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A SIMPLE obituary message sent a ripple of excitement through the speedway world.

It read: “It is regret that I have to inform you of the death of Ron Johnson, pioneer of British speedway and ex-New Cross team member.”

Then came a line that was to lead to an international investigation which eventually involved a judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia.  It said: "Ron passed away peacefully at his home in Bangor, North Wales, on Sunday, January 15th 2006 aged 94 years."

Yet it had been well chronicled in various speedway publications that Ron Johnson, then confined to a wheelchair, had died at his home in Perth, West Australia, aged 75 years on February 4, 1983. And there was further evidence that he had been buried in Karrakatta cemetery on the outskirts of Perth.  However, there were puzzling parallels between the ‘Ron Johnsons.’ Both had been married to a woman named Ruby!

The known speedway Ron Johnson’s short-lived marriage was in 1949. The second Ron Johnson left a widow, who he had married in 1963.

Mike Russell, a family friend of the newly-emergent Ron Johnson, said that he had know him for about 18 months. He said, “Ron told me that he had been born in Australia and that his father’s name was Charles. He had raced for New Cross. In that time, a report circulated that he had been killed. The shock was enough to bring on the premature death of both his parents, although before they died they did find out the report was wrong.

“Ron never talked about his speedway career and would talk down references to it. He also claimed that besides being a speedway rider, he had been a stunt motorcycle rider in a ‘Globe of Death’ act.”

Johnson also told Mike Russell that he had been a double for Dirk Bogarde in the speedway film “Once A Jolly Swagman” and to have served in submarines during World War Two.”

He also told Russell that at one time he had been a start marshal at the motor racing circuit at Silverstone and been awarded a plaque for his work there. But Mike Russell added, “I never saw this nor any mementos of his speedway days.”

Johnson’s step-daughter Hazel Evans said Johnson was born in Coss Cove, Australia. His mother was an opera singer while his father had been an engineer.  An extensive investigation in West Australia involving the Supreme Court judge and speedway historian Geoffrey Miller, Kwinana Beach track promoter Con Migro and historian Ken Brown convinced me that the man who died in Wales was not the speedway rider.

I have also studied photos of the second Ron Johnson which were taken in 1963. He bears no resemblance to the Ron Johnson I knew in the late 1950s and early 1960s who was born at Milton Douglas, Duntocher, in Scotland on February 24, 1907.  His parents emigrated to West Australia and it was there in the early 1920s that he started his speedway racing career in West Australia.

In Britain, Johnson’s most successful years were pre-World War Two and in the early post-war years, as a member of the Crystal Palace and New Cross teams. He was also a leading member of the Australian test team.

His career as a leading rider ended when he suffered a head injury at Wimbledon in 1949. Johnson made several unsuccessful come-back attempts, and retired in 1960. In the late 1970s, Johnson was badly injured in a car accident in Australia and spent the last years of his life confined to a wheelchair.

Judge Geoffrey Miller said, “There are existing photos of Ron Johnson in a wheelchair meeting various riders. He still had the same features of those shown in the earlier days when he was a speedway rider.”

The judge added, “Certainly Ron Johnson died in Western Australia because Western Australians had to put together the money to bring him back from England after his dismal failure in attempting to return to the speedway track in the 1960s or thereabouts.

“He was broke and had no money to ever go back again. I cannot see that he could possibly have ended up in Wales.”

The historian Ken Brown added, “I am 99 percent the man buried in Australia is the speedway Ron Johnson.”

There was just one other intriguing coincidence - both Ron Johnsons had a wife named Ruby. The speedway rider was briefly married in 1949.

Judge Miller said, “When I was writing a history of the WA solo champions I spoke with his grand-daughter and she questioned whether he had ever divorced her grand-mother.” Johnson and Ruby Green parted in the early 1950s.

And, finally from West Australia, promoter Con Migro provided a copy of the known speedway rider’s death certificate which authenticated the place and date of his birth.  But there remains a mystery - why did another Australian named Ron Johnson convince people for more than 40 years until his death in Wales that he was the famous Australian rider?

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Deaths Mystery

By John Hyam

Back to John's Index Visit the Profile of the real Ron Johnson

Who is the real
Ron Johnson, Speedway Rider

The Photos at the top of the page is the Ron Johnson the speedway rider.