Railways were soft targets
for ruthless thieves
Robbing trains was once a lucrative enterprise for criminals.
Trains were the vehicle of choice for transporting valuables when rail took over from the stagecoach; trains carrying money became “soft” target for robbers.
There was nowhere for a train to hide if under attack and attacked they were, frequently, in the 20th century.
Ledburn 1963 Ronald Biggs
The height of audacity was the Great Train Robbery in England when a gang of 15 robbers snatched 2.6 million pounds from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London on the West Coast Main Line on 8 August 1963, at Ledburn in Buckinghamshire.
That robbery put the name Ronald Biggs in the spotlight for decades.
Robbing trains was not a new thing at that time.
Notorious outlaw Jesse James is best remembered as a bank robber, but he was also one of the first bandits to hold up a moving train. His James-Young gang first struck on the evening of July 21, 1873, near Adair, Iowa, getting away with $US 3,000.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid seemed proficient at robbing trains; their Wild Bunch gang gained notoriety in 1899 when they robbed a mail train on the Union Pacific Railroad, taking $US 50,000.
Australia didn’t escape the train robbery phenomenon.
Robbers struck in Central NSW, fanning out from Sydney
There were at least three significant train robberies in NSW in the early 1900s; two involving mail trains and the other a railways pay car. One robbery turned particularly nasty when it claimed the lives of three railway men.
Amid an intricate series of arrests, charges and court cases, it was revealed that the three NSW cases were linked, the common denominator being George Arthur Morris, who, having admitted involvement, turned Crown witness in exchange for indemnity, only to be murdered by unknown assailants.
The first was the holdup of the Mudgee Mail train in the Blue Mountains in 1930. The next year the Canberra Mail was robbed. Ten years later, a railways pay car was blown up between Bargo and Moss Vale leaving three men dead. Morris was the common link.
He gave evidence against the three accused men in the two mail train cases.
In the trial of Joseph Harold Ryan over the Mudgee Mail robbery, this exchange occurred in the Sydney Quarter Sessions Court in October 1935:
Counsel for Ryan to Morris: You were a postal official at the time of the Canberra mail robbery?
Counsel: Of your own free will you took part in the plans preceding the Mudgee Mail robbery and the carrying out of the robbery itself?
Detectives told a newspaper they thought Morris, of Alexandria, Sydney, knew about most of the crimes in NSW committed since the Mudgee Mail robbery, including the fatal attack on a pay van.
Morris and other participants “lagged” on each other, money was never found, charges were dropped, people acquitted. Morris was shot dead and another suspect facing charges skipped bail. Rewards went unclaimed.
Police investigations led to very few convictions. Even in the case of Morris’s murder in 1944, no one went to jail, even though any number of suspects would have had a motive after he had implicated them in crimes when he turned Crown witness.
Three killed in pay car heist
A NSW Government Railways pay car (above) was blown up near Yanderra between Bargo and Moss Vale in 1941 on the main southern line, about 100 km from Sydney.
The car left Sydney carrying a payroll of 9,000 pounds (almost $700,000 in today’s dollar terms) for workers, mostly gangers along the line, starting at Campbelltown and heading for Goulburn.
Most of the money was in the safe which remained intact but to this day around a quarter of the money has not been accounted for, believed to have been taken by the bandits. It is also thought people nearby may have picked up some of the money that was blown about in the explosion. Bank notes and coins were scattered over a wide area.
No one has faced court. There were suspicions and accusations.
A newspaper noted: “Many aliens and discharged prisoners were questioned by police, soldiers on leave or absent without leave were interviewed and the movements of railways employees on leave and away from work were checked. The search for the bandits was extended all over Australia.”
The pay car was blown up just after midday on Monday, 8 December, on its regular fortnightly run along the line.
Two men were killed instantly in the explosion: George Sydney Randall (driver, of Marrickville aged 50) and Alfred Thomas Philpott (guard, of Ashbury, 52). A third, Frederick Walker (paymaster, of Elizabeth Bay, 53) died early the next day from his injuries.
The explosion was massive; the wrecked petrol-powered car was blown 12 metres down an embankment, two large holes were torn in the permanent way and the heavy rails lay twisted.
A driver of a goods train travelling from Goulburn to Sydney was the first to see the wreckage. As he stopped his train, he saw two men in shorts running from the wrecked pay car.
He left the fireman and guard to render first-aid and rushed to Bargo to get help.
Police were joined by other railway workers in the search for the bandits or clues, but to no avail.
