We Talked to the Former Bank Robber who Once Escaped Prison in a Helicopter

In 1999, John Killick was busted out of Sydney's Silverwater Prison in a helicopter by his girlfriend, Lucy Dudko. They were both caught and John was released again last month. We talked about helicopters, chess, and freedom.

by Leo van der Pluym
Feb 12 2015, 4:27am

Always a gambler, John outside the Canberra Casino

Aussies may remember the story. Back in 1999 a convicted bank robber named John Killick was busted out of Sydney's Silverwater Prison in a helicopter by his then girlfriend, Lucy Dudko. After 45 days on the run the two were apprehended in a motel and John was recommitted to serve his remaining 15 years. That sentence ended last year, but the Queensland Police insisted he still owed them outstanding jail time from a robbery committed in the 1980s. Finally, at the end last month, 72 year-old John Killick was released from the Woodford Correctional Centre, a free man for the first time this millennium.

We wanted to hear John's story. So in a conference call with his lawyer, we discussed his upbringing, his life in and out of prison and of course, how it feels to escape from jail a helicopter.

John as a young man. All photos courtesy of John Killick

VICE: Hi John. Let's start with your upbringing. What were your earliest experiences with crime?
John Killick: I was born February 13, 1942. I never knew my parents, they put me up for adoption and I ended up living with an ex-boxer and his wife. They became my parents but dad was a violent drunk and I was always sick with asthma. It was pretty rough childhood.

I left home at 17 when my Mum committed suicide. My mum had been sick for a while and we couldn't afford doctors so when I got out I was pretty bitter with the world. Then out on the street I mixed with bad guys. I didn't care; it was just me against the world. But I was poor too and had to survive by shoplifting and crimes like that. That's how I first ended up in jail.

Can you tell us what that was like?
It was tough. I'd lied about my age and said I was 18 because I wanted to look after my mate. I also got into a fight early with this young German bloke over a game of chess. We had a jar of honey as the wager and he was losing so hit me over the head with the board. I beat him up. Afterwards we shook hands and continued playing. My father showed me how to box growing up, which saved me in prison. Prison was different then. Violence was normal and people fought, but they always shook hands afterwards.

John in the early 1990s

What about armed robberies. Can you tell me about your first?
It was pretty embarrassing. A mate of mine somehow got a handgun and we decided to go rob the first drunk we saw in the park. So we waited a while until some drunk walked by and I pointed the gun at him and yelled give me your wallet! He looked at me slowly and said I'll give you my wallet but if I do I can't pay my rent. I felt bad and gave him the wallet back. As I say, it was pretty embarrassing for the first stick-up.

Suffice to say, you spent a lot of time in and out of jail. Let's fast forward to the helicopter escape. Who was your girlfriend at the time?
Lucy. We met at a party. She was Russian and at the time she had an abusive, drunk Russian for a husband. They'd just moved here and he'd isolated her from everything and played around behind her back. When we met she was ready to leave. She was a kind women, who'd never been in trouble with the law her whole life. She was so great and easy-going.

Why did she help you to escape?
Out of love.

And how was it all planned?
I was studying everything I could about helicopters; how they worked and what panic systems might be used if we were to hijack one. Lucy and I saw each other three times per week, as well as talking 10 times a day on the phone and I just told her everything I learned. Slowly we put the plan together.

The escape made international news. Image via YouTube channel Dailymail News

How did Lucy get the helicopter?
At the time it was the Sydney Olympics and there were a lot of tourists sightseeing in helicopters. So Lucy just booked a flight. On the day I was nervous as hell because so many things could have gone wrong. There wasn't anything I could do so I just waited until the agreed time and then called Lucy's mobile to tell her I'd be in the yard in ten minutes. She was in the helicopter at that moment and pointed a gun at the back of the pilot's head and said, I'm taking over this flight and told the guy to fly towards Silverwater Prison. When they landed on the field I jumped in. The cops were firing at us and hit the aircraft three times. We were lucky serious damage wasn't done because we wouldn't have got away.

What happened after you escaped?
We fled to Melbourne, changed our appearances, and hid out in hotels across the country. But we got recognised of course and the police stormed a motel while we were asleep.

What happened after you were caught?
Lucy got eight years in high-security prison and we weren't allowed any contact. She's now been out for eight years and we still aren't allowed any contact. It's a joke. As for me, I went back to prison and served four years in segregation. That's 23 hours in a cell four metres by three metres. No sunlight, few calls, and few visits. I kept sane by doing my case research. I studied, read books, and wrote letters.

A more recent photo of John

What's your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is the trauma I caused other people and their families. But I can't change the past and I've gotta live with that. Another regret is gambling. If I hadn't wasted so much money on the horses I'd never have been in debt and wouldn't have robbed banks and wouldn't have gone to jail.

How would you like to spend the rest of your days?
My plan is to work with troubled young people and mentor them out of crime. I'd like to explain why crime doesn't work and why being a criminal is for mugs. I also want to keep playing chess. But no more honey wagers.

Follow Leo on Twitter: @DerPluym

For a more detailed account of John's life, look out for his book later this year.

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