Banks are the ultimate thieves, says former bank robber and jail escapee John Killick

NEW BOOK: Bank robber and escapee turned author John Killick was in town recently. Photo David Cole.
NEW BOOK: Bank robber and escapee turned author John Killick was in town recently. Photo David Cole.

John Killick, the bank robber plucked from jail by his gun-toting lover, says he was right about banks all along - and the Royal Commission proved that.

Mr Killick, who is on the promotion trail having written another book, began robbing banks in 1966 to feed a gambling addiction.

“I came from an era where bank robbers and safe-crackers were the elite criminals,” Killick explained.

“I always justified my going into a bank with a pistol and stealing its money. To me, banks were the ultimate thieves and in recent months the Royal Commission into banks has justified this conclusion.

“But I was missing the point … when you enter a bank wearing a mask and pointing a pistol at people, it isn’t you against the bank, it’s you against unarmed innocent people."

He apologised unreservedly to those innocent victims.  

“I never shot anyone. Even at the Bowral bank robbery (on January 20, 1999), I fired over the head of the bloke chasing me, but he kept running after me, so I fired into the ground near his feet as well. He stopped chasing me then,” he said. 

“I can honestly say my days of criminal activity are long gone.” 

A now repentant Killick says he has paid the price for his crimes.

“I have broken about even, I reckon," he said. "I accept the penalties. I am still on parole now. It is 20 years next month,” he said.

“I spent over 30 years in jail and I don’t resign from the fact I deserved to go to jail.

“You can’t go into banks with guns and hold people up and then escape in helicopters and expect people not to get upset about it.”

That helicopter escape

One of the most daring escapes from prison in Australia, if not the world, was carried out by criminal mastermind John Killick and his then-lover Lucy Dudko.

Their audacious plan involved her hijacking a helicopter at gunpoint and flying over Silverwater Prison, where Killick was waiting below in the exercise yards.

In the ensuing confusion, he climbed onto the hovering helicopter and escaped to his freedom while under fire from the guards. 

That was on March 25, 1999 and the pair was on the run for 45 days before being captured.

He got 23 years' jail for his part of the escape (15 years' non-parole) and Dudko got 10. They continued to write to each other while in jail, with more than 5000 letters passing between them.

Why a movie about Killick and Dudko, a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, has not been made just defies the imagination. He became a prolific author while in jail and has since written three books about his life: Gambling For Love, The Last Escape and On The Inside

On The Inside 

Now on parole, Killick dropped into Goulburn last week to talk about his new book On The Inside, in which he speaks frankly about his time spent in various jails, having reason to have spent more than 30 years in them.

It is a fascinating read. A veritable ‘who’s who’ of Australian crime appears in its pages.

This is because Killick met most of them while in various jails. 

And he was in enough of them: Long Bay, Goulburn, Pentridge, Bathurst, Maitland, Cessnock, Yatala, Parklea, Silverwater and Boggo Road, to name a few. 

He has devoted individual chapters to the more notorious criminals he met, including Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith, serial escapee Raymond John Denning, artist and murderer Leonard Lawson, armed robber Christopher ‘Badness’ Binse, and Australia’s first serial killer William MacDonald. 

One of his ‘favourite’ inmates was Dave Scanlon, whom he met in the Goulburn jail. He was also known as the ‘Kingsgrove Slasher’ and was world famous in the 1950s. He terrified Sydney for three years with his nocturnal visits to houses where he slashed and stole the undergarments off his sleeping victims. 

“He never intentionally assaulted anyone, he just enjoyed the thrill of the chase and he was an exceptionally fast runner,” Killick said. 

After spending eight years in jail, Scanlon was released and dissolved into obscurity, never offending again. 

A theme that recurs in Killick's book is that many of the criminals he met, especially the violent inmates, had often been brutalised as children in detention centres such as the former Tamworth Boys' Home. 

There are some chapters that are hard to read because they detail some of this abuse.

It is not excusing the crimes these people committed, but trying to find some reason behind the offending. 

“A lot of the criminals who ended up as killers came through Tamworth Boys' Home. It seems to be a common denominator,” Killick said. 

“The first person to make me aware of that place was Neddy Smith in 1963.

"He was only 18 then, but he told me that Tamworth broke him. It made him bitter and there was hate in him. 

"They starved them and bashed them at those places.”

Killick also acknowledges that some people are just plain bad and should be inside.

He cites the case of Cecil Clifford Bartholomew, a man who served only seven years for killing 10 people. 

Killick said that, despite reforms, the prison system was "going backwards" due to overcrowding in jails.

“It is not the fault of the prison system, but of the people making the laws.

"The bail laws have been changed, maybe to get votes, but there are a lot of people going to jail who should not be. 

“A lot of inmates have mental health issues, maybe as high as 30 per cent of them; and some of them cannot cope in there.”

He also emphasised the importance of education and literacy programs inside for rehabilitation. 

Killick is now working on his fourth novel, and if book three is anything to go by, it will be engaging. 

  • On The Inside is published by New Holland and available at most book shops.