NOTHING quite strikes fear into people's minds like hardened criminals escaping from prison.
That is exactly what happened 35 years ago when four prisoners simply vanished from Bendigo's prison in a scene that might evoke iconic movie The Shawshank Redemption.
The guards only realised they had tunnelled out after 7am.
By then, two murderers on life sentences, an armed robber and a teenage burglar were on the run.
The escape was not the first at Bendigo in what was by that stage more than a century of service. It would not be the last.
Some of the prison's escapes were straightforward.
One prisoner spent half an hour breathing free air in 1997 after telling a prison class instructor he was going to get some cigarettes.
Instead, he scampered up a mesh wall, climbed through razor wire, running along a roof and found his way through more razor wire.
Police found the man in a Barnard Street garden.
The prisoner had wanted to go see his girlfriend after their relationship hit a rocky patch.
It is not clear what she thought when a judge slapped an extra two months onto the prisoner's sentence.
How four men escaped Bendigo Prison
Other escapes were far more complex.
The 1986 jailbreak took a lot of careful planning, according to a Bendigo Advertiser article published as police began a full-scale search for the four absconded prisoners.
Inmates must have spent weeks smuggling in pieces of metal and tunnelling through cells to a basement workshop, the article quoted police saying.
Some time after prisoners were locked in their cells at 6.30pm on April 22, someone cut a hole in the brick and wood floor of a second storey cell.
The cell contained 22-year-old convicted murderer Richard Miller, 22-year-old armed robber Richard Morris and 17-year-old burglar Craig Russell.
They climbed down to a ground floor cell, where they and 31-year-old convicted murderer John Graham finished a second tunnel down into a basement workshop.
The prisoners then cut through the workshop's metal bars, slipped into a courtyard and breached the wall.
They had brought a grappling hook to drop over the wall, which someone had made out of metal and scraps of hessian.
Prison staff discovered the escape at 7am the following morning and police set up roadblocks around much of central Victoria.
But it was too late. Prisoners had stolen a car and were long gone.
That day, Detective Chief Inspector John Duperouzel told the Advertiser they could be hiding out in Melbourne, the country or interstate.
"All escapees are difficult because we don't know what they intend," he said.
He said two men - Graham and Morris - should be considered "extremely dangerous" if they got their hands on firearms.
Police began tracking down all four escapee's contacts and fielding calls from the public about potential sightings.
New South Wales police began their own search after a tip-off from a member of the public.
It was all something of a waiting game, Detective Chief Inspector said Duperousely said.
"We will keep checking and checking and experience tells us they will eventually turn up," he said.
Escapees narrowly slip copper chopper
As the days wore on, police traced a chain of stolen cars and sightings to rugged bushland near the NSW town of Narrabi, more than 1000km from Bendigo.
They sealed off part of the Nandewar Ranges and deployed dogs, helicopters and SWAT teams.
Only "bad luck" stopped them catching the men on day five, police said.
A search helicopter sighted the escapees but was running low on fuel and could not land officers in such rugged terrain.
Meanwhile, the government was facing flack for allowing convicted murderers to serve in Medium security prisons like Bendigo's.
All four men had been classed as suitable for the prison despite authorities telling the public three were considered dangerous.
The government defended its system and said the escape was aided by the prison's age.
The next day, the government announced work would start on building a new Castlemaine jail within the year.
Pressure only seemed to rise for authorities, though.
By day 11, three prisoners had escaped from central Victoria's Malmsbury Youth Training Centre by climbing through a skylight.
One police officer told The Advertiser "frequent escapes" from the centre were worrying because escapees often committed crimes while on the run.
He said centre staff were "doing their best" but were being let down by superiors in Melbourne.
To add to the government's woes, NSW police believed the Bendigo escapees had slipped the dragnet.
Finally, some good news
A week-and-a-half into the search, a New South Wales woman went out the back of her hotel and found someone.
She offered him a cup of tea.
John Graham, convicted murderer, declined.
The woman went inside and called the police.
An officer arrived minutes later and Graham gave up, at gunpoint, without a struggle.
The escapee was tired and hungry, police told the media.
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Police suspected Graham's accomplices had headed for Sydney.
But patrol officers stumbled across fellow escapee Richard Morris days later in Melbourne.
The escapee was napping in the back seat of a car. Police had come upon it after noticing it had stolen number plates.
The coppers had checked the car after noticing it had stolen number plates.
Officers arrested Richard Miller and Craig Russell the next day in Sunshine.
How bad was Bendigo Prison's escape record?
These days, Victoria's prison system is overseen by the Justice and Community Safety.
It says prison design, security and intelligence has come a very, very long way.
"There is no comparison between correctional facilities built over one hundred years ago to those prisons built today in terms of security," a spokesperson said.
Back in 1986, the Advertiser characterised escapes from the city's prison as "rare", though it noted that another prisoner had broken free for a very short time earlier in the decade.
Victims groups were among those that were not convinced the prison was fit for purpose at the time and were lobbying for its closure.
Four more prisoners had a crack at tunnelling through their cells in 1990 and came centimetres from succeeding.
They were about to remove the last of the sandstone blocks they had cut out of a wall when prison officer Bob Gates heard a strange scraping sound and went to investigate.
"I was just lucky I think. You can walk around all night and not hear anything," he told the Advertiser in the days that followed.
The government ended up building a slew of new prisons by the early 1990s, but kept the Bendigo jail going until 2006.
People passing the building in those later years would often hear the prison's band playing AC/DC songs.
It is unclear whether guards allowed them to play AC/DC's hit song Jailbreak.
The prison was later converted into Ulumbarra Theatre, so now the only people staging daring escapes are actors.
This story is another in the regular Bendigo Weekly history series WHAT HAPPENED?
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