With the the 50th Anniversary of the last man to be hung in Australia, there is a limited amount of newspapers to access on line for this blog entry as the 50 year copyright limit has just been hit this entry will be added to in time as more papers are released.
Ryan was in Gaol for a series of petty crimes and decided to effect an escape.
(Spelling as per the era in which it was written)
1st February 1967
THE DAY OF THE SHOOTING
Did Ronald Ryan fire the shot that killed the warder, George Hodson, at Pentridge Gaol, Melbourne, in December, 1965? The courts said yes and sentenced Ryan to hang.
But the last-minute production of what purports to be new evidence about the shooting has brought new doubts. The events of December 19, 1965, are reviewed below.
MELBOURNE, Tuesday.—George Henry Hodson was shot dead outside
Pentridge Gaol about 2.20pm on December 19, 1965. The bullet was never found.
Evidence was given by three witnesses at Ryan’s trial about what happened at the No 1 sentry post at Pentridge Gaol during the escape by Ryan and another prisoner, Peter Walker.
A prison officer, Helmut Lange, told the court last March 16 that he had been on duty at the No 1 post at the time of the escape. At 2pm on December 19 he had watched prisoners putting out milk bottles in the yard below him some distance away from the post.
Lange said that when he had turned he had found Ryan standing behind him. “He had his right arm raised and was holding a water pipe”, Lange said, Ryan had got hold of Lange’s rifle, which was in the rack on the post, pointed the rifle at Lange and tried to pull a lever to open the gate.
Then Ryan had asked Lange which lever opened the gate. Lange had pointed to a lever which opened the door at the bottom of the sentry post, but not through the outside gate.
Lange said that Ryan then had marched him at gunpoint towards the stairs leading to ground level, where he had seen Walker hiding.
When they got to the outside gate, Walker had found it was locked. Ryan had told Lange to return and push the right lever this time.
Hodson chased Ryan Lange said that Ryan had prodded the carbine into his kidneys as they went back. When Ryan had pulled the right lever, Walker had called out “the gate’s open”.
Ryan had backed along to the stairs, covering him all the time. As soon as Ryan had reached the stairs, Lange said, he had turned and run down them.
After raising the alarm, Lange said he had seen a scuffle between the two prisoners and Brigadier James Hewitt, a Salvation Army chaplain.
Hewitt had fallen to the ground, and Lange had seen Ryan kneeling beside him holding the rifle.
Lange had told Warder Hodson, who was coming out of the officers’ mess, that two prisoners had escaped and Lange said he had then seen Ryan stopping a car at gunpoint.
The car had driven off without Ryan, and he had then seen a prisoner running up from Bell Street towards North Coburg with Hodson chasing him, close behind.
“I saw Ryan lifting his rifle and aiming it in that direction”, Lange said.
“I looked up at the No.2 post because I felt rather helpless, then looked down at Ryan again.
“The next thing I heard one shot. I saw Hodson raising his arm above his head and fall to the ground”.
Three times in the trial, Warder William James Bennett denied that he had fired a shot at all on the day of the escape.
Bennett told the court he had been on duty at the No.2 post.
A prison officer, Robert Paterson, who was on duty at the main gate, said at the trial that he had seen Ryan holding two warders at bay with a rifle.
Affidavit on shot Paterson said he had aimed his rifle at Ryan, but had not shot when he had found he would have to fire between the two warders.
He had then jumped over a small wall on to the pavement and taken aim a second time.
“I took the first pressure. Then as I was beginning to squeeze, a woman came into my sights”, he said. Paterson said he had lifted his rifle and fired into the air.
In evidence, none of the warders spoke about another warder named Patterson. In the Supreme Court last night John Henry Tolmie, of Dandenong, said that a warder known as Mr Patterson had fired a shot from the No 1 post at the time of Ryan’s escape.
Tolmie, who said he had been serving a 12-month sentence in Pentridge at the time, said that Mr Patterson was not the Mr Robert Paterson who had given evidence during the trial.
At the trial the defence made the point that, although 14 witnesses had heard only one shot, Warder Robert Paterson had agreed that he had fired one, but the Crown claimed that Ryan had fired the fatal shot that killed Hodson.
30 March , 1966
Ryan sentenced to death for gaol murder
Wednesday.—Pentridge Gaol escapee Ronald Ryan, 41, was sentenced to death late tonight for the murder of a warder during the December 19 escape.
His companion in the escape, Peter Walker, was convicted of manslaughter and remanded for sentence.
When asked why the death sentence should not be imposed, Ryan replied: “I still maintain my innocence and will consult my counsel with a view to appeal.”
The slightly built prisoner was led out of the court under maximum security, involving at least 20 uniformed police and warders and a dozen plainclothes police.
After the 12 jurymen announced their verdict after a 7½-hour retirement, they were sent back to their room while Mr Justice Starke sentenced Ryan to be hanged.
The jury returned to hear Walker, whom they had just convicted of manslaughter, admit many previous convictions.
Neither showed emotion Walker, like Ryan, showed no emotion when convicted. The trial had lasted 12 days.
The trial hinged on acceptance of either the Crown case, supported by many witnesses, that Ryan took deliberate aim and shot the warder, George Hodson, or the defence claim that a warder in No 2 guard tower could equally have been responsible unintentionally for the fatal shot.
Whether or not Ryan will hang now depends on the State Executive Council.
The council will wait until Ryan lodges an appeal, if he elects to do so, before deciding whether he should be executed or have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
An appeal is now up to the Public Solicitor to decide. It was he who briefed Mr P. Opas, QC, to defend the case, as Ryan had no money to engage a private solicitor.
Sydney ABC Radio
3rd February 2017
Here is a link to a recent Interview with Mike Richards, an author, who has written about the Ryan Case, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of his death
15 December 1966
RIGHT TO HANG, SAYS CLERIC
Wednesday.—To hang a man was just, and vast numbers of Victorians favoured hanging, the secretary of the Victorian branch of the Bible Union of Australia, the Reverend W. R. McEwen, asserted tonight.
He said Bishop G. T. Sambell, Coadjutor Bishop of Melbourne, was wrong in saying the Victorian Cabinet had no concern about Christian conscience in deciding that Ronald Ryan should hang on January 9 (1967)for the murder of a Pentridge warder.
Mr McEwen said the articles of the Church of England clearly laid down that a man who took a life should have his life taken from him.
The Bible had several witnesses to say that the realm could take a man’s life in the course of justice.
Reverend McEwen said that to hang Ryan was the decision of the law of the land and as such was justice. “Without justice, from men empowered to carry out our wishes, where do we go?” Mr McEwen asked.
He said Paul, and others throughout the Bible, had clearly indicated that once justice had completed its course and a man was found guilty of taking life, he should be hanged.
“But I must admit I think hanging, as the means of execution is totally archaic”,
Mr McEwen said “Surely in this day and age, even though I know it is a quick and painless end, there should be a more acceptable method of taking a man’s life”.
It was reported today that the Cabinet decision not to commute the death sentence on Ryan was reached by a majority of 11 to 4.
Date 4th February 2017
“Good bye, my darlings – remembering the trauma of Australia’s Last Execution a 50th Anniversary article on the hanging of Ronald Ryan