true crime

Australia’s Bonnie and Clyde: The prison guard who fell in love with an inmate.

It was a tale of star-crossed lovers gone very wrong.

Peter Gibb, 38, was a career criminal who’d been in and out of prison for two decades; Heather Parker, a 30-year-old prison guard and mum of two whose marriage was falling apart.

Together with the help of another prison inmate, they would hatch a plan to break Gibb out of jail, sparking a five-day manhunt and one of Australia's largest criminal pursuits.

"It was painted as a Bonnie and Clyde love story, but it was actually much more than that," journalist and author Megan Norris told Mamamia’s True Crime Conversations.

Watch: Cassie Sainsbury's prison guard speaks out. Post continues after video. 

Video via Nine News. 

"It was a really, very dangerous liaison, much more than a love story. Because once an affair like that starts, there’s opportunity for blackmail. 

"There’s opportunity for bringing things into prison, like contraband – such as explosives, as was in this case – and for her to be manipulated by other people."

The "illicit" love affair.

In 1993, Peter Gibb was behind bars, serving a 10-year sentence.


"He was in the Melbourne Remand Centre facing charges of armed robbery, and he had a past conviction for manslaughter," Megan explained. "He was a dangerous violent criminal."

But despite the obstacles within the high-security centre that housed more than 250 hardened criminals while they awaited trial, sentencing and transfer, Peter met Heather and they fell for each other. Or rather, Peter targeted Heather, according to Megan.

"One thing these crims are good at is they’re predators and they target people and they watch people and they keep people under surveillance, so at close quarters like that, Heather would have been a pretty easy target," Megan said. 

"They’re very clever at convincing people to do what they want. And that’s the danger with these sorts of illicit trysts." 

But after the pair were caught by another prisoner sneaking out of a locked linen closet, Heather was transferred to the Corrections Head Office in South Melbourne. 

It was here that the mother-of-two realised she had access to restricted files – files she could use to her advantage. Together with the help of another inmate, Archie Butterly, acting as the 'middle man', the couple hatched a plan to break Peter out of jail.

"Basically, it became sort of, 'I’ll do anything for love,'" explained Megan. "They did say Heather was pathologically obsessed with him. It was a real infatuation. She was vulnerable, she was unhappy in her marriage, she wasn’t getting as much access to her kids as she wanted, she was lost, and he’d shown her a lot of attention." 


Whether that was intentional – "because his real end game was to get himself out of there", says Megan – is uncertain.

The jailbreak.

At 6pm on March 7, 1993, guards and inmates were distracted by a prison boxing tournament. That's when Peter and his wingman Archie made their move, using plastic explosives — which had somehow been smuggled into the jail — to smash open the armoured window of their second-floor prison cell. Then, using a rope made of sheets, the pair scaled down the building and fled to a getaway car that was waiting in the alleyway below.

Fortunately, a prison officer who’d witnessed the bold escape jumped into a taxi and followed the inmates through peak-hour Melbourne traffic. After the fleeing pair crashed several times, injured themselves, stole a motorcycle from a good samaritan who’d stopped to help, and shot a police officer, they got away.

Once they got out of the city, Peter and Archie picked up a Mitsubishi Pajero that had been left for them in a warehouse, stopping in at a local hospital in regional Victoria to get their injuries patched up.

They then picked up Heather and took off into the bush.

The trio set up camp, remaining in the wilderness for five days, before checking themselves into a hotel in town. By this point, Archie was bleeding heavily, so the group decided to burn the room to cover the evidence before fleeing once more. 


But rather than simply destroying the room, the fire they set caused the entire hotel to burn down, alerting local police – who soon put two and two together and launched a large-scale manhunt to catch the outlaws.

The shootout.

While authorities scoured remote bushland, some walkers came across a makeshift camp and the abandoned Pajero, which had been partially covered with branches, nearby.

But while police set up a stakeout, the media got wind of what was happening and sent out helicopters with camera crews to capture the action – only serving to alert the three who were on the run. They bunkered down in a foxhole while officers sent search dogs in.

As the special operations group got within 20 metres of the trio, Archie – who was armed "to the teeth" with weapons, said Megan – started firing.

Listen to the episode of True Crime Conversations on the prison guard who fell in love with an inmate. Post continues after podcast.

After a half-hour standoff, a team of officers who’d been caught in the crossfire spotted Heather and Peter trying to make a break for it. As they waded into the Goulburn River, the officers jumped on the couple, wrestling them to the ground and arresting the pair.

Meanwhile, Archie died in the shootout, "from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the back of his ear," said Megan.


"Their arrest was sensational, obviously.

"There were media choppers around, they’d burned down the local hotel. You know, it was a real Bonnie and Clyde escape. It was certainly the stuff of movies. 

"You know, this illicit affair that had led to this very bold prison breakdown at 6-o’clock at night, which in March would have been broad daylight, into rush hour traffic and led police on a merry chase across Victoria."

The relationship was "doomed" from the start.

While Peter and Heather’s relationship made headlines around Australia and became the basis for the TV movie One Way Ticket, Megan insists it wasn’t what it seemed. 

"They did appear to be in love and certainly that was used as a defence when they eventually came to court – that they were star-crossed lovers that just wanted to be together – and he was looking at a very, very long sentence," she said.

"But it wasn’t this lovely, harmless love affair at all. It was a highly dangerous liaison because this relationship put lives at risk."

And of course, it didn’t end well. 

"Underneath this sort of 'Bonnie and Clyde' glamour story, it didn't have a happy ending. These things never have a happy ending," Megan said. 

While Heather and Peter were each charged with more than 40 offences relating to the escape and given 10 years in prison, Heather only served three and a half years before she was paroled, as she had never been in trouble before.


Meanwhile, Peter’s charges were reduced and he was actually freed first, so he could pick Heather up in a limo and take her to the Crown Towers when she was released. 

The couple went on to have two children together – but again, this was no fairy tale ending. 

"Anyone could have seen that the relationship was doomed from the start," Megan said. "The police were constantly being called to the house. Heather was calling police to protect her from Peter’s drunken rages. He was a violent man and life was not easy."

When Peter was caught cheating on Heather, she “savagely” attacked the other woman with a bar stool and was charged with assault. Peter tried to persuade the woman to drop the charges, and was charged with preventing the course of justice. He went back to jail, and Heather got off with a suspended sentence.

The pair stayed together for a while longer, according to Megan, before separating. 

In 2011, after pranking a friend’s 11-year-old son by locking him in a freezer, Peter was attacked by his friends.

He died days later in hospital from an underlying heart condition. 

Image: Victoria Police/Getty.

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