The robbers (the number was not confirmed but there were at least two) placed explosives under the track, covered by metal discs. The explosives were detonated from a distance, according to reports to an inquest in October 1942.
It was thought dynamite was buried in the tracks and attached by an insulated wire to a battery that was discovered about 100m from where the explosion occurred.
The inquest was told a loaded troop train passed over the tracks not long before the pay car but was not the target of the attack.
The goods train driver who was first on the scene told the inquest one of the two men he saw running away appeared to be a foreigner: “He was very sun-tanned and looked like a foreigner. He wore khaki shorts, a dark singlet and was about 5ft 9in tall and of medium build. Both men were approximately the same age. They both had a good deal of hair.”
Berrima District Coroner, Mr. W. Terry, returned an open verdict after hearing the evidence. He said the outrage was the most wicked thing he had ever heard of. There was no doubt that whoever blew up the car had no value for human life. He paid a tribute to the detectives and police connected with the case.
The world by this time was in the grip of World War2, a number of reports noting that the train was blown up the same day as bombs rained down in Asia.
A reward of 1,500 pounds was offered over the pay car attack, to no avail.
A breakthrough in the Yanderra case appeared possible seven years after the explosion when bloodstained clothing, detonators and mailbags were found in a cave near Picton on the Melbourne-Sydney railway line.
A Sydney bushwalker discovered the items while walking with his dog in November 1948. However, two weeks later police discounted the discovery as being related to the robbery. They believed the articles were placed there recently by a practical joker.
The items had been subject to scientific examination and had not been in the cave for more than “a week or so.”
In the following years, police homed in a man they thought was a prime suspect, Lionel Charles Thomas.
It isn’t clear exactly how Thomas, described as a “gunman, swindler and convicted murderer,” came to be linked to the pay car robbery; he had form though.
Anything he did know about the case went to the grave with him. He took his own life in Long Bay Jail in September 1951 while serving a life sentence for the murder at Eden in February 1950 of Mrs Mary Phyllis Page. The body of Mrs Page, from Blacktown, west of Sydney, was never found.
After the robbery of the Mudgee Mail and Canberra Mail police also believed known criminal George Morris knew something about the Yanderra case. They expected him to eventually “spill the beans”, but he, like Thomas, didn’t live long enough to do so.
Lionel Charles Thomas – questions remain
Lionel Charles Thomas was arrested in Perth on 22 July 1950 and charged with the murder of Mrs Mary Phyllis Page, 50, a Blacktown (Sydney) widow.
He was apparently due to marry another woman, 19-year-old Dorothy May Truslove, in Perth the day after he was arrested. They had planned to have their honeymoon in New Guinea.
Mrs Page’s body was never found but a jury took only an hour to find Thomas guilty, based almost entirely on circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment.
The Crown alleged Thomas had promised to marry Mrs Page and had persuaded her to transfer to him all her possessions. About the same time he had been “courting” Sydney woman Pearl Jackson, according to some reports. At the time he met Mrs Page he was using the name Fred Stephens.
Thomas was alleged to have murdered Mrs Page while on a trip to Eden on the NSW South Coast, after she had transferred the proceeds of the sale of her house to him.
Police evidence was that Lionel Thomas told them he shot and killed Mrs Page and disposed of her body. In his unsworn statement in court, Thomas denied it.
His appeal in 1951 was rejected.
Before he could be interviewed about where he disposed of Mrs Page’s body, he took his own life in Long Bay jail in Sydney on 11 September 1951. He was 45.
In a suicide note he said he was taking his life because he could not work at his trade as baker while in jail. He had at various times described himself as a baker, mechanic, bread cart driver and labourer. He was a convicted criminal with an extensive record.
Although police were yet to question him about several other offences, the one that stood out was the death of three railway employees when a pay van was blown up near Yanderra in 1941.
A Mirror newspaper report in August 1954 was in no doubt about the involvement of Thomas in that case.
Selby Burt wrote that while in prison serving a four-year sentence for the robbery of an elderly Kings Cross identity, Thomas hatched a plan to rob the pay van.
