Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, April 8 1930, what has been described as the most daring robbery in the history of Australia took place.
The heist was conceived by Roy Wilkinson, a 24 year old railway porter. Wilkinson had been serving as escort on the mail train from Sydney to Mudgee, which carried the fortnightly pay roll for country rail workers. He put the idea to Joseph Ryan, a known criminal. Ryan roped in two other shady characters, Arthur Collins and George Morris,
As it turned out, Wilkinson was not rostered to be an escort on April 8 after all. He still expected a cut, but in his place were two innocent railway guards, Kenneth Allen and Alfred Ernest Squires.
When the train stopped at Emu Plains, Ryan and Collins boarded from the opposite side to the platform. They entered the guards van and held up the guards at gun-point. Squires dared to make a move and was struck on the jaw. Allen was disarmed and the two men were bound and gagged. The bandits then wrenched open the bullion chest, containing £18,000 in cheques and banknotes.
Detectives later set up a re-enactment based on statements from Allen and Squires. The following photos were taken by the Fairfax Press.
Meanwhile, George Morris was waiting ahead in his car beside the line, and flashed a light when the train approached. On his signal, three cash boxes were thrown from the guards van as it slowed on the steep climb just before Glenbrook tunnel.
Ryan and Collins then dropped to ground themselves. The loot was taken to a nearby farm at Jamisontown, owned by Morris.
The two guards, Allen and Squires, were not implicated in the robbery. However, they were judged guilty of neglect of duty by their superiors and summarily dismissed. The tabloid Truth newspaper ran a feature on Squires and his family, which may have helped in having both men reinstated.
WHY STOP AT ONE ROBBERY?
While police were still trying to solve the case, Arthur Collins was involved in a jewelry heist in Sydney. Joe Ryan and George Morris kept themselves busy with another railway robbery in Canberra. When Collins was charged with the jewelry theft, he did a deal with police. He informed on Ryan in relation to both train robberies and received a suspended sentence. He did pay a heavy price, though. Twenty five stitches were inserted in his head after he was brutally beaten by three men. Criminals do not take kindly to those they label ‘dogs’. Collins received a suspended sentence for the jewel theft and was ordered to leave New South Wales immediately.
Roy Wilkinson, who had provided the ‘inside oil’ for the job, was sentenced to three years gaol as an accessory after the fact. There was a further charge of failing to disclose knowledge of a crime. It was a poor return on the £50 he received as his cut.
Joe Ryan skipped bail over the Canberra train robbery and disappeared overseas for several years. When he eventually gave himself up the jury were unable to reach a verdict. In a second trial he was found not guilty. On December 2, 1935 he was also found not guilty over the Mudgee rail robbery. The ‘unreliable evidence’ of those who informed against him was a major factor in his acquittal.
Like Collins, the get-away driver George Morris did not face trial over the Mudgee train robbery. He too was given indemnity after implicating Joe Ryan. But eventually his criminal life caught up with him. On March 29 1944, Morris died in a volley of bullets while sitting in his car in Argyle Street, Millers Point. He had unwisely kept a mysterious appointment after returning from an evening out at the Capital Theatre. It was believed there were two assassins. Six bullets were fired into his head, and six into his body.
The first person police suspected in Morris’ violent death was our old friend Joe Ryan. In early November he was arrested and committed for trial. And then, on November 24;
MURDER CHARGE WITHDRAWN AFTER ROBBERY DRIVER MURDERED
SYDNEY, Thurs: The Solicitor- General has directed that no bill be filed against Joseph Harold Ryan, who was committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court on a charge of having murdered George Arthur Morris, 43, engineer. Morris’ body, in which were 12 bullet wounds, was found in his car at Millers point on March 29.
And what was the reason for the ‘No-Bill’? Well, it turns out that Ryan was working on the waterfront at the time. And surprise, surprise….a workmate provided a watertight alibi for the night of the murder. No-one else was ever arrested over Morris’s death.
AND ON THAT RATHER MURKY NOTE I THINK WE SHOULD LEAVE THE MUDGEE MAIL TRAIN ROBBERY. IT IS A LITTLE KNOWN PART OF BLUE MOUNTAINS HISTORY, BUT I ALWAYS REMEMBER THE DARING HEIST AS MY TRAIN HOME TO BLACKHEATH APPROACHES GLENBROOK.
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