3 June 2022

Driving across the world with tonnes of hashish: betrayal of 'Drug Grannies' revealed in new book

| Albert McKnight
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Black and white photo of Vera Hays and Florice Bessire holding hands in the air

Florice ‘Beezie’ Bessire (left) and Vera ‘Toddie’ Hays raise their arms in triumph outside their home in La Pine in 1983. Photo: Steve Boyer/Bend Bulletin.

It’s a wild story that sounds like it was made for the movies: in the 1970s, two women embarked on a road trip across exotic parts of the world but were betrayed by one of their own family members. When they reached Australia they were caught and jailed as, unbeknownst to them, their campervan was stuffed with two tonnes of drugs.

But this isn’t Hollywood; it’s the true story of Vera ‘Toddie’ Hays and Florice ‘Beezie’ Bessire as told in a new book that marks the end of a 40-year, globe-spanning journey for NSW Far South Coast author Sandi Logan, who helped campaign for their release all those years ago.

“I thought they were genuine, upstanding human beings when I met them; and I still think that about them now,” he said.

“You could not get a more cut-and-dried case of being duped and betrayed.

“Ultimately they were the ones who paid the price instead of those who set them up.”

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His book Betrayed recounts how in 1977 Toddie’s nephew, Vern Todd, offered them a campervan to drive from Germany to India. But then he and his associates secretly packed two tonnes of hashish into the vehicle along the way.

The story chronicles Toddie and Beezie’s wild ride across continents and oceans to Australian shores, their arrest by narcotics agents and the aftermath.

Mr Logan was a young journalist working in Toronto, Canada when he first heard of the case. He saw a story come in about two US women arrested in a campervan with two tonnes of hashish and his interest was piqued straight away.

Following a return to Australia in 1979 he decided to chase up the case and approached jail authorities for an interview, to which the women eventually agreed.

He started visiting them each weekend and what he initially thought might be a short story about two women who had been dubbed “Drug Grannies” – even though they were neither grandmothers nor took drugs – turned into a three-and-a-half-year campaign to free them.

Black and white photo of author Sandi Logan, Vera Hays and Florice Bessire

Sandi Logan (middle) chats with Vera Hays and Florice Bessire at their home in 1983. Photo: Steve Boyer/Bend Bulletin.

Mr Logan said the pair drove through “hell-raising” parts of the world on their trip, including Iran on the cusp of the revolution in 1977.

He also said family was the most important thing to Toddie and “she could not believe her nephew would ever do anything bad to her”. This trust led her to ignore Beezie’s mounting sense of unease.

When they were busted for importation, Vern fled the country and was thought to adopt a life under assumed identities while the women were sentenced to 14 years in jail.

Mr Logan said he took up their cause, covered their case and lobbied politicians until they were released from jail.

“I couldn’t just leave them there,” he said.

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He said he wrote a manuscript in the 1980s and while the women were happy with it, it didn’t meet his expectations. He sat on it for 40 years until the COVID-19 lockdown came. He found his old materials on the case in the shed and said a movie producer contacted him about the story.

“It’s one of those helpless situations that has never left me,” he said.

“The term Drug Granny is used a lot more these days, but they were the original Drug Grannies.”

Far South Coast author Sandi Logan smiling headshot

Far South Coast author Sandi Logan has released his book, Betrayed. Photo: Andrew Parsons.

And seeing as it does have such a Hollywood-ready plot, is there a movie in the works?

“It’s possible, you never know,” he said.

Mr Logan has worked as a journalist in Australia and overseas and a researcher for ABC’s Four Corners. He has also had roles in the public service, including as a spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police and Immigration.

Betrayed is published by Hatchette Australia.

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I wonder if it was the plummeting fuel economy that was triggering Beezies mounting sense of unease?

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