Burt wrote: “In prison he made plans, recruited assistants for the robbery which was to become an Australian classic. From a fellow convict, Thomas learned that a pay-car loaded with bullion passed along the main Sydney- Goulburn railway line early each Sunday morning. He learned also that the pay car was armoured and guarded by 3 armed men who had been Instructed to shoot to kill if ever attacked. The criminal did not like the idea of anyone shooting back at him, so he determined to destroy the guards before they could draw their guns. A tradesman hoodlum made a gelignite bomb for him; instructed him how to use an electric detonator. On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 (morning on which there was another Infamous bombing— by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor) Thomas and an accomplice planted the bomb on a deserted section of the line near Yanderra. Hiding in the bush beside the line, they waited for the pay-car. When the car was over the bomb, Thomas pushed the plunger on the electric detonator. Bomb exploded, completely wrecking the pay-car and Killing the 3 guards riding with it. Two criminals then ran from the bush to gather the 12,000 pounds which they knew was in a safe In the car. Force of the bomb had scattered the money, however, and Thomas was able to find only 2,500 pounds before railway men from Yanderra, attracted by the noise of the explosion, arrived at the scene. With his companion, he made his escape and hurried back to Sydney, to vanish “in smoke” while the police of 3 States hunted him, 24 hours a day. Detectives were completely certain that Thomas had “master-minded” the triple murder and robbery, but they could find no evidence which would enable them to make an arrest.”
While the accuracy of that scenario has never been tested, there is no doubt Thomas was not a nice type.
His career of crime began in Melbourne in 1931 when he and a sister were arrested in raids that recovered stolen goods. Thomas and his sister’s husband were convicted of several house and shop break-ins.
From there his record included: Tried for murder four times; served six years’ jail for housebreaking; served four years for blinding a man in Kings Cross and robbing him; and dishonourably discharged from the Army for robbing a canteen (he joined the Army, ironically as a military police officer, using the alias Fred Stevens).
Police had wanted to question him about other matters as well as the Yanderra pay van attack.
Did he murder Pearl Jackson? Did he intentionally kill the stationmaster (Tom Norwood) at Carnegie railway station (Victoria) during an attempted hold-up in October 1934 when he was known as Thomas Croft?
In 1945, eleven years after the Carnegie shooting, Croft (Thomas) was arrested at Red Cliffs, Victoria, where he was working as a mechanic. He was charged with the murder of Tom Norwood.
Thomas said he took the gun to the railway station to bluff anyone who might come along. It got caught in the wire grill of the ticket office and went off several times. He said did not know that he had shot Norwood until he read it in the papers the next day.
After three trials where juries could not agree on a decision, Croft returned to NSW where he reverted to his original name, Lionel Charles Thomas, and continued his criminal career that led eventually to his arrest in Perth after he was known to have been in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney again.
Whether Thomas was involved in the Yanderra blast remains uncertain.
The Mudgee Mail – an inside job
The robbery of the Mudgee mail train on 8 April 1930 probably set in motion the chain of events that culminated in the killing of George Morris 14 years later.
The robbery was said to be an inside job, the plan allegedly hatched in Sydney by Roy Wilkinson, a 22-year-old railway worker who had been a porter on the Mudgee Mail.
The haul by the thieves when they robbed the train as it passed through the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on the way to Mudgee was put at 17,000 pounds in cash and cheques.
The money included pay for workers on the Mudgee and Coonabarabran railway line.
On April 17 the State Government Gazette advised: “Whereas shortly after 11pm on April 8, 1930, two armed men entered the guard’s van on the Mudgee Mail train which had just left the Emu Plains Railway Station, they bailed up the escorting porter and the guard, deprived the former of his revolver and forced open a steel chest. From the steel chest they stole two boxes and an attaché case containing the sum of 4,702 pounds in cash, and cheques to the value of 13,500 pounds, together with pay sheets and envelopes.”
Wilkinson knew about the fortnightly rail employees pay that was carried on the train.
In later court proceedings where Morris turned “King’s witness”, it was alleged Wilkinson told Joseph Harold Ryan, “a known gangster”, that the train could easily be robbed. Ryan, it was claimed, brought two other criminal associates, Arthur Collins and George Morris, into the plot.
The robbery was planned for the night of Tuesday, 8 April 1930, but Wilkinson was not rostered for escort work on that night. In his place were two other railway guards, Kenneth Allen and Albert Squires.
KENNETH ALLEN ALBERT SQUIRES
The robbers boarded the train at Emu Plains and struck on the first upgrade between Emu Plains and Glenbrook.
Wearing disguises, they bashed and bound the train’s guard, Squires, and took the weapon from the armed guard, Allen. The robbers slid the box across the floor and pushed it out of the door just before the train reached the Glenbrook tunnel. The two men followed it out.
THE GLENBROOK TUNNEL
It was later alleged the two robbers took the haul to a getaway-car driven by George Morris who was waiting a little further down the track. The money was hidden on Morris’s property at Mulgoa, near Penrith at the foot of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
The guard pulled the emergency alarm to stop the train. There was no sign of the robbers and the train continued to Glenbrook station.
