Brenden Abbott, ‘the Postcard Bandit’, at a Gold Coast hotel swimming pool. Photo: File
Brenden Abbott, ‘the Postcard Bandit’, at a Gold Coast hotel swimming pool. Photo: File

‘Postcard Bandit’s’ shock jailbreak revealed

Sir David Longland Correctional Centre, Brisbane.

Tuesday, 5 November, 1997 - a few minutes before midnight.

Gunshots ripped through the warm night air.

The teenage sniper had taken aim at the prison patrol vehicle, and was steadily unloading his magazine into the Toyota LandCruiser.

Inside correctional officer Mark Fritz and his colleague lay trapped, their bodies pressed flat to the seats.

They listened to the metallic zing of the bullets as they ricocheted off the car's armour - riveted steel panels fitted to the vehicle's exterior for protection in the event it was ever shot at.

That moment was now.

Just metres away, five of the country's most dangerous prisoners were making a break to freedom, led by notorious bank robber Brenden Abbott.

Brenden Abbott, the Postcard Bandit. Photo: Supplied
Brenden Abbott, the Postcard Bandit. Photo: Supplied

 

 

Former correctional officer Mark Fritz was caught in the crossfire of one of Australia's most sensational jailbreaks, led by Brenden Abbott. Picture: Simon Hughes
Former correctional officer Mark Fritz was caught in the crossfire of one of Australia's most sensational jailbreaks, led by Brenden Abbott. Picture: Simon Hughes

Abbott was known for his daring antics, and had been nicknamed the 'Postcard Bandit' following his escape from Fremantle prison a few years earlier. During six years on the run, myth has it he taunted police by sending postcards from his locations.

And this jailbreak would be just as audacious, making newspaper front pages for months.

For correctional officer Fritz, it all began on a still November night in the aftermath of the Melbourne Cup.

HEAR THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE ON GUARD PODCAST BELOW:

Sitting at his post, he noticed a car passing the prison.

"It was driving very slowly which I thought was suspicious.

"So I said to my offsider, 'I've got a bit of a sixth instinct something's not right'.

"I said, 'Let's go for a drive around the perimeter' … Around the back of the jail there was always a lot of wildlife but this particular night there was no wildlife, and again I said, 'there's something strange. I've got a gut feeling, there's something not right'."

Then, the call came through the radio.

"Five inmates escaping out of zone seven."

Brenden Abbott aka 'Postcard Bandit' touring in Bungle Bungle National Park in Western Australia.
Brenden Abbott aka 'Postcard Bandit' touring in Bungle Bungle National Park in Western Australia.

 

Former Qld police Minister Russell Cooper and officer Mark Fritz inside the prison’s new armoured Hummer vehicle at Sir David Longland Correctional Centre in 1998. The cars were purchased in the aftermath of the Abbott escape. Picture: Nathan Richter
Former Qld police Minister Russell Cooper and officer Mark Fritz inside the prison’s new armoured Hummer vehicle at Sir David Longland Correctional Centre in 1998. The cars were purchased in the aftermath of the Abbott escape. Picture: Nathan Richter

Fritz and his colleague turned their car around a corner.

"And with that just came out a hail of gunfire," he recalls.

"They [the bullets] started hitting the vehicle and then what happened was the vehicle stalled."

Brendan Berichon, a recently released inmate and protégé to Abbott, was standing just outside the fence with a high-powered rifle.

It was his job to shoot any officers who tried to disrupt Abbott, convicted murderers Jason Nixon, Oliver Alincic and Andrew Jeffrey, and serial rapist Peter Stirling from making their escape.

The prisoners had used diamond-encrusted "angel wire" to cut through their cell bars, then winched them open using bed sheets. A feat Fritz believes was made possible by jail cutbacks on staff.

"They were that short-staffed that they weren't doing any cell bar checks and that's how they did it," he says.

The prisoners used cell chairs to scale a fence crowned with two rolls of razor wire and cut through three more security fences, before Berichon threw them bolt cutters for the final fence.

 

Accomplice Brendan Luke Berichon who helped Abbott escape. Picture: Supplied
Accomplice Brendan Luke Berichon who helped Abbott escape. Picture: Supplied

Inside the car, Fritz and his colleague desperately turned the key in the ignition but the gunfire had disabled the car's battery and the radio they could use to call for help.

Now they were sitting ducks, illuminated for their sniper by fluorescent lights on the jail's perimeter.

Fritz dived into the back to get his weapon but reaching the vehicle's portholes, located on the side of the car, meant climbing back over the seats through gunfire.

"That's when I saw five inmates run across the road and one of the inmates actually turned and looked at us and I recognised him: it was Oliver Alincic.

"I was in the back of the vehicle and every time I used to stick my head up I would come under gun fire again from the guy that was up on the ridge," says Fritz.

 

A WA police poster depicting Abbott in an array of possible disguises. Picture: WA Police
A WA police poster depicting Abbott in an array of possible disguises. Picture: WA Police

Suddenly, a cascade of dust to fell across Fritz' face.

"It felt like I walked through a cobweb," he recalls.

"What had actually happened was that one of the bullets actually came through the top of the vehicle above the windscreen and what I thought was a cobweb was actually the fibres from the roof lining, they actually filtered down in front of me. So I was quite lucky because the bullet probably missed me by about a couple of inches."

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As an alarmed public were told five armed and dangerous inmates were on the loose, 150 police in flak jackets swarmed the city, helicopters zigzagging through the skies.

Alincic, Nixon and Jeffrey were apprehended within weeks but Abbott stayed on the run for six months until he was finally caught at a Darwin laundromat.

It wasn't until several years later that Fritz ran into Abbott again, while escorting him between prisons.

"He said, 'look Boss, what happened there in '97 … it wasn't personal.'

I said, 'OK, fair enough.'

But I never took it personally. I just thought it was part of the job."

This is a bonus episode of News Corp's groundbreaking podcast, On Guard.

On Guard takes listeners inside the prison walls as correctional officers share their tales from the frontline.

Listen, watch, experience www.onguardseries.com.au

Originally published as 'Postcard Bandit's' shock jailbreak revealed

Escapee Brenden Abbott's tattoo. Picture: Supplied
Escapee Brenden Abbott's tattoo. Picture: Supplied
Security video of Brenden Abbott in an armed holdup at Woodville Park in South Australia.
Security video of Brenden Abbott in an armed holdup at Woodville Park in South Australia.


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