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

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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