22.  Ernest Alexander “Shiner” Ryan (c1886-1957), robber and folk hero


“Shiner” Ryan was born in Adelaide and, by the time he was 15, had been flogged for larceny. His inventive mind soon made him Sydney’s top planner of “jobs”. In 1914 he and an accomplice became the first Australian criminals to use a motor vehicle to pull off a payroll hold-up. 

Next he became an expert at picking locks; it was said his brains were in his fingertips. However, he paid dearly for his crimes, spending much of his life in Fremantle Prison where he repaired watches and toys, kept the prison clock running, and made counterfeit florins which were passed by a senior prison officer. 

During World War II he “went straight”. His generous help for out-of-luck residents made him a Fremantle folk hero. He was a media sensation when he married Kate Leigh, Sydney’s “Queen of the Underworld”, in St John’s Church, Fremantle in 1950. The marriage was short-lived. Shiner spent his last years living at one of the many racing stables among the sand dunes of South Fremantle while he made battery whips for trainers in order to pay his rent.