lady’. Police laid a trap using false adverts and raided Kingsley Street seeking Ryan.
Tennyson Street, Elwood: 21 April 1960 19 detectives and 13 police raided Tennyson Street on a tip-off after Ryan’s earlier escape from the Russell Street watchhouse, the first in a century. Squizzy Taylor was an earlier breakout organiser.
Other local locations
Prince of Wales Hotel, St Kilda: visted for a drink shortly after escape.
1 Linton Street St Kilda: Ryan visited to seek assistance, referred to Veronica Vitko
Beaconsfield Parade and Kerferd Street toilet block: Henderson’s death inflicted by Walker
Victoria Street, St Kilda: Margaret Calleson, 27, of Victoria Street, St Kilda, who had been charged with Bernard Davitt, was acquitted. ‘A man was gaoled for a year in General Sessions today for aiding Ronald Ryan, who escaped from Pentridge gaol last December. Judge Harris told Bernard Davitt, 28, painter, that he was a menace for preventing a dangerous and desperate man from being arrested.’
Dickens Street, Elwood: John Graeme Fisher said that on Christmas Eve he and some other people went to a flat in Ormond Road, Elwood, where he saw Ryan and Walker. He knew Ryan previously. He had a drink with the two escapees in the flat and asked Ryan who shot the warder Hodson. Ryan replied, “I did.” Fisher said Ryan told him that the warder “had been in his way and if anyone else had been in his way he (Ryan) would have shot them, too.” Cross-examined by Mr G. M. Byrne, for Ryan, Fisher admitted he had been charged with crimes of fencing seven or eight times. Fisher denied there had been ill feeling between himself and Ryan,
High Street, St Kilda: 1953 Dorothy and Ryan resided.
24 Grandview Street, St Kilda: Address of accomplice Heard
St Kilda: Ryan ran a parcel delivery service
Albert Park PO: Police traced Ryan through the Sporting Globe.
Port Melbourne Football Ground: Ryan sold stolen knitwear.
Glenhuntly Road: Squizzy 1921
Alma Road: Rented by Ronald Ryan for four weeks. Police found detonators, bullets, oxy equipment
Elwood Beach: Opas went swimming on the morning of the hanging and was told ‘I suppose they strung up the useless bastard by now’.
Nineteen years after Ryan’s execution, a former warder, Doug Pascoe, claimed on air to Channel 9 and other media that he had fired a shot during Ryan’s escape bid. Pascoe said his shot may have accidentally killed his fellow prison guard, Hodson. Pascoe had not told anyone that he fired a shot during the escape because at that time, “I was a 23-year-old coward.” In 1986, he tried to sell his story but his claim was dismissed by police because his rifle had a full magazine after the shooting and he was too far away. Another warder contradicted Pascoe’s account but claims that Ryan was innocent of the murder continue to the present day.
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