Police searched the area for the robbers, only finding two “swaggies” who were camped by the Nepean River. The men were charged on minor offences but were considered not to have played any part in robbing the train.
Police found no trace of the robbers.
Collins found his way back to Sydney where he was later found to have taken part in a jewellery robbery. Ryan and Morris were linked to another train robbery; the Canberra Mail train was the target.
Collins was arrested over the jewellery theft and probably to save his bacon did a deal to inform on the other Mudgee Mail robbery participants, as well as the Canberra Mail robbery. He was given a suspended sentence and went into hiding as he’d already been bashed by three unknown assailants.
Based on the information from Collins, Wilkinson was charged, convicted and jailed for three years over his role in the Mudgee mail robbery, for which it was said he received just 50 pounds.
Morris also was given indemnity after “dobbing” on Ryan. He never faced trial, but Ryan was to figure prominently in subsequent events.
Another inside job?
Just a year after the Mudgee Mail robbery, bags containing 10,000 pounds in notes were taken from a Canberra-bound mail train at Queanbeyan on 1 May 1931.
Four men were charged and much of the money was recovered, some of it turning up as far afield as Bendigo in Victoria.
Officials in Canberra said at the time whoever was responsible for the robbery must have had intimate knowledge of the way in which the notes were periodically sent from Sydney to Canberra.
One of the men charged was Lancelot Verne Lynch, 31, a postal assistant.
Two of the other men charged were Arthur Collins, 30, a motor mechanic, and Joseph Harold Ryan, 31, motor driver.
The charges most probably resulted from evidence of a robber-turned-informer.
Collins and Ryan were charged with having stolen 10,000 pounds, property of the Postmaster General. The charges followed an extensive police surveillance operation based on the belief that someone with “inside knowledge” would have been involved.
The fourth man was James Caffrey, 30, labourer, who was charged with having received 200 pounds in bank notes knowing them to have been stolen. No evidence was given against Caffrey and at the request of the police he was discharged.
Ryan and Collins, along with George Morris already had been linked to the Mudgee Mail robbery.
Outlining the case at the start of the hearing at Central Police Court on 11 June 1931, police said that on 30 April, 10,000 pounds was sent from Sydney by registered mail to Canberra, but on arrival the mail bag that had been substituted for the original contained only telephone directories and paper.
Later, 7,000 pounds of the missing money was recovered from a farm near Penrith, and 200 pounds in five-pound notes was discovered in a deposit box under the name of Collins at the Commonwealth Bank.
A further 100 pounds was retrieved from Ryan’s flat, but Ryan would later deny claims it was part of the haul.
Morris turned up in the Canberra Mail case as a “King’s witness.” He and Percy Edward Jacobs gave evidence implicating Lynch and Ryan.
Jacobs, another postal employee, told the court he had met Lynch about three weeks before the robbery and in turn Lynch had introduced him to Ryan. He said Lynch had talked about “fixing the Canberra bag.”
Jacobs said he had seen mail bags that were to be used in the robbery.
Police alleged Ryan and Lynch went to Queanbeyan to see how the mail was handled at the station. They noted it was left unattended for a short time.
Police said the plan was hatched for Ryan to drive to Queanbeyan with a duplicate bag and swap it for the real bag while the mail was unattended. On April 30, the plan was executed.
By that time Jacobs had gone to Melbourne and police said he was no longer involved in the plot. It was noted Jacobs had been sentenced in Melbourne to 11 months jail on an unrelated matter.
The court heard that Lynch contacted George Morris, part-time postmaster and farmer at Mulgoa Road, near Penrith, to tell him of the plan. Ryan had driven to Morris’s house and given him the bag, allegedly telling him “I have got the money, I want you to smoke it.”
Evidence was that most of the money was buried in a tin about 100 m from the Morris house. Sometime later Morris allegedly took 200 pounds from the tin at Ryan’s request and given it to Collins. Still later, the court was told, Ryan asked Morris to take 2,000 pounds from the tin and give it to a man who would take it Melbourne where it could be exchanged.
Morris told the court he showed police where the tin had been buried.
Morris said he was compelled by Ryan to take part in the robbery; he feared that Ryan would tell people that he (Morris) was a convicted criminal. He was trying to live down his past.
There were some extraordinary twists to come.
Police went to Mascot airport to inspect a two-seater Sopwith plane said to be owned by the accused men. There was no money in the plane but, police said, it was ready to fly and one of the men held a pilot’s licence.
