Since Australia’s colonial days, convicts have been escaping from custody using ingenious and risky methods – and despite heightened security measures in prisons these days, prison breaks certainly still occur.
From a woman who commandeered a helicopter to lift her boyfriend from his prison exercise yard to a man who simply walked calmly out of the visitor’s area, Australian inmates have engineered some of the most fascinating escapes.
Some became famous for the method of their ingenious escape, others for their successful track record.
Here are some of the most extraordinary escapes in Australian history.
1. The helicopter escape – John Killick
John Killick and his girlfriend planned one of the most audacious escapes in Australia’s
It was 1999, and Killick was sick of being in prison. Instead of going for a sneaky and inconspicuous escape plan, he went the other way. Killick’s girlfriend, a 48-year-old Russian librarian, had watched the movie ‘breakout’ and decided to put the same plan into action. She booked a helicopter ride and forced the terrified driver at gunpoint to land in the prison exercise yard.
Killick leapt on board, and other inmates attempted to copy follow suit; all the while, prison guards fired at the helicopter. Surprisingly it worked, and Killick and Dudko evaded the police for 45 days before their eventual capture.
In January this year, Killick finally tasted freedom for the first time since his short-lived escape.
2. The classic fake moustache disguise – George Savvas
The prison escape engineered by this wily inmate was very simple – Savvas simply walked out of Goulburn prison.
Wearing a false wig, beard and moustache, he strolled out of the visitor area of the high security prison. He was eventually recaptured and went on to plan a further prison escape with infamous serial killer Ivan Milat, but that escape plan was unsuccessful. The day after the plot was discovered, Savvas was found hanging dead in his prison cell.
3. “Lord Badness” Christopher Dean Binse
Christopher Binse was no novice when it came to escaping from custody – with six successful escapes and several more unsuccessful attempts. One was from hospital, where despite being under heavy guard recovering from a stab wound, he used a smuggled gun to keep guards at bay while he made his exit. He was captured not long after, but this didn’t deter him from a further seven attempts.
He gave himself the nickname ‘Badness’ and was mainly in trouble with the law for robbery charges.
He liked to tell his victims “thanks very much” after he had taken their belongings. After one robbery, he placed an advertisement in the paper to taunt police, stating ‘badness is back,’ and sent police Christmas cards of Santa holding bags of money signed ‘Lord Badness.’
In 1993, he was part of a plan to free 30 of the most dangerous inmates in Pentridge prison’s top security division.
In 1997, he was shackled hand and foot for 23 hours a day – the only prisoner in Victoria to be subjected to this treatment.
He was later involved in a 44 hour siege at his own home. Binse has spent 29 of the past 33 years in prison.
4. The Postcard Bandit
Like Binse, the ‘Postcard Bandit’ specialised in robbing banks and had been imprisoned in various correctional centres around the country.
Brenden James Abbott earned his nickname by sending detectives photographs of himself all around the country, ranging from Uluru to police stations while on the run.
This followed his notorious 1989 prison escape. Abbott and a fellow prisoner jumped over the prison’s high limestone walls, wearing clothes that Abbott had sewed himself in order to replicate a prison guard uniform.
This was just one of three escapes he engineered.
Another occurred in 1997 when his girlfriend smuggled in angel wire, which he and four accomplices used to cut themselves out of the prison.
After his notorious escapes, Abbott was kept in top security – his meals were x-rayed, he was forced to constantly change cells and to undergo a range of rigorous and invasive security checks. Abbott is currently incarcerated in Queensland and due for release in 2020.
5. Russell “Mad Dog” Cox
Russell Cox orchestrated several escape attempts. In the early 1970s, he broke out of Sydney’s Long Bay jail, kidnapping two prison officers in the process. The attempt was unsuccessful, and he was convicted of attempted murder. But Cox soon attempted another escape, which was successful – and he he avoided recapture for eleven years.
