Episode Three of TOUGH NUTS 2: AUSTRALIA’S HARDEST CRIMINALS, premieres on Thursday, August 25 at 7.30pm AEST and profiles brutal killer, armed robber, prison escapologist and prison reform campaigner, RAY DENNING.
Ray Denning was a man who spent his whole life running – running from the law and running from his own tortured life.
A serial escapologist, armed robber, heart-breaker and killer, Denning would spend a large portion of his life institutionalised, with few moments of freedom that were often filled with the brutal fury of armed robbery. His claim to fame in the criminal fraternity would come not just come from his crimes however, but from his Houdini-like nature to escape prisons, making him one of Australia’s most wanted criminals.
Born in the steel town of Port Kembla, south of Sydney, on April 8, 1951, Denning was the son of Jack ‘The Hat’ Denning, a thief who, for most of Denning’s childhood, was in and out of prison.
In 1961 at the age of ten, Denning witnessed his first death, that of his mother, who after years of domestic abuse committed suicide in their family home by setting herself on fire. This was to prove a catastrophic moment in Denning’s life as he went on to spend his teenage years in and out of reformatory schools and on the streets, eventually drifting in to a life of crime in the 1970s and 80s.
By the age of 18, Denning had graduated to the brutal world of armed robbery.
Caught by police and sentenced to 13 years in prison, Denning tried to escape from Parramatta Jail. During the escape attempt, Denning bashed a prison guard almost to death with a claw hammer.
Sent on to Grafton Jail, one of the toughest prisons in Australia, Denning became the only man in history to escape from its walls. After his escape, he fled to Sydney where he became an unlikely crusader and poster boy for prison rights.
Denning was a serial escapologist, who broke out of Maitland and Goulburn Prisons, and spent over two decades in prison or on the run, before stunning police and criminals alike when he became a police informer.
After he was caught planning a robbery in Melbourne while on the run again, he stunned the prison fraternity by turning police informer. He dobbed on his old partner Russell “Mad Dog” Cox and later turned on every criminal he had ever had dealings with.
Denning was finally released from prison in 1993. He only lasted a few weeks on the outside, dying from a heroin overdose that some close to Denning believe was actually murder.
Presented by bestselling crime author Tara Moss, TOUGH NUTS 2 combines compelling interviews with psychologists, police detectives, investigative journalists and associates of the criminals profiled – and brings the characters to life in cinematic-style dramatised scenes.
Each episode delves deeply in to the psyche of these terrifying crims, offering a revealing and often shocking insight in the lives of some of this country’s most vicious underworld identities.
The 8 x 1 hour episodes profile the following criminals: Nikolai Radev, Stan Smith, Ray Denning, Tilly Devine, Jockey Smith, Stewart John Regan, Dino Dibra and George Freeman.
TOUGH NUTS 2 is produced by Bryan Cockerill at The Full Box and is exclusive to Crime & Investigation Network.