The truth behind The Sydney Shootout

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A hundred years ago, this week in Sydney, a violent siege by a violent bandit with the police ended in a bloody end when an American cowboy used a six-shot to commit an act of "border justice".

But who was this vigilante?

Then the Australian newspapers didn't bother to find out, but now the truth about "Arizona Ryan" can be told for the first time.

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In Surry Hills, June 1, 1919, a 40-year-old Chinese man named Lee Hin decided to take revenge on the world.

Reportedly angry because he had been romantically rejected recently, he armed himself with smoke bombs and two pistols.

At around 7:00 pm, Lee Hin breaks into the Church of Christ on the first floor and the Chinese Mission School on Wentworth Avenue.

He blew up the smoke bombs, causing panic and confusion, and then he started shooting wildly.

Within a minute, Lee Hin had shot and injured nearly a dozen people, with one of his male victims dying later than his injuries.

Lee Hin fled the scene, just as the fire trucks responded to reports of smoke squealing on Wentworth Avenue.

He shot untidy firemen and, pursued by an angry crowd, crossed the narrow streets of Surry Hills before disappearing into List Lane, where he retired to the house he called home.

After a few minutes two brave brave men ventured into this dark alley.

Six blows broke out and both fell with serious gunshot wounds.

By now the police had arrived at the church, learned who had fired and which way it had gone.

Arriving at the scene, they exchanged fire with Lee Hin, with one of the policemen who suffered a minor injury.

Now the killer barricaded himself inside his home when dozens of policemen arrived on the scene.

Over the next 12 hours, Lee Hin fired more than 200 shots while the police riddled his small cottage with bullets.

Incredibly, the assassin was not injured – or is about to surrender.

Attempts to dislodge it with poison gas and glowing sacks failed.

When two firemen tried to flood him, Lee Hin injected bullets at them.

The assassin had shot 17 people.

During the night, thousands of spectators poured into Surry Hills, like The sun the newspaper put it, "to see the fun".

At around 09:30, the senior police were turning to their next move when a man approached them.

He was middle-aged, about 178 cm, robust, with brown eyes and brown hair – and wore a broad-cut cowboy-style hat.

"I am a great gunslinger", this man had an American accent. "Give me a normal gun, and I'll do this job. I already did it in Texas."

The cops told the American that his services were not necessary.

They told him that a lot of policemen had already volunteered to hurry Lee Hin, but it made no sense to sacrifice lives to stop a killer who was not going anywhere.

Sooner or later, Lee Hin would have been without ammunition or food or need to sleep.

A few minutes later, as the fire brigade renewed their attempt to wash the assassin from his citadel, they lost control of their high-pressure hose and people scattered as he circled the water.

Using this as a distraction, the American with the cowboy hat slipped through the gate into Lee Hin's yard and crouched under one of the windows.

"You see!" He called the police shocked. "I'm here. Give a gun."

The American was lucky not to have already shot him.

But if he had tried to move from that point, or if Lee Hin had shot at the window against him, that nonsense would have died as dead.

He had to be able to protect himself.

The senior police inspector ordered one of his sergeants to throw an American revolver.

What the police saw later surprised them, even if they saw what the American had already said, they probably shouldn't have.

He coolly checked that the gun was loaded, armed the weapon, and peered inside the house.

Then he jumped onto the windowsill and disappeared inside.

Inside the dark room, the American did not see anyone.

Holding the revolver close to his body, he entered the next room, which was also empty.

Hearing the police enter the house behind him, he made a sign to keep quiet as he advanced into the kitchen.

It was then that he saw, a few meters away, in a dark corner, an arm and a revolver behind a piece of plywood resting on the floor.

Lee Hin jumped up from behind this fragile barrier and fired while the American fell on one knee, with two bullets flying innocently over his head.

He returned fire, hitting the Chinese man in the neck and then in the shoulder.

Lee Hin went down with a scream.

Then the American fired four more times.

Behind him came two policemen, expecting to see the cowboy dead, but, in the words of the American, "the show was over".

Coming out of the building, in the voice that was already spreading, the American received a huge ovation from the crowd.

In five minutes, this man had done what half the police in Sydney hadn't done in 15 hours.

But the flattery was just beginning.

The American name was Albert Herbert Ryan, and before Lee Hin's body started to cool down, this cowboy was giving colorful interviews to all the journalists he asked.

"Ryan is a typical Western American", the Sydney Morning Herald he told his readers "His paper is characteristic of the great man with the square jaw and recites, & # 39; Albert H. Ryan, everywhere, everywhere & # 39 ;."