In 1977, “Mad Dog” found an unsupervised area of the prison yards and chiselled away at a metal post each day. On the day of his escape, Cox asked a prison guard if he could return to the exercise yard to retrieve his shoes. He instead made a run for it – climbing through the hole he had made and then scaling two barbed wire fences. From there he travelled to England and France before returning to Australia five years later. He was finally tracked down and recaptured by police at a Victorian shopping centre during a standoff with a former inmate.
Cox was released from prison in 2004.
6. The elaborate underground tunnel approach
A group of seven men used knives, forks and a shovel to dig themselves to freedom from the Parramatta prison in 1979. Their plan almost succeeded – and probably would have, if only Michael Murphy had never made a 15 cent phone call to his mother.
Their tunnel was concealed by a wardrobe in the cell initially occupied by Anthony Lanigan, then by the mastermind Murphy.
Through 1978 and 79, the seven men took turns in digging a tunnel to the linen company next door to the prison. Finally the hole was completed and the time for escape was set. But Murphy couldn’t resist telling someone, so he called his grandmother, letting her know that he would be home by Sunday.
Unfortunately, she rang the prison back and asked what time he would be released, not realising he was planning on escaping. The prison guards became suspicious and searched his cell, discovering the tunnel just hours before the scheduled escape.
Later, Murphy would go on to take part in the horrific murder of Anita Cobby.
Lanigan kept himself out of trouble after the incident. But after being transferred to minimum security 16 years later, Lanigan walked through a hole in the fence and was never seen again.
7. An insider job – Peter Gibb’s romance with a prison officer
Peter Gibb was in Melbourne Remand Centre in 1993. With the help of his lover, a prison guard by the name of Heather Parker, Gibb and prison buddy Archie Butterfly used explosives smuggled into them by Parker to blow up a security window.
The pair then ran to their getaway car and drove to a stolen motorcycle. Unfortunately for them, the motorcycle crashed and police were quickly on the scene.
But not all was over: Gibb grabbed an officer’s revolver and the pair vanished. They reunited with Parker but were discovered by police just three days later. In the ensuing shootout, Butterfly was killed and Gibb was captured. He was later released from custody and died in 2011.
8. The bushranger – Moondyne Joe
Joseph Bolitho Johns, or Moondye Joe as he came to be known, was a well-known bush-ranger and an expert at the art of prison escapes – so much so that a prison cell was built especially for him.
Originally born in Wales, he was transported to Australia for larceny in 1853. Once released, he soon got involved in a range of crimes and ended up in prison again.
After several escapes, Johns was kept in a special purpose-built cell, with hardly any air or light. But this was not enough to hold him back – “Moondyne Joe” escaped while at work breaking rocks into smaller pieces.
He was caught once again just a few days later when raiding a wine cellar.
9. The most famous escape – William and Mary Bryant
Perhaps the most famous escapees from colonial days were William and Mary Bryant, whose endeavours have been the subject of numerous books and a movie.
William and Mary Bryant were part of an original group of nine prisoners who escaped from their prison colony in Botany Bay.
They stole a governor’s boat and sailed over five thousand kilometres in open sea, some of it still unchartered. They encountered Aborigines and violent storms before their ship landed in West Timor, which was a Dutch colony at the time.
The group posed as survivors of a shipwreck, but their true identities were ultimately discovered and they were sent back to England.
Sadly, four convicts died on the journey, as well as the two children of William and Mary.
The survivors were imprisoned in Newgate Prison in London, where they served the remainder of their original sentences.
10. Walk the dog
Prison escapes didn’t only occur before recent digital security measures made things more difficult.
Just last year in Perth, one man Bernd Neumann, also known as Brett Faulkner, managed to escape from a supervised sporting game by casually strolling off with a Labrador that was being trained to help inmates with physical disabilities.
Neumann was finally caught by police in June 2015.
What is the penalty for escaping prison?
The penalties for escaping from prison differ from state to state, but in NSW section 310D of the Crimes Act prescribes a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment.
Although most escapees are apprehended in a relatively short space of time, the thrill of escaping and joy of being free seems worth it to some – despite the likelihood of a lengthy additional sentence.