When Jeanette met David, he was a tough criminal who was wanted in Australia and facing the death penalty in Thailand. So why did she marry him? William Langley investigates.
Where do they end up, those shadowy super-villains and criminal geniuses whose lives seem to have been lifted from movie scripts? Usually behind bars, dead, or seeing out their days in forgotten places among the beautiful and damned. Few return to what David McMillan, Australia’s most notorious drug trafficker, calls “the warm heart of humanity”, and the reason may be that crime, along with its other hazards, destroys the ability to love.
David, 54, is sitting in a small suburban house, south of London. The lights are cheery, the sofas squashy and the soft buzz of domestic contentment neatly belies the fact that this most enigmatic of crooks should be 9500km away in a Bangkok jail. Snuggled at David’s side is Jeanette Dufaur, the woman who appears to have succeeded – where the justice systems of three continents conspicuously failed – in helping him stay straight.
At the height of his Australasian drug-trade ill repute, David was a multi-millionaire, with homes in Melbourne, London and Hong Kong, to name a few. For years, using charm, nous and ruthlessness, he built a sophisticated and lucrative smuggling network that crisscrossed the globe. He lived well on the proceeds, but he didn’t know when to stop. Just before Christmas 1993, he was arrested in Thailand and sent to Klong Prem Central Prison – known to its inmates as “the Bangkok Hilton”.
This vast, concrete sprawl was reputed to be escape-proof. David put his mind to work, and spent two years perfecting a plan. One steamy, August night in 1996, he cut through his prison cell bars with a hacksaw blade, shimmied down the wall using a makeshift rope, retrieved a ladder and wire-cutters that he’d hidden in a hobby store, crossed an open sewer, scaled the electrified outer fence and, as dawn broke, was in a taxi, heading for a safe house where a forged passport was waiting. Two hours later, he was boarding a plane out of the country.
The book he subsequently wrote about this episode,Escape, ends as he touches down in Singapore but it is far from the end of the story. Today, David is a changed man. Redeemed, he says, by his love for Jeanette, a vivacious, blonde interior design consultant. Not that turning his life around has been an easy process. Or a pretty one.
"Getting together has changed both of us," says Jeanette. "We have been able to help each other. Both of us had difficulties in our lives that had to be overcome. When I first got to know David, I couldn’t believe how kind, how humble he seemed. He wasn’t like anyone I'd met before."
This meeting happened in the late 1990s after Jeanette’s husband, David Dufaur, a London gem dealer, known as "Diamond Dave", was arrested in Pakistan on drug smuggling charges. Although the evidence appeared flimsy and Dave loudly protested his innocence, he was taken to a remand prison in Karachi. One of the first people he met inside was David, who – having quickly returned to his bad old ways after the Bangkok caper – was being held in the same cell block.
When David secured his release, he called Jeanette to give her news of her husband. Soon they were chatting regularly and a frisson of attraction between them began to blossom. Before long, Jeanette left her husband to be with David.
A few years later, does Jeanette worry David might reoffend? "I hope that he won’t," she says. "If he does, he is stupid, because he will lose everything. If he loves me, as he says he does, and he loves the girls, who think the world of him, he won't do it. I hope he won't because I've had enough disappointments in my life…"
Read more of this story in the February issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.