The extraordinary story of an exceptionally talented man who spent nearly half his life in jail.
Book cover image: The Last Escape by John Killick.
This autobiography by John Killick, now aged 75, is the extraordinary story of a man who spent nearly half his life in jail. He comes across as an exceptionally talented man with an indomitable spirit. Killick was tough and could look after himself in a fight – basic requirements for survival in jail. He lays no claims to being charming, but he must be, given his life story. He takes pride in having been a good storyteller from a young age and in his love of reading and talent for writing. But he was also hopelessly addicted to gambling and much too willing to take risks.
Not everyone who has had a very difficult childhood takes to crime and not every criminal has had a difficult childhood. In Killick’s case, he was brought up by a drunken, physically abusive father. His mother committed suicide after being repeatedly assaulted by his father. Killick dropped out of school at age 15, which meant he could only get menial jobs that he hated. But it was his resentment at the unfairness of his mother’s death that started his life of crime: ‘The mother I loved was dead at forty-three. And inside me something also died. Until that day I had always believed that if you are good, everything will turn out all right.’
Even so, that change in attitude might have been short-lived were it not for the way young offenders were treated in jail. He fought another inmate to defend himself against being raped and as a result was put in solitary confinement. This was virtually a dungeon and he starved on meagre rations of bread and water. He was bitter that the law permitted, even condoned, this type of treatment simply because he had tried to defend himself from abuse: ‘At seventeen I had been a law-abiding, polite youth. Now I was a tough eighteen-year-old who could take anything they wanted to throw at me.’
Killick makes no excuses for his behaviour except to point out that as a young man jail taught him that it was OK to steal, just not OK to get caught.
When he fell in love he had to find money to join his girlfriend in America. That led to his first bank robbery and to jail. During his periods of freedom he made friends with remarkable women, got married, had a son and even reconciled with his father. And when he needed more money than he could earn lawfully, whether to pay gambling debts or for other reasons, he robbed banks. And sooner or later he was back in jail.
Killick made a number of well-planned successful jailbreaks, the most spectacular of which was by helicopter. Those made the headlines and made him famous.
He tells his story well, with great honesty and lack of pretension. While his descriptions of life in jail make one shudder at the horrendous inadequacies of the criminal justice systems in Australia, there were some redeeming features. He took TAFE writing courses and benefited from a special rehabilitation program.
But above all, Killick is a survivor, and finally, finally, by the age of 70 or so he accepts that crime doesn’t pay. His autobiography is written to prove that point and it does so most successfully. It also does much more than that by giving the reader an insight into what it is like to be in jail and by emphasising the message that it is never too late to abandon a criminal life.
4 ½ stars out of 5
The Last Escape by John Killick
The man behind the most daring jailbreak in Australian history
Page Extent: 304 pages
Book Size: 240 x 165 mm (Height x Width x Depth)
New Holland Publishers 2017
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level