Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kevin John Simmonds (1935–1966)

by Anne Gollan

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Kevin John Simmonds (1935-1966), gaol escapee, was born on 22 August 1935 in Sydney, son of Australian-born parents John Simmonds, labourer, and his 16-year-old wife Sheila Mary, née Finn. After years of travelling the State looking for work, Jack settled with the family at Griffith in 1941. He used his horse and cart to carry produce from the surrounding farms to the railway station. Kevin attended Griffith Public School, where he was nicknamed 'Simmo'.

At the age of 14 Simmonds was sent to Boys' Town, Engadine, for stealing. While there, he learned many dishonest tricks. At 18 he was sentenced to two years at Mount Penang Training School, Gosford, for stealing, and breaking and entering. Boyish looking, with a courteous manner and a passion for fitness and fast cars, he quit home soon after his twenty-first birthday and left a trail of safe-crackings, robberies and car thefts through two States. In May 1957 he was sentenced in Sydney to three years imprisonment. He was released in February 1959, but was in court again in the following August, answering three charges of armed robbery, seventeen of breaking and entering, and thirty-five of car stealing. He was sentenced to fifteen years in Long Bay gaol.

On 9 October 1959 Simmonds escaped with a fellow inmate, Leslie Alan Newcombe, from the inner section of the gaol, a feat few had performed. Next day they killed a warder at Emu Plains Prison Farm and took his gun. After two weeks hiding in Sydney, Newcombe was recaptured. The chase for Simmo became frenzied, involving nearly 500 policemen, armed with guns, bulletproof vests and fast cars. They also had an aeroplane and a helicopter on call.

Two men found Simmonds in Kuring-gai Chase on 5 November. He was digging a hole in which to hide a caravan that he planned to steal and use as a home. Apologizing for tying them up, he drove off in their utility truck. Twelve hours later he crashed through a road block near Wyong. Barefoot, and wearing only shorts and singlet, he was pursued through rugged, leech- and snake-infested country by shifts of police. Tracker dogs were flown in, but continual rain washed away the scent.

Simmonds's ability to keep at bay hundreds of police earned him some public sympathy. The police were lampooned for failing to apprehend him. He spent more than five weeks on the run. Detective Sergeant Ray Kelly, with seven carloads of police and tracker dogs, finally captured him at Mulbring early on 15 November. Townsfolk applauded him at Kurri Kurri police station and crowds greeted him at the Central Criminal Court, Sydney, where he was charged with murder.

In March 1960 a jury found Simmonds and Newcombe guilty of manslaughter. Justice J. H. McClemens plainly disagreed with the verdict, and sentenced them to penal servitude for life. Two months later Simmonds's appeal against the severity of his sentence was rejected by the Full Court. The six years Simmo spent in the section for 'intractables' at Grafton gaol reduced him to a shuffling, vacant-eyed mumbler who burned his arms with cigarettes. He was found hanged in his cell on the morning of 4 November 1966 and was buried with Catholic rites in South Grafton cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Newcombe, Inside Out (Syd, 1979)
  • J. Simmonds with A. Gollan, For Simmo (Syd, 1980)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May 1957, 10 Oct-17 Nov 1959, 16, 19 Mar, 18 May 1960, 5 Nov 1966.

Citation details

Anne Gollan, 'Simmonds, Kevin John (1935–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 August, 1935
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


4 November, 1966 (aged 31)
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.