ESCAPE: THE PAST
By David McMillan
Assistant Editors Note:
I have included this additional Book Review in this issue both to give you a good read and in appreciation of Monsoon Books Co. Ltd. who kindly send me copies of their new releases so we can provide this review for the Trader.
You will find this book in Bookazine (and other good book shops. I’m not sure about the price as the book is a gift from Monsoon
magine it s 1980, and you’re not yet twenty five years old. But you’re already a millionaire with bags of cash, a Swiss bank account, property in Australia, Asia, the Middle East and Britain, you own seaside homes and city apartments, travel the world in first class and are loved by the woman of your dreams; in fact, you’ve been living the lifestyle of a jet setting trust fund heir since your early twenties. What sort of career path do you suppose young David McMillan had to follow to achieve so much at such a youthful age … that of a rock musician, or an investment banker, or perhaps a professional athlete? Really, you’ve no idea what the author might have done for a living? Well here’s a clue, he traveled the globe, was an experienced chemist and a master of false IDs. Still haven’t worked it out? Okay, I’ll let David explain his chosen profession to you in his own words,
“On this particular day I’m at work that means an airport where I’m both shepherd and ringmaster to a suitcase loaded with drugs and the couriers who carry them.”
That’s right; David was in the dope trade. Trafficking in ‘China white heroin’ imported from Thailand’s ‘Golden Triangle’ made him a very, very wealthy young man. In this autobiographical work, Escape: The Past, David McMillan chronicles his meteoric rise to riches via illicit narcotics, and the heavy price he paid because of them in this ‘prequel’ to his international bestseller, Escape: The true story of the only Westerner to ever break out of Thailand’s Bangkok Hilton (also published by Monsoon Books).
Until now, I’ve managed to avoid reading any of those “based on a true story” books about a Westerner doing hard-time in a third word hellhole prison. Although Escape: The Past does not deal with penal servitude in the Kingdom of Thailand, it certainly does show how David’s early drug smuggling years paved the way for his eventual incarceration in Bangkok’s notorious Klong Prem prison where he would await a sentence of death some years later.
The tale that David deftly tells, covers the difficulties involved in finding a reliable Thai contact for drugs and locating suitable Westerners to transport them through the airports of Thailand, Europe and Australia. He also explains how he fooled drug sniffing dogs, how seasoned customs officials were outfoxed, how x-ray machines were thwarted, how the Australian customs declaration form’s code (which changed daily) was cracked and how he eluded (well almost) the authorities on three continents. In addition, he recounts some of the lessons he learned the hard way from being cheated, swindled and set-up by his associates in the drug trade. But David was a fast learner and after a period of trial and error (and a brief stay in one of Her Majesties English penitentiaries) he personally stopped transporting drugs and relied on his hand-picked couriers to smuggle two to five kilos of nearly pure heroin on each run, which netted him a handsome profit of up to AUD$ 1,000,000 per month.
Between the 270 pages (eight of which are photographs) the reader follows a teenage David through his budding criminal career and is right there with him as he claws his way up Australia’s criminal food-chain. At just nineteen, David conceived and orchestrated an international drug deal worth 3.5 million to import two tons of Thai marijuana into Australia. He had every angle covered except the intentions of his greedy partners who left the fledgling drug runner penniless.
The ever tenacious David started over in Lebanon, only this time the deal went bust when a ‘smuggler’s vest’ that was supposed to be filled with three kilos of hashish, turned out to be packed with three kilos of plastic explosives and a chemical detonator instead! Then a determined David scored six kilos of hash in India. Packed inside a gutted radio, the hash should have never cleared Australian customs, but David was lucky, and according to him,
“That old uncle of a customs man chose that day to be blind, deaf and insensible. He allowed himself the power of speech.
‘Son, are you going back to India?’
‘No, never,’ I replied.
‘Alright,’ he said, looking around to see no one was watching.
‘Take your, ah, radio and go. Don’t come back.’
I bounced out of Sydney’s air terminal with a spring in my step. What a clever smuggler I was at nineteen. I could melt through walls I thought. Only later would I see that the kind old man at customs had spared a young fool a heavy jag in prison that could only make him a worse criminal. To become that, I’d now have to do all the work myself.”
And so a drug smuggler was born. David went on to become a master of changing his and his courier’s identities and a genius at marshaling flights and moving narcotics from point A to point B. Through a combination of guile, wits, pluck, bribery and a sense of fair-play, David’s heroin import operation took off and was soon flying beneath the radar of law enforcement. That is, until a bent British peer, the disgraced Lord Moynihan, likely tipped-off Australian authorities to David’s multi-million dollar drug business due to a disagreement over rigging a cockfight in Manila. A task force was formed and David and his wife were both arrested with virtually no evidence against them. Nevertheless, their arrest led to her untimely death and a seventeen year prison sentence for him.
After his release from the Australian prison system in 1993, David picked up where he left off and within a year he was again banged-up in Thailand, in Pakistan, in Denmark and in London. But that’s another story altogether … after all this is just a review of the prequel.
I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed Escape: The Past and enthusiastically recommend it, even if you’re not a fan of this particular type of subject-matter. I found it to be a fascinating portrait of … dare I say it, a somewhat likeable and seemingly honest purveyor of poison. The witty prose of the book is clearly indicative of the author’s keen intellect, which obviously was a key factor for his startling success in the drug trade. Escape: The Past is part biography, part crime thriller, part comedy, part tragedy and part drug smuggler’s textbook, and a book I was unable to put down until I turned the last page.
The reviewer, B.S. is also the author of several short stories, some of which are published in the Pattaya Trader.
At B.S’s request we don’t publish his name but I will go so far as to say the ‘B’ in his initials stands for Brian.
Along with the short stories for the Trader, Brian also writes the ‘Four Hours and a Thousand Baht’ column. It would be really nice to get your comments on this review.
Thanks - Phil, the Assistant Editor.