Ryan came from Indianapolis, in the Indiana, and had learned naval engineering with the American navy while serving in the Spanish-American war.

Since then, he had traveled the world, entering adventures.

Although he no longer mentioned Texas in interviews, he said he spent a lot of time in Arizona and worked as a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles.

"I felt I wasn't dressed elegantly if I didn't have a gun with me, just as if I didn't have a collar," he said.

Ryan had arrived in Sydney from California just six months before the shootings, after arriving in Australia on board the schooner Carmen.

So how was he on the siege scene that morning?

Well, it wasn't an accident. No sir.

Ryan had woken up that morning and read newspaper reports of a furious battle at Surry Hills.

"I went there this morning in search of excitement, and asked the police for a real gun to give him a chance," he said.

He told how he got into the house and fought with Lee Hin.

"Then I immediately jumped in close," he said, "and he pumped the rest of the gun into this head to save a trial and expenses."

The newspapers quickly nicknamed him "Arizona Ryan", and numerous journalists commented that he looked like a cowboy in a Hollywood movie.

In a case of life that mimics the art, the next evening, Ryan, dressed in his "cowboy clothes", had an exclusive commitment with three cinemas in Newcastle to tell footage of newsreels of the siege .

Not only was Ryan making some money with this aspect, the police proposed to get a £ 50 reward for killing Lee Hin.

To celebrate the murder, there was still a need for an investigation into Lee Hin and his death, and this was held on 12 June in Sydney's City Coroner & # 39; s Court .

The coroner learned only a little of the dead.

His brother-in-law spoke through a translator to say that the deceased was married, his wife and two daughters lived in China and, although he had been of temperate habits, at times he seemed "a little silly in his head".

The star of the show was Ryan, who had managed to tell his story again, entertaining the court with his train, his colorful expressions and his elaborate accounts of his previous adventures.

"It was like that," he said. "When I got up on June 2nd, I read that there was a war near Haymarket. So I went down. I wanted to get as close as possible to the front line trenches."

The coroner asked, "Are you a good gunslinger?"

Ryan replied: "They are a fair shot. I was a deputy sheriff. I was in the American navy in the Spanish-American war, in the Nicaraguan revolution, and in 1913 I was confused with the Mexican revolution."

He said he asked for a gun, said no, took his chance, entered the house on List Lane and avoided shooting because he made his "quick jump" on the floor.

"He fired two shots and had a good chance of killing me because I had to kill him," Ryan said. "He was man to man, and I emptied my gun against him."

The coroner asked, "The Chinese was dead when he was taken out, wasn't he?"

"Of course," said Ryan. "I made one certainty. He was probably dead after the first two shots, but I fired a little more to be sure of him."

Rather than commenting on this seemed like a cold-blooded murder, the coroner instead told Ryan that he was a brave man.

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Using a racial epithet, Ryan said his only intention was to help the police keep the Chinese assassin alive.

But if so, why had he emptied the gun against Lee Hin?

It was a question that the coroner had no question.

Instead, he concluded that Ryan had killed Lee Hin in self-defense while voluntarily assisting the police in performing his duty.

Reporters, police, coroner, newsreel people, television series owners and the general public – everyone loved the Arizona Ryan.

No one was about to send a telegram to California, Arizona or Texas to confirm the stories he had told.

But a century later, in the era of digitized newspapers and genealogical databases, it is possible to have a much clearer picture of this vigilante.

Ryan was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, November 20, 1876.

By the mid-1890s his family had moved to Los Angeles, and it was then that Ryan's experience with the police and guns began.

But he was on mistaken side of the law.

As a troublesome and unnaturally happy teenager, in 1896 he found himself facing the court for threatening a Chinese shopkeeper with a revolver.

His far-fetched story was believed to be the Chinese's fault, and Ryan was allowed to go free and keep the gun permit.

But he had another a couple of weeks later he met the policemen with the revolver when he was caught practicing shooting in his neighborhood.

This time he lost his permission.

In February 1897, Ryan joined the US Navy and a year later, as he told the Sydney newspapers, he served in the Spanish-American war.

In November 1901, after being released from the navy, Ryan was arrested for assault during a violent left protest.

Again, he beat the charges.

His next fight with the law was in San Diego in 1905, when he was arrested for biting a part of a man's ear during a street fight.

He went to court twice and again beat rap.

It was even better, because if Ryan had behind bars on July 21, 1905, many men could have lost their lives.

