He was a flamboyant businessman who made millions off oil right here in the tri-state. Ray Ryan was a millionaire who ran with the stars in Hollywood and high rollers in Sin City. Ryan loved to gamble but eventually got caught up in the game and some believe the mob targeted the multi-millionaire.
The old saying goes, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you, your future.” Ryan was a man with many friends, some in high places but the Evansville oillionaire couldn’t be protected. The multi-millionaire had an affection for big game hunting and gambling but in the end Ryan would be the one to be hunted down. More than 42 years have passed since the oilman was murdered in Evansville. Ryan’s death is a case that remains unsolved but many say the murder was a mob hit.
Oil is what brought Ray Ryan to Evansville in the 1930’s. His family lived an affluent life, their home a sprawling mansion off Lombard Avenue on the city’s east side. Ryan was a businessman but he also had a hand for gambling, “He was the big high stakes gambler that everybody knew in Vegas,” said Vanderburgh County Historian Stan Schmitt.
Hollywood stars and signers were among Ryan’s good friends but he was also known to do business with another group of people, “He was also tied in various instances to people in the mob,” said Schmitt.
In the 1960’s well after Ryan had made his money in oil, he started investing as a developer. Ryan was a part owner of the famed Mt. Kenya Safari Club, he also purchased Palm Springs Hotel in California. Ryan’s business dealings got him caught up with the IRS but that may have been the least of his worries. Gambling brought characters into Ryan’s life no one wouldn’t want to make enemies with, “There was an attempt to kidnap him to extort money from him which other people said he owed gambling money and they were trying to collect, Jimmy the Greek his name came up in this,” said Schmitt.
Sin City, 1963 — Ryan evaded being kidnapped by a handful of people with ties to the mob. Years later he would testify against those defendants in Federal Court, “They were lower down on the list but they were involved with like the Genovese family and some of the bigger names you would have heard from New York, these people were involved in those families.”
Ryan’s testimony against members of those families is what many believe led to his demise.
October 18th, 1977 — An explosion on the east side of Evansville outside a health spa sent shock waves though the community, “The first thought everyone had was that it was a mob hit,” said Schmitt who was living in Bloomington at the time. Schmitt recalls the news made regional and national headlines, “Cars don’t blow up in Evansville.”
Ryan was leaving Olympia Health Spa on Bellemeade Avenue, the multi-millionaire got into his car not knowing it was rigged with a bomb, “As he backed out it exploded and his car, part of it ended up all over the place in the neighborhood there,” said Schmitt.
The Lincoln continental was but a shell, parts of the car found more than 300 feet from the bombing. Evansville Police requested the assistance of ATF and the FBI even investigated but did the mob really take out Ray Ryan? It’s a question that still peaks interest some four decades later, “People came up with possible reasons, possible people who would have been behind getting rid of Ray Ryan but nothing was ever proven and nothing was ever prosecuted.”
If you’re interested in Ryan’s murder — “Mob Murder of America’s Greatest Gambler” is a book the lead detective on the case, late EPD Officer Steve Bagbey wrote a book combining his notes with a local reporter. Also — Maturity Journal contributor, Peggy Newton is doing a multi-part series on the Ryan murder. You can find the monthly magazine at a handful of local businesses or groceries in and around Evansville.