A FUGITIVE TALE FIT FOR A MOVIE
Longstanding Julatten resident Patton Eidson was taken into detention in May over immigration matters. The Immigration Minister has said Eidson may be granted a residency visa if he first goes back to his native America. How he came to live in Australia i
Patton Eidson was a former member of the US Coast Guard, a division of the armed forces. Coast Guard stations were based all around the world to aid military and commercial navigation, and in the 1960s Patton was serving in Greece. While there, he met his wife, Sonja, a tour guide from Denmark. Patton left the Coast Guard and went into business with his wife supplying arts and craft to US and European galleries.
Until the age of eight, their daughter Maya, an only child, and had lived with her parents in something that moved – a car, campervan or boat – as they travelled through Mexico, South America and Africa sourcing artefacts. They settled in the US so Maya could go to school, with her parents continuing their business.
But one day in 1985 events demanded that their travels would be complicated. This is what had happened.
Patton Eidson was in San Francisco, playing golf with business contacts. Well, he was too weak to play so was just riding around in the buggy. For much of the previous year Eidson had been at death’s door after picking up a flesh-eating parasite, Entamoeba histolytica, on a six-day visit to collect weavings in Surabaya, Indonesia. When the golfers got back to their hotel, federal agents were waiting with guns drawn. The agents, investigating a sophisticated drug smuggling ring, released Eidson six hours later without charge.
The couple’s business sourced primarily weavings and pre-Columbian ceramics from Central America, South America and Asia. But authorities believed Eidson had a lucrative sideline as an international drug smuggler. Court records state that investigators built a case that Eidson had arranged in 1984 and 1985 for large shipments of marijuana to be delivered to Northern California.
More than three tonnes arrived in one shipment from Thailand in July 1985 before being taken to a warehouse and loaded onto trucks.
A “drug ledger” allegedly found in Eidson’s briefcase kept records of marijuana dealings, according to authorities. He denies the drug allegations and says he was made a scapegoat.
Two weeks after the golf trip, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) told the Eidsons they had been assessed as having undeclared income of $1 million each. The amount was based on estimated drug earnings. The IRS wanted its cut of the alleged takings.
Everyone in the accused syndicate was hit with bills for the same amount. Under the laws of the time (since changed), the IRS viewed you as guilty until proven innocent.
The couple was facing up to 20 years’ jail for tax evasion if they couldn’t counter the allegations.
Two days after the IRS bill arrived, Patton was away on business in Los Angeles and phoned home to talk to Sonja. A man answered – it was a federal agent, raiding the home.
That was the day Maya found her mum packing. Patton never went home again.
The three of them spent the next few months on the run in the US, travelling around in a campervan. Maya never knew how her father managed to get the false passports, but it was simple, really.
“We didn’t steal anybody’s identities, they were friends,” Eidson, told me.
Family friends Mike and Anita McGoldrick had never had passports. The McGoldricks gave Eidson their birth certificates and social security cards. From there it was easy enough to get driver’s licences and then passports.
Patton and Sonja Eidson became Mike and Anita McGoldrick. The McGoldricks didn’t have any children, but the Eidsons obtained a passport for Maya under the name “Sharon Gregory”. (Maya and Patton declined to comment about the identity of the real Sharon Gregory.)
Maya says she had to “remember all the right things” about her new identity.
The passports were real, just with photos of the impostors. Just in case, though, Maya flew out of the country separately.
Her parents came up with a plan to get her special treatment. “When they booked my ticket they told the airline I was mentally retarded so they would look after me better,” Maya says.
“They didn’t tell me that because I would have kicked up a fuss over it. I couldn’t work out why everyone was being so super nice to me. I think I got upgraded to business class.”
The trio reunited in Europe and then flew to New Zealand, where they planned to live.
In early 1986 the family arrived in Sydney and bought a Ford station wagon. Sonja had picked a place to live that looked, on a map, like it had the best location and climate.
When they reached Townsville, they knew it wasn’t for them and kept driving.
Eventually they arrived in Julatten.
A real estate agent took them to a secluded, half-finished timber house on 17ha. The property was the perfect bolthole. As soon as they saw it, they knew it was home.
Over time the Eidsons turned their property into a health retreat, the Julatten Mountain Retreat.
Patton and Sonja easily dropped into using the names Mike and Anita, but no one could get used to “Sharon”.
So, Maya told everyone she preferred Maya. No one realised who the McGoldricks really were until the real Mike McGoldrick died back in the US which raised the attention of authorities who had recorded him as not living there.
Over the years hundreds of guests stayed at the retreat. Newspaper reporters were among them and wrote glowing reviews.
The Eidsons relaxed. They’d seemingly got away with it.
Main photo: Patton Eidson with daughter Maya. Inset left: with wife Sonja. Right: Patton in 1965 in the Coast Guard