Fifteen years after Briton Lisa Marie Smith vanished from Bangkok while on bail accused of serious drug trafficking charges, mysterious clues have begun to emerge suggesting she is living in Sydney. And if curious cryptic messages posted on trees and walls are to be believed, Miss Smith, a former star pupil at Eastleigh College, near Southampton, is now living in my neighbourhood – and perhaps in my street. When she fled from Thailand in February 1996, the-then 20-year-old daughter of a wealthy Hong Kong-based insurance company executive, is believed to have used a second passsport – she held both British and Australian documents – to flee to Greece. There, she obtained a new British passport and vanished – ending up among the top 10 on Interpol’s ‘Most Wanted’ list. An international police search, involving crack investigators in Britain and Australia, failed to find any clues as to Miss Smith’s whereabouts and her father, who had posted bail for her in Thailand, insisted he had no idea where she was. But small, fascinating signs written on pieces of plaster and wood, have been popping up around the inner-west suburbs of Sydney suggesting that Miss Smith is living in the area – and may have even scrawled one of them herself.
I had written extensively about Miss Smith when she fled Thailand in August 1996 after being the first foreigner to be given bail on serious drug charges after her millionaire father, Terry Smith, had paid around £30,000 to secure her temporary freedom to await future court appearances. It had been claimed by police that she was carrying opium when she was first arrested as she tried to fly out of Bangkok – a charge that can result in the death penalty – but that was reduced to hashish and amphetamines after her parents arrived in the country with a top lawyer.
Miss Smith spent six months in Lard Yao Prison – nicknamed the Bangkok Hilton – before being granted bail and fleeing the country. She obtained a new British passport in Greece and vanished, defying all police efforts to find her. But at the end of my street, less than 30 yards from the entrance to the local railway station, an intriguing sign has been attached to a tree.
Written on a small block of white-painted wood, the message reads: ‘Lisa Marie Smith. I did it for you, Damien. Look at me. Omen.’
Just two days earlier, totally by chance, I had noticed another small sign, written on a piece of plaster that had been painted red, and stuck on the side of a house. It read: ‘Lisa Marie Smith. Bangkok Hilton Fugitive 1996’.
British police, who admit the runaway has ‘dropped off our radar’, have said she may have changed her name to McGuigan. Could the reference to ‘Damien’ on the block of wood in my street refer to an Irishman she knows…an Irishman called McGuigan? Further checks on the internet reveal that there are other references to Lisa Marie Smith, some suggesting that she should go to jail and that Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, serving 20 years in Bali, should go free.
One sign echos the British police belief that she now has an Irish surname. Stuck to a wall in the Sydney suburb of Newtown – one rail stop from my home – it blares out the name of Lisa Marie Smith, points out that she is a fugitive from the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, and adds: ‘New Identity – McGuigan? Travels Eire 2 Australia as Though Invisible.’
The story Miss Smith told investigators immediately after her arrest resulted in her being accused of lying. She said she had befriended a Pakistani man who on hearing she was short of money, agreed to pay her to take a rucksack to Tokyo ‘for a friend’. When she reached Bangkok airport with the rucksack – and she insisted she did not know it contained drugs – police who had been tipped off were waiting for her.
It is believed she was set up as a distraction, to divert the attention of police away from a bigger smuggling operation that was being worked at the same time. Perhaps if Miss Smith and I should meet in my street, she’ll tell me more. And the coffee invitation stands.