An escaped convict who turned himself in to police after 29 years on the run for becoming homeless is now supported by his local community who are trying to keep him out of jail.
Darko Desic, 64, escaped Grafton Prison in 1992 and fled to Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches, where he worked for money as a stonemason and was known as ‘Dougie’ among the local community who had no idea of his troubled past .
Born in the former Yugoslavia, Desic was jailed for three years and eight months in 1991 after being caught growing cannabis, but was literally released from prison after just 13 months.
He has lived and worked in Avalon for the past three decades, but in the wake of the recent Covid-19 lockdown in Sydney, Desic lost his job, was unable to pay 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 in to the police on Sunday.
Since his arrest, one of the beach’s wealthiest men, property developer and Mortgage Choice co-founder Peter Higgins, has taken charge of a group helping the hapless Desic with his impending legal battle.
Darko Desic, 64, (pictured) escaped from Grafton Prison in 1992 and fled to Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches, where he worked for money 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 rebuild Desic’s life. So far, it has made just over $3,000.
Desic, as a fugitive, hadn’t been able to get a driver’s license since he got out of prison and has to walk everywhere.
He also never saw a doctor or dentist during his three decades of living outside the law due to fear of being exposed.
The 64-year-old was held without bail and is currently being held in Silverwater Prison.
Mr Higgins is known to have paid lawyer Simon Long, of one of Sydney’s leading firms, McGirr and Associates, to assist Desic.
A neighbor of Desic told Daily Mail Australia that ‘Dougie’ was not easy to talk to, ‘but now I know why.’
“He didn’t talk to anyone about his past. He was very quiet, a little uncomfortable even. I think we now know why,” said Shell Avalon, a massage therapist on the Northern Beaches.
Despite being quiet, Shell said “Dougie” was “kind to me.”
When she moved and couldn’t afford a mover, Desic helped her load a car for half a day.
Since his arrest, one of the richest men in the Northern Beaches, property developer and co-founder of Mortgage Choice, Peter Higgins (pictured), has led a group that helps the hapless Desic with his impending legal battle
When a thunderstorm hit her home, she was without power and her driveway was littered with fallen tree branches.
While she works from her home, the storm caused serious problems for her customers.
Selflessly, Desic not only cleared the rubble from her driveway, but connected a power cable from his house to hers for nine days.
“He wouldn’t take a dime from me,” Shell said.
“He was a decent hardworking man, he walked everywhere because he couldn’t get a driver’s license. He paid his rent and kept to himself, just as decent as anyone around.’
“If we saw each other after that, we’d smile and wave.”
Shell was shocked to learn of his past and his fate.
“I heard he lived on the beach. He was a healthy strong guy, but he clearly couldn’t stand it.’
Neighbor, Shell Avalon, who lived next door to the escaped convict, said Desic was a kind and good-hearted man
Another neighbor who has lived right next door to the escapee for the past decade said he was shocked to discover Desic’s predicament.
“He was just a nice guy and a normal hard working guy, we chatted over the fence every now and then,” the neighbor who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Mail Australia.
‘In the ten years that we lived next door, there were never any problems. He was certainly a friendly neighbor, he mowed the nature strip in front.’
He said Desic seemed like a “normal guy” and that he and his roommates mostly kept to themselves.
“I’d like to see him live a happy life.”
The 64-year-old has at least a little over a year and a month to serve his outstanding sentence before he can apply for parole.
But he also faces an additional maximum of seven years in prison for escaping from prison in the first place after police charged him with escaping lawful custody.
Mr Higgins told the Daily Telegram, they hoped to see that Desic didn’t “spend more time in prison than necessary.”
“I mean, the man is clearly a decent person who hasn’t stepped foot since he got out of prison and lives his life here quietly, but misses out on the things most people take for granted.
“He hasn’t hurt anyone, he’s never reached out for government support, and he’s helped people in our community.”
Darko Desic, 64, (pictured) has a minimum of just over a year and a month to serve his outstanding sentence before he can apply for parole
Darko Desic used a metal hacksaw to cut through the bars of his cell windows in Grafton Prison (pictured) before stealing bolt cutters from a shed to get through the fence to freedom
After Desic turned himself in, police said: “He slept on the beach on Saturday night and said, ‘Stop it, I’m going back to jail with a roof over my head'”.
At the time of his escape in the dead of night on August 1, 1992, he used a metal hacksaw to cut through the bars of the windows of his prison cell and force his way out of the prison grounds.
He then broke into a workshop and grabbed a pair of bolt cutters to get through the prison gate to freedom.
Desic’s motivation was his fear that he would be deported at the end of his prison sentence, fearing punishment if he was sent back to his homeland, which was at the time crumbling into civil war.
He had previously fled to Australia to avoid military service and fighting in the war.
He was briefly profiled on Australia’s Most Wanted TV show in 1998 when someone thought they saw him in Nowra, south of Sydney.
On Sunday, Darko Desic went to Dee Why’s police station (pictured) and turned himself in, putting an end to decades of deception
Desic lived and worked as ‘Dougie the worker’ in the upscale beachside suburb (pictured), staying out of trouble and avoiding any confrontation with the police
But what he didn’t know, his fugitive status ended 20 years after his escape, and even immigration officials gave up on finding him and granted him a residence permit in 2008.
His humble but free life on the idyllic northern beaches came crashing down with the Covid lockdown, when home visits were banned.
“He said he had lived in Avalon for nearly three decades and was only doing labor and odd jobs for cash,” the police source said.
“He has complied fully with the law, has never been brought to the attention, has never been spoken to. He told us he never caused anyone any trouble, so no one ever looked at him twice.’
Desic appeared on a video link at Central Local Court on Tuesday and will appear in court again on September 28.
Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t filed for bail.
Lockdown has put an end to a fugitive’s incredible 29 years on the run since he escaped prison and lived free under the radar on Sydney’s northern beaches (pictured)