At 10.30am that morning in the port of San Diego, a boiler exploded on the USS gunboat Bennington, blowing up men and machinery and opening the hull towards the sea.

Sixty-six men were killed in the instant or died soon after their injuries.

Ryan was rowing on the harbor when the disaster happened and he heroically saved some of the survivors by taking them to his boat.

In 1909, Ryan was a deputy policeman in Los Angeles.

It was a part-time job he held for a few years – he never worked in Arizona or Texas – and his career in the law enforcement industry was not at all stellar.

Ryan's job was a foreman for a roadworks company, and in December 1909 he pulled a gun on one of his men and hit him in the head with the gun.

He pleaded guilty to disturbing peace and was fined $ 5.

In September 1910, Ryan was arrested for disturbing the peace while trying to arrest a man with whom he was discussing a personal topic.

This time he pleaded guilty and was fined $ 10.

Between these two not particularly brilliant examples of his police career, Ryan did, just as he had told the Sydney newspapers, be involved in the Nicaraguan revolution, apparently like a spy.

From February 1911 to May 1913, he spent much time in Mexico, which also corresponded to his claim that he was "confused" in the Mexican revolution.

Back in the United States in 1913, Ryan met and married Sophia Rosenfeld, a wealthy widow who owned a hotel in San Pedro.

The Ryans have been reported as a happily married couple who have been fond of making road trips in their expensive Franklin touring car.

But in the August of 1915 they almost died in this vehicle.

Ryan was driving in Portland, Oregon, when he drove down a long hill and straight on the path of a freight train roaring toward a railroad crossing.

The circumstances were bizarre.

Somehow they got stuck on the tracks but was able to launch Sophia and himself before the car was destroyed.

If this hadn't been an accident, if this had been a failed attempt at something more sinister, then Sophia didn't seem to suspect why she and Ryan were again going around the streets all over California.

One night, in March 1916, returning home and hearing noise on the sidewalk outside their hotel, Ryan grabbed his trusty revolver and chased two thieves, firing and injuring one of these unarmed men.

Hero or not, in October 1916, Ryan's marriage with Sophia was over.

He moved out of the hotel and sought a divorce for cruelty.

Ryan left the tracks and was soon in court for assaulting two men.

He obtained a conditional suspension of 180 days.

Then, on January 8th 1917, he entered Sophia's hotel and asked his separated wife for a kiss.

When she refused, she took out an automatic pistol.

"Goodbye, Sophia," he said.

Ryan sat down in a chair and shot himself in the chest.

The police arrived and took him to the hospital, where his injury was not found to be life threatening.

But downloading a weapon within the city limits was a crime and this automatically triggered his 180-day sentence.

After 20 years of clashes with the police, Ryan was finally doing some jail time.

After his release, he went north to San Francisco and worked on boats.

At the end of 1918, he joined the schooner Carmen, who was carrying a full load of lumber to Sydney.

He arrived at Christmas 1918, met and married an Irish girl named Ethel and in the winter of 1919 was known throughout Australia as "Arizona Ryan" for killing the Chinese assassin Lee Hin.

The newspapers knew nothing of his past with a little chess.

But Ryan's happy nature will soon cover again.

After filming Lee Hin, the newly-famous cowboy received a job as a guardian on the Sydney docks, which were in a state of agitation due to an ongoing sea strike.

On July 7, at lunch time, Ryan had a discussion with two sailors who were trying to get ashore from their ship.

True to form, Ryan pulled out the revolver and shot one of the men.

A policeman came on the scene and asked him what had happened: "I shot that bastard there," Ryan said. "If he comes near me again, I'll shoot him again."

Miraculously, the sailor survived unharmed because the bullet had been inserted into a payroll in his shirt pocket.

But Ryan has been charged.

An inquiry felt that he was "drunk or crazy" when he chose the fight and threw his gun.

Ryan was postponed to a shooting trial with intent to do physical damage.

He was given a bail of £ 60, which he paid with £ 10 in his pocket and a £ 50 reward he had just received for killing Lee Hin.

But when Ryan was tried, the sea strike was over, and all the witnesses were by sea.

The judge had no alternative but to release it.

On September 10, 1919, Ryan and his wife sailed to America.

Before he left, he had a last thing to say to the press: "You'll hear more about me, don't worry".

But Australia does not.

Despite all the problems he had seen, stopped and caused, Ryan continued to live a quiet life at his home in California, father of 13 children with Ethel before he died in March 1947.

• For the rest of Ryan's story and for the true stories never heard in the history of Australia, take a look at the podcast Australia forgotten

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