A former drug smuggler has lifted the lid on his life of crime, including how he escaped from a notorious Thai prison just two weeks before his execution date.
Bayswater born David McMillan, 65, is the only Westerner known to have broken out of Bangkok’s notorious Klong Prem Central Prison.
David, who was raised in Australia, is a former drug smuggler who’s spent 18 years of his life behind bars – including a 10-year stretch in Australia’s Pentridge Prison for conspiracy to import heroin and cannabis.
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It was during this stretch that his first wife was killed in a prison fire in 1981.
Then one day in 1993 having only been released from the Australian prison six months before, he was apprehended in Bangkok Airport.
He was caught with two passports in different names and $45,000-$50,000 of which was “pocketed” by the Thai police, he claims.
To make matters worse, when the Thai police did a sweep of the airport they found 40grams of heroin that had been discarded – enough to warrant the death penalty.
David swears it wasn’t his. He argues that if he’d been smuggling heroin he would have been caught with a lot more.
He said he was in Thailand because he had to collect some money he’d earned before his Australian arrest, but he wasn’t allowed to travel as he was still on parole, that’s why he had the fake ID documents.
He was questioned by police in what he described as an “underground” cell, he says he was in such shock that he could hardly speak
He explained: “I was utterly empty.”
When police arrest someone in Thailand they can be held for up to seven days.
“I was a foreigner brought to them by a foreign agency, by the USDA and the Australian police, I wasn’t going anywhere,” David said.
“I had a cellmate who tried to kill himself. He took over 100 rohypnol. Would you believe it, it still didn’t kill him, but he couldn’t walk for three days.”
‘People in chains’
David says it’s possible to bribe your way out of these situations in Thailand, but because of the foreign agencies involved he wasn’t able to.
After a short spell in police custody, he was taken to court which he says “was a spectacle in itself”.
He describes chaos, there was “deafening noise, blocked toilets, and people running around in chains”.
And when he was transferred to prison, Klong Prem, conditions got even worse. It’s a massive complex, holding 22,000 inmates, effectively it’s “a city within a city”, and surrounded by a 30 foot moat.
David, who’d been arrested under the alias ‘Daniel Westlake’ said: “When you first go in you get the worst of it.
“The new arrivals who are facing life sentences or the death penalty are put in chains, but I managed to get out of that by tearing up my court papers and giving them a Thai lawyers business card, with the number 15G on it, which they took to mean 15 grams, so I avoided that.”
Prisoners are rigorously searched and have all of their possessions dismantled.
“If you have shampoo, it’s squeezed out and put onto a piece of newspaper, money is taken off you, and soap bars are cut in half,” he said.
“Trousers are cut into shorts with a rusty old knife.”
He added that due to Bangkok being a low lying city, the prison would often flood “and you’d often find yourself living in a lake”.
Cells were overcrowded and David claims there could be up to 130 people living in a cell designed to house 56, and you’d have to sleep with “your head where somebody else’s feet are”.
Some Western prisoners were also housed there, but not big time smugglers. David described them as “the dregs of the Western world that the wind had blown into a pocket of Asia”.
And the food wasn’t much better either. You’d been given a bowl of rice with weevils (an insect), and a quarter of a rotten cucumber.
Prisoners were also regularly tortured, David claims, including a group of “local street kids” who tried to escape and were caught.
“They were horribly beaten to death,” he said. “Internal bleeding caught up with them within a few weeks and they died.
“The worst part of knowing someone’s being tortured isn’t the seeing, it’s the hearing it.
“You hear the thwack of the heavy wooden sticks, then the screams turn into high-pitch wails.
“And when that goes quiet you hear nothing – that’s unconsciousness – but you still hear the thump, like a carcass in a meat factory being hit with a stick.”
David was held in the prison for two years awaiting trial, but when his lawyer visited and told him he was going to be given the death penalty within two weeks, he knew he had to act fast.
He says he planned his escape from the moment he set foot in there, and in those two years he devised 15 different escape schemes, including breaking out from court, to being welded into a Volkswagen van.