Ryan and Lynch were to face court again in July charged with having stolen the money and an alternative charge of having received stolen money.
Ryan, who had by then been charged over the Mudgee Mail robbery, failed to appear. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
Police said they were searching extensively for Ryan but they did not hold out any definite hope of apprehending him immediately. There was no clue to his whereabouts; all his known “haunts” had been combed and all trains and shipping were being carefully watched.
Lynch pleaded not guilty when he appeared for trial in December.
The police case was that Lynch marked the bags with the notes in them at the GPO so they could be readily identified.
In a statement from the dock Lynch said he was innocent and denied he had been associated with Ryan, Morris or any other persons.
He said the Crown witnesses Jacobs and Morris had tried to “shelf” him to save their own skins.
Lynch denied he arranged to substitute a mail bag. He said he had no conversation with anyone regarding the taking of a mail bag. He said a statement by Jacobs that he had brought along a new mail bag wrapped in brown paper was a fabrication; he had never at any time given anyone a new mail bag, seals, or mail labels.
Lynch said he had never been to Queanbeyan; Picton was the farthest place on the southern line he had visited.
Morris was the chief witness in the case against Lynch, admitting that some of the stolen money had been recovered from his land but said he had not been charged in relation to it or the Mudgee Mail case, despite admitting in cross-examination in another hearing that he had taken part.
Lynch’s trial ran for five days. The jury deliberated for about two hours and their “not guilty” verdict was greeted with applause from the gallery.
With Ryan still missing, the charges against Arthur Collins were heard.
In July, Collins pleaded guilty to having concealed knowledge of the theft of 10,000 pounds, the property of the Commonwealth Bank. It was the first charge of its kind (concealing knowledge of a crime) laid in Australia.
Collins was “bound over” to be of good behaviour for two years. The court heard police were satisfied Collins had nothing to do with the actual robbery; he was apparently sorry for what he had done and intended to make another start in another country. He was advised to do so as soon as possible.
Reports abounded about the whereabouts of Ryan. It was said he was possibly in England, other parts of Europe or even in the United States.
One newspaper report said he had been located in America “where he is said to be doing well.” He had not been seen since 21 July 1931, at the Sydney Quarter Sessions Court.
As it turned out, after four years absence Ryan turned himself in to police on 19 June 1935. He said he had been in England.
The Crown Prosecutor told Judge Curlewis the next day: “This man’s trial was listed for July 1931. He disappeared and visited England and now he has turned and given himself up to the police. I formally ask that he be committed for trial without bail.”
Ryan sought bail but Judge Curlewis said: “I will refuse bail and as far as I am concerned it’s for all time”.
With that, Ryan prepared for trial. But there were to be more sensational turns of events.
First, on Thursday 1 August after a four-day hearing, two charges – of stealing and having received the stolen 10,000 pounds in banknotes from the Canberra Mail – Ryan was acquitted.
Counsel for Ryan described Jacobs and Morris as “unmitigated liars,” his concluding words being: “The rotten house the Crown has built you would not hang a dog on.”
Summing up, Judge Curlewis told the jury that Jacobs and Morris, two of the main Crown witnesses, had been accomplices and it would be dangerous for the jury to convict on such uncorroborated evidence of accomplices, particularly when the pair were “so lost to decency and honour as they were.” He regretted that he had to express himself so strongly.
Though acquitted on those charges, Ryan was remanded in custody; there was still another matter to be dealt with.
The final rounds for Ryan
Ryan’s trial for his alleged role in the Mudgee Mail train robbery began in the Quarter Sessions Court on 8 October 1935.
The indictment read: “That on April 8, 1930, at Emu Plains, Ryan, being armed with a revolver, assaulted Albert Ernest Squires and Kenneth Aubrey Allen, and robbed them of four securities, an automatic pistol, a revolver, and money amounting to 4,703 pounds, 11 shillings and 10 pence.”
Ryan pleaded not guilty.
The Crown prosecutor said that on the night of 8 April two men entered the guard’s van of the Mudgee Mail, held up the guard and his escort, broke open the safe while the train was ascending a steep grade, threw the valuables on to the track, and jumped off.
The Crown alleged that the two men who actually committed the robbery were Ryan and Collins, in association with a third man, Morris (a Crown witness), who met them with his car at the rendezvous where they left the train.
Mr. Curtis, for Ryan, said his case was Morris, not Ryan, was in the guard’s van with Collins on the night of the hold-up.
