Olympic Bio of the Day – Murray Riley

B. 5 October 1925

Year Sport Event Finish Medal
1952 ROW Double Sculls 3 h1 r4/5 (w John Rogers)
1956 ROW Double Sculls 3 (w Merv Wood) Bronze

Many of our Olympian bios tell stories of great heroics and often great careers after the Olympics. Here’s one that didn’t turn out so well.

See also http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/ri/murray-riley-1.html.


Murray Riley partnered Merv Wood to a bronze medal in the 1956 double sculls, after the pair had won gold medals in the doubles at the 1950 and 1954 Commonwealth Games. At the time the two were both police officers, but their careers would take decidedly different courses. Wood eventually became New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner in 1976, but stepped down in 1979, partly because of his association with Riley who had by then turned to a life of crime.

Riley joined the NSW police force in 1943, when only 17 years old, and he eventually rose to detective-sergeant, 3rd class. Major drug investigations in the 1960s found that Riley was associated with managers of several illegal gambling casinos in Sydney and Wollongong and it led to his involvement in drugs. In 1966 he was jailed for a year in New Zealand on charges of attempting to bribe a police inspector, after he was found to be involved in drug importation and cashing stolen American Express checks. After his release he linked up with well-known Australian crime figure Wally Dean and the two became supervisors for the Sydney League Clubs, and began scamming the clubs, extorting their services at very high fees in return for protection.

Riley disappeared for a few years but emerged in September 1974, helping Dean in an unsuccessful attempt to get elected to the South Sydney City Council. In October 1984, Riley came into the employ of Lennie McPherson, noted drug dealer, looking after collections from various gambling clubs and bookmakers, and providing protection for them.

Riley was also involved in the Nugan Hand Bank Scandal, which was a complex arrangement fronted by the United States CIA, and former US Green Beret Michael Hand, as a front to help catch drug dealers and exporters. It was found that in April 1976, Nugan Hand made cash transfers to Riley in Hong Kong, totaling about $1.2 million. Riley used the cash to take delivery of heroin shipments. The Australian Joint Task Force on Drugs, concluded, “Throughout 1976 Hand was knowingly involved in drug activity with the ‘Riley’ group in that he permitted and even encouraged the use of Nugan Hand facilities for the movement of drug money.”

Riley was finally caught in June 1978, when he was arrested after 4.3 tons of cannabis was found onboard the yacht Anoa at Polkington Reef, east of Papua New Guinea. Riley pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Judge Kenneth Torrington to 5-10 years in jail.

In January 2008, historian Dr. John Jiggens of the Queensland University of Technology, deepened the crime connection of Riley with the publication of his book ___The Sydney Connection: Nugan Hand, Murray Riley, and the Murder of Donald Mackay___. Mackay was a furniture store owner in the NSW town of Griffith, who in 1975, tipped off police about a large marijuana plantation at Coleambally, south of Griffith. Mackay was murdered outside the Hotel Griffith on 15 July 1977, as his bloodstained car and spent .22 cartridges were found in the hotel carpark the next day, although his body was never recovered. Jiggens notes in the book that Nugan and Riley were key figures in an international drug-smuggling group supplying the United States market in the 1970s.

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