To break out David had to acquire some resources, so through bribery and smuggling he obtained 100m of army rope, four hacksaw blades and a ladder made from bamboo.
Then one night at around 12am, he looked out of his window and saw the guard he was most afraid of wasn’t there, so David saw his chance and leapt at it.
But he immediately encountered a problem: he’d planned his escape during the day when the prison was noisy, but at night it’s dead silent. So when he started sawing away at the first bar on his window, the noise was “so rasping” he had to send a lookout to keep an eye on the corridor.
David then realised the breakout was going to be even harder than he originally envisaged. After 90 minutes he’d only cut through the bottom one bar and three quarters of the way through the top part of it.
Using a plank of wood, his cellmate had to wedge the sliced bar so that David could squeeze through and bring his rucksack with him.
Having broken through the bars, using the 100m of rope he tried to abseil to the ground below, but it was more of a slide, ripping some of the skin off his hands in the process.
After unhooking the rope and bringing it with him, he made his way to a nearby prison workshop and took a series of picture frames with him to another factory, which held long bamboo poles.
This was an essential part of the breakout as he used the wood from the oil paintings as rungs for two ladders – of around 16 feet each – he made from the bamboo.
He had to use one of the ladders to climb onto the roof of the back of the factory, and then haul the other one up.
Time was ticking for David though, as by this point three-and-a-half hours had passed since sawing through his first bar.
And to make matters worse, he was lost. So to speed things up, he taped the two ladders together and climbed an internal wall, and using his weight tilted the ladder over the other side and back to the ground – take extra care to make as little noise as possible.
Fortunately David managed to gather his bearings when he was hit by the smell of where prisoners were taken to die. Aids, which was spread through sharing syringes, was rife in the jail, and around 200 inmates died each day, he claims.
He vividly remembers the stench as “decaying, rotting flesh of those about to die”.
But this told him all he needed to know, he was right next to the prison’s outer wall (of 18 meters), and by the back of it where things “were relatively quiet”.
The problem was that there was a layer of sewage to wade through before he could prop his ladder up and jump over the barbed-wire, electrical fence – and it was now six hours since he’d left his cell. David knew he had no choice but to go forward as being caught would have meant instant death.
With no partner to help him, he rammed the ladder into the ground and clambered up, and because he was sweating so much David remembers feeling “the tingle of the electricity coming through” his soaked trousers.
After hooking his remaining rope to the wire, he slid down to the ground – but his journey was over.
He could see dawn was coming so he couldn’t escape via the moat – he had to go across the bridge joining the prison to the land.
David “couldn’t resist a peek at the guard’s tower” and to his horror saw a guard staring at him, but fortunately they did nothing as “he probably thought it was another guard sneaking in late for work”.
Having broken out of prison, David knew he wasn’t truly free until he was out of the country.
So he headed for a hideout spot to collect some money and counterfeit passports that a former inmate had left for him and headed straight to the airport.
This is where he spent his last $500 on a flight to Singapore under the name Charles McLintock.
Once in Singapore, he bought a pair of trunks and dived straight into the hotel swimming pool – a feeling he’d never forget as less than 24 hours before he was banged up in a maximum security jail.
But not two years later, David found himself in more trouble.
This time he says he was being caned and electrocuted by police in Pakistan over his suspected involvement in the smuggling of 14 kilos of opium.
“I was face down on this table with a clip on each toe with a rubber sheet over me so the guard could sit on me,” he said.
“There really is nothing like being electrocuted, it’s so much worse than being beaten.”
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Fortunately he was saved by a liaison from the British Embassy who’d heard in passing there was an “English foreigner” locked away, and he managed to put a stop to the torture.
When David eventually returned to England, he steered clear of trouble but spent two years in Wandsworth Prison, between 2014-2016, after the Thai authorities tried to have him extradited.
But David insists Thailand “didn’t actually want him”, and when he pointed out that their warrants were over 20 years old they “accepted” it.
Now, David says he’s gone straight and fits CCTV cameras for a living.
He looks back on his former life and says he regrets it s “life is very short”.
If you’d like to hear more about David’s tale, you can get a copy of his book ‘Unforgiving Destiny’ here .
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