Michael Ryan and The Hungerford Massacre
19th August 1987

What demons drove the self-styled 'Rambo' to massacre 16 innocents?

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"Hungerford must be a bit of a mess. I wish I had stayed in bed"

Britain's strict gun-ownership laws make spree killings of the kind seen in the US a relative rarity. But on the sunny morning of August 19th 1987, a lone gunman served to remind our self-satisfied citizenry that an armed assailant can wreak terrible havoc, guns laws or no.

By the time Michael Ryan took his own life, 16 other people lay dead and a further 15 wounded - and his place in the annals of criminal infamy was assured.

Early life

The motivations that drove this quiet man to his murderous spree may never fully be known. He left no journal or letter to explain his actions, and those who knew him couldn't put a finger on any specific demon that seemed to drive him.

Nonetheless, his childhood friends from the John O'Gaunt school - where later he would end his life - remembered a 'sullen' boy who was somewhat withdrawn and often bullied by other children. His school work was sub-par and he frequently played truant. All of which made him an insular, almost alien presence at school.

Later, he appeared to try and knuckle down to fit in. At 16 he joined the technical college to study building contracting. His father was a town planner, so it seemed that he had found a familiar course to follow. However, he soon dropped out to work as a caretaker at a girls school - a decision that seems to reflect something of the listlessness that characterised his life.

It was during his early twenties that he discovered a passion for militaria. Like many young men, the power of a gun held an almost magnetic appeal and he acquired various guns. With no criminal record or documented history of medical illness, his request for a license for more powerful weaponry was nodded through by the local police and his gun cabinet became home to an increasing array of high powered guns.

To add to the milieu created by the guns, he started to wear camouflage and bought survival gear, and began spinning strange tales of his army service and even of running a gun shop - neither of which were true. Meanwhile, in real life he drifted with neither direction nor employment - only showing aptitude in his gun club membership where he was regarded a good shot.

All of this, with hindsight seem disturbing but even those who knew him and find him slightly odd could scarcely have predicted the violence that he harboured.

In 1985, his father died of cancer and this sparked a further withdrawal from society for Ryan. Following the massacre, people would recall that after this he had seemed to become increasingly unstable. Around this time, he joined the Tunnel Rifle and Pistol Gun Club, where he was duly noted for being a good shot.


Ryan left 16 people dead in Hungerford before taking his own life - and left a further 15 with wounds. The full list of those who died is as follows:

  1. Susan Godfrey
  2. Roland Mason
  3. Sheila Mason
  4. Kenneth Clements
  5. Police Constable Roger Brereton
  6. Abdul Rahman Khan
  7. George White
  8. Dorothy Ryan
  9. Francis Butler
  10. Marcus Bernard
  11. Douglas Wainwright
  12. Eric Vardy
  13. Sandra Hill
  14. Victor Gibbs
  15. Myrtle Gibbs
  16. Ian Playle

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 18th April 2012 | © Weird Island 2010-2021
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