Australia’s Most Daring Jail Break Was a Heli Hijack Love Story
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Lucy Dudko would stop at nothing to free her armed-robber boyfriend from the clink.
By J. Bennett
Red Lucy descended on Silverwater Jail with a gun in her hand. It was March 25, 1999, and she’d just hijacked a helicopter to bust her boyfriend out of the slammer. The gun was pointed at pilot Tim Joyce, whom she’d hired to take her on a private spin around the Harbour Bridge Track, an area of Sydney that included the village and stadium for the upcoming Olympics. At $360 an hour, it was a small price to pay to break her lover out of prison.
John Killick was in custody at Silverwater, awaiting sentence for armed robbery and shooting at an off-duty police officer. He’d been in and out of prison all his life — his first bid was in 1966 — mostly for armed robbery to feed a chronic gambling addiction. He met Lucy Dudko at a party in 1995. The Russian-born librarian was married to a scientist at the time, but she left her husband for Killick.
As Joyce landed the White Bell 47G helicopter in the prison yard, prisoners began cheering. They cleared the way for Killick, who climbed aboard in his green prison singlet. According to police records, he told Joyce, “You can make a lot of money out of 60 Minutes if you do the right thing. It’s your choice.” Correctional officers fired three shots at the fleeing helicopter. “They all hit the chopper, nearly bringing it down,” Killick, now in his 70s, says. “My belief was that under the Geneva Convention, they weren’t permitted to fire at aircraft over a prison.”
Dudko — dubbed “Red Lucy” by the press because of her auburn hair and Russian heritage — received a 10-year sentence with a seven-year minimum.
The nuances of the Geneva Convention notwithstanding, the trio flew northeast and landed on the grounds of Macquarie University in the nearby suburb of Macquarie Park. After Killick bound Joyce’s hands and ankles, the couple hijacked a car at gunpoint and eventually met up with some of Killick’s friends. Meanwhile, Joyce managed to free himself and call the cops.
Dudko and Killick spent 45 days on the lam before being arrested in a caravan park west of Sydney, where they’d rented a cabin under the names “Mr. & Mrs. Brown.” They’d been spotted by the park manager, who’d seen the TV news reports on Australia’s most wanted couple. Images of the bookish Russian émigré, who’d been working toward her doctorate in history at the same university where she’d forced Joyce to land, were at odds with descriptions of the daring escape artist portrayed in the Aussie tabloids. “Lucy was and is a complex woman,” Killick says. “I had been with her for more than three years and knew she was capable of doing it. When she said she’d [break me out], I was 100 percent certain she would.”
Dudko — dubbed “Red Lucy” by the press because of her auburn hair and Russian heritage — received a 10-year sentence with a seven-year minimum. Killick was slapped with a crushing 23-year sentence, which was eventually reduced to 14 years on appeal. In 2000, prison authorities denied their petition to marry. But the ill-fated couple exchanged an astonishing 4,500 letters behind bars before Lucy experienced a religious conversion and pulled the plug on their relationship. “Lucy and I have gone our separate ways,” Killick says. “She found God. I didn’t.”
As of this writing, Dudko’s hijacking is Australia’s only successful helicopter prison escape. It seems she got the idea from the 1975 Chuck Bronson flick Breakout, which she’d rented just days before. She’s also only the second woman in history to even attempt a helicopter prison break. The first was Nadine Vaujour, who took flying lessons in order to spring her husband, Michel, out of Paris’ Prison de la Santé in 1986.
Red Lucy was released from prison in 2006. Since then, she’s kept her interactions with the press to a minimum. In June 2009, shortly after her parole period ended, she told Australia’s Sun Herald, “My life was like a soap opera back then, but slowly I’ve managed to put it all behind me. It doesn’t help to relive what happened, so I try not to. I’ve moved on.” A successful 2015 single by hip-hop artist Urthboy made it onto the Australian charts with the chorus: You’re all I have; you can set me free/Baby, rescue me.
Killick was released in 2015 at age 72, with the stipulation that he and Lucy stay away from each other. “The conditions of my parole are that I can’t see her without permission,” he explains. “This, 20 years after the crime, is a bit of overreaction by the authorities, who felt embarrassed by the escape and don’t want to feel embarrassed again.”
Killick has written three books about his life — including The Last Escape, which details the breakout — and says he’s now working on a novel. Meanwhile, Lucy’s daughter Maria is making a documentary about the escape. “I participated in her documentary,” Killick confirms. “So did Lucy. But I’ve been asked not to reveal any details.”
And if Killick were to see Lucy today? “Who knows what devilry we might get up to,” he jokes.
Correction: This article previously indicated that John Killick shot a police officer. In fact, he shot at him.
- J. Bennett, OZY Author Contact J. Bennett