Forty years on from ‘Nowra’s day of terror’

Forty years ago, Nowra was the centre of the biggest manhunt ever mounted for a wanted man in the history of the Shoalhaven. 

In September 1977 the Shoalhaven and Nowra News reported Australia’s most wanted criminal was Edward James “Jockey” Smith. 

The following events were reported on Wednesday, September 21, 1977 as ‘Nowra’s day of terror.’ 

Under the cover of early morning darkness, scores of detectives from Sydney made their way to North Nowra, heavily armed with Armalite rifles, shotguns and sidearms. 

Police went up the Shoalhaven River to Humbug Reach, searching for Smith who was in hiding. 

But Smith, whose suspicions had been aroused that day by other incidents, was fully clothed, armed and in his car. 

Smith, 34, was arrested the day after in a violent struggle in a telephone box in Meroo Street, Bomaderry. 

Police said Smith was armed with two loaded pistols and rammed one of them, a .38 calibre into a policeman’s stomach. 

Altogether there was about 75 police involved in the hunt for Smith. 

Heavily armed Sydney detectives march into the North Nowra area after Smith had eluded police in the early morning raid. Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

Heavily armed Sydney detectives march into the North Nowra area after Smith had eluded police in the early morning raid. Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

The officer-in-charge of Nowra Police Station, Sergeant Fred Waldron, featured prominently in the search operation which was under the control of Inspector Beres. Siddins of Nowra. 

The search for Smith was planned for some days. Sydney police had received information that Smith was with a woman and her 16-year-old daughter in an isolated farmhouse in McMahon’s Road, North Nowra. 

Police wanted Smith for failing to answer bail of $10,000 on Sunday, October 1974, when on a charge of conspiracy to commit and armed robbery. 

He was arrested in Melbourne on December 2, 1974 but on December 10 walked out of Pentridge Jail using a visitor pass. 

He was known as the master of disguises. 

BANK HOLD UP 

Police wanted to question him in early September 1977 about a $180,000 bank robbery in Sydney as well as a number of other matters. 

The robbery was the largest bank hold up in Australia’s history. 

In the early hours of September 14, 1977, police staked out the farmhouse in McMahon’s Road. 

They were ready to rush the house about 4am but a dog on a neighbouring farm began barking and alerted Smith’s two dogs. 

At high speed Smith drove down the dirt track from the farmhouse towards police about 500 yards away. 

He came to a halt about 300 yards from the police, reversed, and in a cloud of dust, drove back towards the farmhouse, hotly chased by police. 

Smith abandoned his late model Holden Kingswood and took to the bush on foot. 

Police arrested the woman occupant of the house and she was later charged in court. 

Police recovered a large number of guns, including sawn off shot guns and pistols at Smith's hideaway. They also found detonators, oxy-acetalene equipment and safe-breaking equipment. Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

Police recovered a large number of guns, including sawn off shot guns and pistols at Smith's hideaway. They also found detonators, oxy-acetalene equipment and safe-breaking equipment. Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

DOG SHOT 

Police shot of of Smith’s dogs which had tried to savage them. While some police checked the farm house and took possession of an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, explosives, and a police radio, the others with reinforcements from Nowra police station, set up road blocks and patrols along roadways and on the river. 

The search spread from the North Nowra area when it was believed likely Smith had eluded the police cordon. 

RODE BIKE 

Throughout the day the search veered back and forth along McMahon’s Road area and finally ended in Bomaderry late in the afternoon when Smith tried his last bid for freedom on a stolen bicycle. 

He had been tracked to Bomaderry shopping area after a suspicious woman driver reported a man has offered to pay her for a lift into town. 

During the day, radio stations broadcast news of the hunt and warnings to local residents that Smith was armed and not to approach him. 

Women were advised to stay at home behind locked doors with their children. 

Shoalhaven Shire Electricity Department workmen connect power to the command headquarters van on the site at North Nowra. From left are Matt Morrison, Vig Egan and Ray Thompson. Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

Shoalhaven Shire Electricity Department workmen connect power to the command headquarters van on the site at North Nowra. From left are Matt Morrison, Vig Egan and Ray Thompson. Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

Love for Nowra cost freedom 

Edward James “Jockey” Smith was apprehended after almost three years on the run because he “fell in love with Nowra”. 

“It’s the rock I have perished,” detectives said he told them after his arrest. 

Smith, or Tommy Cummings as he was known locally, lived on Bunkers Hill Road property in Kangaroo Valley for three months before renting his latest secluded hideaway in McMahons Road. 

Kangaroo Valley residents rarely, if ever, saw him as his woman companion Valerie Hill and her 16-year-old daughter did the shopping, collected the mail and carried out any of the day-to-day business contact in the Valley. 

Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

Photo: Shoalhaven and Nowra News.

LEFT QUIETLY

The trio left as quietly and as suddenly as they had arrived. Smith was careful to cover his tracks and when he first made contact with the Nowra horse racing scene local people thought he and his “family” had come from Bowral. 

Negotiations to rent the secluded bungalow in the bush setting at the end of McMahons Road were again carried out by Valerie Hill. 

The home was rented on March 25 from local estate agent Terry Watson who described Smith as a “first class tenant.” 

The weekly rental was $50. 

Smith is believed to have been reluctant to let phone technicians into the bungalow when the owner had the phone connected. 

But when he found out it had been ordered by the owner in Sydney, he let them in. 

Although Smith maintained a low profile, except for his unabashed interest in horse racing, he is believed to have been a member of at least one local licensed club.

Tommy Cummings was well-known to the Nowra racing fraternity and had a horse trained at Cambewarra. 

However, horse racing remained as his only contact with the Nowra populace and apart from those people involved in the sport, few Nowra residents would have probably ever seen Smith. 

Information courtesy of the Shoalhaven Historical Society.