A prison escapee who handed himself into police after 29 years on the run because he’d become homeless is now being supported by his local community who are trying to keep him out of jail.
Darko Desic, 64, escaped from Grafton jail in 1992 and fled to Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he worked for cash as a stonemason and was known as ‘Dougie’ among the local community who had no inkling of his eventful past.
Desic, born in the former Yugoslavia, was jailed for three years and eight months in 1991 after he was caught growing cannabis, but literally hacked his way out of jail after just 13 months.
He spent the past three decades living and working in Avalon but in the wake of Sydney’s recent Covid-19 lockdown, Desic lost his job, couldn’t afford his rent and ended up sleeping rough on the beach.
He decided he would be better off in prison so he ended his life on the run and turned himself into police on Sunday.
Since his arrest, one of the beaches’ wealthiest men, property developer and cofounder of Mortgage Choice Peter Higgins, has taken the lead of a group helping the unfortunate Desic with his upcoming legal battle.
Darko Desic, 64, (pictured) escaped from Grafton jail in 1992 and fled to Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he worked for cash as a stonemason known as ‘Dougie’ and escaped detection for decades
Mr Higgins’ daughter Belle has also started a GoFundMe page for him, which aims to raise $30,000 to hire a legal team to help rebuild Desic’s life. So far it’s made just over $3,000.
Desic, as a fugitive, had not been able to get a driver’s license since breaking out of jail and has to walk everywhere.
He’s also never visited a doctor or a dentist during his three decades living outside the law due to the fear of being exposed.
The 64-year old was detained without bail and is currently being held at Silverwater jail.
It’s understood Mr Higgins paid for solicitor Simon Long, of one of Sydney’s leading firms, McGirr and Associates, to help Desic.
A neighbour of Desic told Daily Mail Australia that ‘Dougie’ wasn’t easy to talk to, ‘but now I know why.’
‘He never talked about his past, to anyone. He was very quiet, a bit uncomfortable even. I guess we know why now,’ said Shell Avalon, a massage therapist on the Northern Beaches.
Despite being quiet, Shell said ‘Dougie’ was ‘kind to me’.
When she moved house and couldn’t afford a removalist, Desic helped her load a ute for half a day.
Since his arrest, one of the Northern Beaches’ wealthiest men, property developer and cofounder of Mortgage Choice Peter Higgins (pictured), is leading a group helping the unfortunate Desic with his upcoming legal battle
When her home was struck by a lightning storm, she was left without power and her driveway was littered with fallen tree branches.
As she works from her home, the storm caused severe problems for her clients.
Selflessly, Desic not only removed the debris from her driveway but connected a power cable from his home into hers for nine days straight.
‘He wouldn’t accept a cent from me,’ Shell said.
‘He was a decent hardworking guy, he walked everywhere because he couldn’t get a driver’s licence. He paid his rent and kept to himself, as decent as anyone around.’
‘After that if we saw each other we’d smile and wave.’
Shell was shocked to learn of his past and his fate.
‘I heard he was living on the beach. He was a healthy strong guy, but he obviously couldn’t cope with it.’
Neighbour, Shell Avalon who used to live next door to the escaped convict said Desic was a friendly and kind-hearted man
Another neighbour who lived directly next door to the escapee for the past decade said he was shocked to find out Desic’s predicament.
‘He was just a nice fella and a normal hard-working bloke, we chatted over the fence from time to time,’ the neighbour who wished to remain anonymous told Daily Mail Australia.
‘In the ten years we’ve lived next to each other there was never any issues. He was definitely a friendly neighbour, he mowed the nature strip out the front.’
He said Desic seemed like a ‘normal dude’ and he and his flatmates mainly kept to themselves.
‘I’d like to see him live a happy life.’
The 64-year-old has a minimum of just over one year and one month to serve of his outstanding sentence before he can apply for parole.
But he is also facing an additional maximum of seven years in jail for breaking out of prison in the first place after police charged him with escaping from lawful custody.
Mr Higgins told the Daily Telegraph, they were hoping to see that Desic didn’t ‘spend anymore time in jail then he needs to’.
‘I mean the guy’s obviously a decent person who hasn’t put a foot wrong since he got out of the jail and has been quietly living his life here, but missing out on the things most people take for granted.
‘He hasn’t hurt anybody, has never put his hand out for government assistance and has been helping people in our community.’
Darko Desic, 64, (pictured) has a minimum of just over one year and a one month to serve of his outstanding sentence before he can apply for parole
Darko Desic used a metal hacksaw to cut through the bars on his jail cell windows at Grafton prison (pictured) before stealing bolt cutters from a shed to get through the fence to freedom
After Desic handed himself in, police said: ‘He slept on the beach on Saturday night and said, ‘stuff it, I’ll go back to prison where there’s a roof over my head”.
At the time of his escape in the middle of the night on August 1, 1992, he used a metal hacksaw to cut through the bars on his jail cell windows and squeezed out into the prison yard.
He then broke into a workshop and grabbed a pair of bolt cutters to get through the prison fence to freedom.
Desic’s motivation was his fear that he would be deported at the end of his jail term, fearing punishment if he was sent back to his birth country, which at the time was fragmenting in a civil war.
He had earlier fled to Australia to avoid army service and fighting in the war.
He was briefly profiled on Australia’s Most Wanted TV show in 1998 when someone thought they spotted him in Nowra, south of Sydney.
On Sunday, Darko Desic went to Dee Why Police Station (pictured) and turned himself in, ending decades of deception
Desic had been living and working as a ‘Dougie the labourer’ in the posh beachside suburb (pictured), staying out of trouble and avoiding any police confrontation
But unknown to him, his fugitive status ended 20 years after his escape, and even immigration officials gave up on finding him, granting him residency in 2008.
His modest but free life on the idyllic Northern Beaches came crashing down with the Covid lockdown, when home visits were outlawed.
‘He said he’s been living in Avalon, just doing labouring and odd jobs for cash for almost three decades,’ the police source said.
‘He’s been completely law abiding, never come under attention, never been spoken to. He told us he never caused anyone any trouble so no one ever looked at him twice.’
Desic appeared by video link at Central Local Court on Tuesday and will be back in court on September 28.
Unsurprisingly, he did not apply for bail.
Lockdown has ended a fugitive’s incredible 29 years on the run since breaking out of prison and living free under the radar on Sydney’s Northern Beaches (pictured)