He said the Crown case rested on evidence of two accomplices, Morris and Collins, whom he described as “crooks.” Out of a desire to save themselves they were more likely to drag in Ryan because of their expectation of favour from the Crown.
In a statement from the dock, Ryan said he was absolutely innocent, that Collins and Morris were lying and trying to put their crime on himself to save themselves. He said he was in Sydney at the time he was supposed to be with them. Around that time he had won “a lot of money” at the races.
Witnesses gave evidence that they had attended a funeral on the afternoon of 8 April with Ryan.
After six days of evidence, the jury determined on 15 October following 12 hours of deliberation that they could not agree on a verdict.
Ryan was remanded in custody for a new trial that began on 28 November 1935.
The new jury inspected the scene of the robbery near Emu Plains. Evidence given by railway and bank officials at Ryan’s first trial was read to the jury.
But one of the key Crown witnesses, Arthur Collins, had disappeared and could not be found.
At the previous trial, Collins sought to be excused from giving evidence on the ground that his answers might incriminate him but eventually had given evidence against Ryan.
The Crown Prosecutor said it was significant that after the Incident Ryan made large deposits in the bank under different names. It was clear, the prosecutor said, that Ryan at that time had come into possession of a considerable sum of money, and his disposition of it was of such a nature as to be consistent with it being stolen money. Ryan, however, said the money was from betting wins and several bookmakers gave evidence of Ryan’s betting activity.
Albert Ernest Squires, a guard from the train, said Ryan was not like the man who had held him up.
This time the jury reached agreement. Ryan was not guilty.
Cleared of the two mail train robberies, that left Ryan to face the charge of murdering George Morris.
In 1944 George Morris, “well known to police”, was murdered while sitting in a car in High Street, Miller’s Point, Sydney.
Reports were that Morris, 44, was lured to Millers Point on the evening of Tuesday 28 March 1944 by a phone call from an unknown person.
High Street Millers Point
A dozen shots were fired at him from close range as he sat in his car. His body was found by a milkman the next morning.
In November 1944, the City Coroner committed Ryan, wharf labourer of Jacques Avenue, Bondi, to stand trial on the murder charge.
The Crown case seemed to depend upon motive; Morris had given evidence against Ryan, and Ryan’s trial was pending at the time.
Ryan said he met Morris in 1929 and had remained friendly with him until 1931 when Morris gave evidence against him.
Most significantly, Ryan had an alibi. He was, he said, at work on Howard Smith’s wharf at the docks at the time Morris was killed.
This was backed up by two dock workers who said Ryan had worked through the night of 28 March from 9 pm. Morris was shot around 9.20 pm, according to residents who heard shots.
The Solicitor-General directed that “no bill” be filed in the case.
A 2,000 pounds reward over the murder of Morris was never claimed. And police never got to find out what Morris knew about the Yanderra case.
That was that Ryan; he wasn’t guilty of anything in a series of crimes to which he had been linked spanning a decade.
No stolen money was recovered. It is believed Ryan died in 1952.
FOOTNOTE 1: Judge Herbert Raine Curlewis, who heard the charges against Ryan over the Canberra Mail robbery died on 13 October, aged 73. He retired in 1939. A tribute said of him: “He was the greatest judge that sat in any jurisdiction. Any person with the semblance of a case could rely on every consideration”. He was married to novelist Ethel Turner. Their son Adrian Curlewis also became a legal practitioner and District Court judge in NSW.
Adrian Curlewis’s Army service saw him rise to the rank of Captain. Captured in Malaya, as a prisoner of war he was put to work by the Japanese on the Thai-Burma Railway.
Among many community service leadership roles after the war, he was the long-time president of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia. He was knighted in 1967. Sir Adrian Curlewis died in 1985.
FOOTNOTE 2: The biggest train robbery in American history was the work of the “Newton Boys,” four Texas brothers who robbed at least 60 banks and six trains during their criminal careers. The biggest heist was on the night of June 12, 1924. Working on a tip from a crooked postal inspector, two of the Newton brothers boarded a mail train on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. They pointed guns at the engineer, and forced the train to stop near Rondout, Illinois. The rest of the gang was waiting in cars.
The robbers threw bottles of noxious formaldehyde into the windows of the passenger cars, leaving the train’s 17 armed mail clerks incapacitated. When the guards surrendered, the robbers fled with mail sacks containing a $US 3 million in cash and bonds. In the confusion of the getaway, one of the robbers shot one of the Newton brothers several times. The robbers were later arrested after they tried to get medical assistance in Chicago