AFTER four years on the run through dozens of countries with his two children, the
end of the road for Malcolm Town came soon after he left the Last Home guesthouse
in central Phnom Penh.
About 3:30am on Jan 3, Town hurriedly left the guesthouse with children Jan, seven,
and Floyd, five, to be taken to a friend's house.
Two hours later a car pulled up outside the house, as arranged, to take him and his
children somewhere "safe".
It was a set-up. In the front passenger seat of the car sat a private detective,
employed by the children's mother, who had tracked Town around the world.
As Town and the children got into the back seat, the man turned to face them and
said: "I think you know who I am, Malcolm."
A second car drove up, with several Cambodian police officers in it. The detective
and the police took the children away.
It was a dramatic ending to a story that could have come straight out of a Hollywood
thriller. A wealthy businessman, his assets frozen by court order, plays cat and
mouse over the world with his estranged wife and her private detective, with two
young children caught in the middle.
It began in late 1991 when Town, separated from his wife, took their two children
from his Australian home and disappeared overseas.
His German wife, Birgette, who lives in Australia, later obtained a custody order
for the children and hired private detective Mike Martino to look for them.
By Town's own account to friends in Phnom Penh, he took his children through 33 countries,
at least in transit, in the next four years.
They lived in five of them - Cyprus, Israel, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia - spending
the longest time in Indonesia where Town met his second (though not legal) wife,
Martino was often not far behind. He caught up with Town in Indonesia, where the
detective reportedly tried to snatch the children. The circumstances are unclear,
but diplomats confirm that Martino spent several months in prison in Indonesia because
of the incident.
Town and Umi took his children to Vietnam, where months later his history caught
up with him again. Jan and Floyd's passports, according to what he told friends,
were grabbed by several men trying to find the boys.
He fled to Cambodia with the children, despite not having their passports, mid-last
year and they moved into a guesthouse with Umi.
Town kept a low-profile, securing work with a local business, but did not keep his
history secret. He told friends and at least one prospective employer of being on
the run with his children.
In mid-September, Town, Umi and the children moved to the Last Home guesthouse, where
manager Urban Bosse said he repeatedly discussed Town's situation with him.
"He liked to talk. He told me many times, and many people who would come here
and sit down, talked about his problems with him. He was quite open," Bosse
said this week.
Town told Bosse that he had been rich, a millionaire, and owned many houses around
the world. But his money was gradually cut off after he took his children from Australia,
and his wife obtained court orders freezing his assets.
Most recently, friends of Town's in Australia had been served with injunctions preventing
them from giving money or any assistance at all to Town.
"One evening he explained the whole story to me. It took a long time,"
"He spoke a lot about the immigration and visa [procedures] in Indonesia, which
are very difficult, very strict. That was his goal, he wanted to go back to Indonesia...
he has friends and some business there.
"He spoke of Martino. He said, 'because of me, he spent three months in prison.
He will have a personal interest in catching me.'"
Jan and Floyd, according to Bosse, would also sometimes talk of Martino. They would
play games, acting as themselves or as Martino, "like good guys and bad guys".
Bosse maintained that the children seemed normal, spoke English, French and Indonesian
and attended a nearby private French school free of charge "because Malcolm
had problems with money."
Bosse disputed reports that the children were underfed, though he acknowledged that
two other people who had stayed at the guesthouse apparently believed so.
"They choose to say that, I don't know why. But in my point of view, that was
"Maybe in the last few days, when things got tough and they had trouble getting
money and food... but basically the kids always had food."
Bosse said Town was frugal with money and "he could tell you the cheapest [place
to get] rice, peanut butter, and things for Indonesian food, mainly."
But when Town tried to take Umi and the children back to Indonesia several weeks
ago, "I got a whole stock of food...that he left to me."
Town returned to Indonesia, apparently because he feared Martino would be tipped
off about him, but was immediately deported back to Cambodia because of visa problems.
Umi, who is pregnant, stayed there.
Town, who holds British and Australian nationality, and the children, who are also
German citizens, returned to the Last Home.
Within days, Martino had traced Town to Cambodia and arrived in Phnom Penh. Another
side to Town's past soon became public - he was wanted by the UK police on suspicion
of pharmaceutical fraud (involving a business venture importing medicines) and was
also said to have a pornography conviction (for running a mail order business including
"sex aids" in the Channel Islands, he told Bosse).
Other stories, less reliable, emerged. A newspaper advertisement placed by Martino,
offering a $1,000 reward for the children's whereabouts, said Town had taken the
boys against an Australian court order and faced extradition on criminal charges
The Australian Embassy confirmed this week that Town had custody of the children
when he took them overseas, and the mother later gained the court order, and that
he faced no charges there.
In Phnom Penh, Martino - posing as an Australian journalist calling himself Mike
Shaw - was soon on Town's trail. He began approaching Town's friends, offering $10,000
for an "interview" with him.
The help of the German Embassy (representing the children's mother) was enlisted,
along with that of the Cambodian police, believed to have staked out several guesthouses
in Phnom Penh.
Holed up at the Last Home, Town sent messages to the Indonesian and British Embassy,
seeking asylum for himself or his children.
"I'm asking the British Embassy to fly me and my kids to the UK, where the police
can talk to me about whatever they want," Town told the Post by telephone Jan
"I will fight for custody of my children in the UK, where the laws are more
liberal than the ridiculously biased custody laws in Australia," he claimed.
After the embassies turned him down, Bosse said Town initially planned to try to
make a run for Thailand via Koh Kong. He later changed his mind and, in need of money,
decided to contact "Mike Shaw" the journalist.
"He said this press guy should stay with him for one week and he would explain
the whole matter and let him [the journalist] watch him with the kids. And the press
guy would pay his accommodation for the week, that was the idea."
A friend of Town's, approached by Shaw, made the arrangements. The plan was hatched
in secret, and Bosse said he didn't really know what was going on until the friend
arrived in the middle of the night to collect Town.
A few hours later, Town returned to tell how Mike Shaw had turned out to be Mike
Martino. The children were taken to the German Embassy and later flown to Australia
with Martino to be reunited with their mother.
The Australian Embassy said a later doctor's report found the children were slightly
underweight, and presumably under some stress, but made no mention of any evidence
of physical abuse.
Town was last heard of in Sihanoukville, believed en route to Thailand.
"I think it was a relief also for him," said Bosse. "The last days
must have been very stressful for him."