50 years ago: the capture of Ronald Ryan

6 January 1966: 1966 marked the beginning of a flurry of gang-related violence in Sydney. This would be followed by a long period of peace because of the effectiveness with which leading gangsters such as Fred Anderson, Abe Saffron, Lennie McPherson and George Freeman ran the underworld, in close collaboration with various crooked cops.

The most famous corrupt detective in all of Sydney’s history was Ray Kelly, who on this day achieved one of his greatest victories. It followed the escape of career criminals Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker from Melbourne’s Pentridge prison on 19th December 1965. Ryan killed prison officer George Hodson on the way out. While hiding in Victoria, Walker killed a man who recognised him. Realising they needed haven in a country with no extradition treaty with Australia, they fled to Sydney and asked the city’s “Mr Big”, Lennie McPherson, for help to get to Brazil.

Detective Ray Kelly
Detective Ray Kelly

McPherson was big, violent and rat-cunning. He was also Ray Kelly’s main informant, and for years had swapped information for a green light to stand over other criminals. He figured that if he helped Ryan and was found out, that would mean the end of his protection by police. Also in account was that Ryan was intending to commit a string of armed bank robberies to raise the money for the false passports: more innocent people might die. As McPherson would later remark, bodies in the street were bad for business.

So, according to Tony Reeves in his book Mr Big, McPherson told Kelly how to catch Ryan, and an operation involving 50 cops was launched. The two killers were lured to Concord Repatriation Hospital on the promise of meeting two women. The police pounced and the heavily armed men were captured without any gunfire.

Like many people at the time, Ryan and Walker never realised just how Sydney worked. Ronald Ryan would become the last person executed in Australia, for his murder of George Hodson.

George Hodson dead outside Pentridge prison
George Hodson dead outside Pentridge prison




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