Johnny Ramensky

('Gentle Johnny'; John Ramsay; Yonas Ramanauckas)

1905 - 1972

Heroic safe-breaker. Ramensky was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant. He followed his father down the Lanarkshire mines, but without work during the depression, Ramensky moved with his mother and sisters to the Gorbals district of Glasgow. He took to a life of crime, using his remarkable physical strength and the skills with explosives gained in the mines to become a skilled burglar and safe-breaker. He spent the majority of the remainder of his life in Barlinnie and Peterhead prisons, although he escaped on a number of occasions, able to scale the walls with his bare hands. His crimes were never violent; this fact and his genial nature brought his soubriquet 'Gentle Johnny'. In 1942, his unique skills brought him the opportunity to fight for his country and he volunteered for Commando training. He was dropped behind enemy lines with the task of stealing key documents. Entering Rome with the liberating troops, he broke open the safes in fourteen embassies, all in one day. His exploits gained him the Military Medal and a pardon for his previous crimes.

Unfortunately, after the war Ramensky returned to his familiar career in crime. He escaped from Peterhead Prison no less than three times in 1958 alone, gaining considerable public sympathy and status as a folk-hero. The Ballad of Johnny Ramensky written by the Labour politician Norman Buchan, appeared in the Scotsman newspaper.

However his abilities as a cat-burglar were beginning to fail him. He suffered serious injuries when he fell trying to break into the County Buildings in Stirling in 1970 and collapsed and died two years later in Perth Prison. He was accorded the accolade of an obituary in every Scottish newspaper.

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