‘The Hippie Mafia’ of the Daintree revealed

AUSTRALIA’S deep north - an idyllic, tropical paradise - has a well-earned reputation as the home of the Hippie Mafia. “It’s God’s Own country for dope,’’ says north Queensland police drug squad chief Kevin Goan. “There’s some colorful characters.’’

Lee Lafferty aka Raymond Grady Stansel Jr. Picture: The Tampa Bay Times

Lee Lafferty aka Raymond Grady Stansel Jr. Picture:The Tampa Bay Times

Today The Courier-Mail can reveal a rogue’s gallery of some of the infamous alumni of the so-called Hippie Mafia who fled law enforcement in the United States to hide out in boltholes in far north Queensland.

These former drug kingpins once risked multimillion dollar smuggling operations and controlled the marijuana and acid trade of the “flower-power generation” of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The only thing they loved more than the high life and money of the criminal lifestyle was the cat-and-mouse game with authorities.

Lee Lafferty, 75, led a double life. Picture:  The Tampa Bay Times

Lee Lafferty, 75, led a double life. Picture: The Tampa Bay Times

For 40 years, US cannabis kingpin Raymond Grady Stansel Jr, a “soldier of fortune” out of Florida, lived a double-life as a crocodile tour guide on the Daintree River until he was unmasked after his death last year.

The 78-year-old fugitive boat skipper made millions out of trafficking tonnes of marijuana into the States before his arrest in 1974, then aged 37, as a poster boy for Florida’s pot smugglers.

He posted bail with a $500,000 cashier’s cheque and faked his death in a scuba diving accident in Honduras.

“It’s like chasing a phantom,’’ one US sheriff said. There were reported stories of him smuggling drugs in Honduras, Panama or out of some other port in Central or South America.“It was like sightings of Elvis or Big Foot,’’ a federal drug task force prosecutor told the Tampa Bay Times.

But Stansel had fled to Port Douglas, then a tiny fishing and sugar village, with his partner Janet Wood and assumed the identity of Dennis “Lee” Lafferty, where he became a beloved wildlife warrior.

“He was the folksy river captain, who knew every crocodile on the Daintree, and could fix any boat,’’ says former family friend Caroline Doan. “He was totally lovable, a lovable rogue. There are two types of criminals: the charming conman and the violent thug.

“Lee definitely fit into the charming category.’’

Doan, a former Olympic horseback rider, moved from the United States to the Far North in 1970 and knew many of the Hippie Mafia who exiled themselves to where the rainforest meets the reef. She says the allure of the tropics was an obvious fit for those who wanted to start afresh under a new identity.

“Back then the Daintree was off-the-edge of civilisation at the end of a dirt track, it was idyllic, it was beautiful. It was “No-Where-Ville”. “Locals had a live-and-let-live attitude, neighbours were never nosy or snoopy. They didn’t care if you smoked dope, got all hippy dippy, and danced nude around a campfire banging bongo drums.

US drug smuggler Raymond Grady Stansel Jr when he was arrested in the early 1970s. Picture:  The Tampa Bay Times.

US drug smuggler Raymond Grady Stansel Jr when he was arrested in the early 1970s. Picture: The Tampa Bay Times.

“There was this Aussie tradition of larrikinism, a freedom, and they celebrated outlaws like Ned Kelly.

“So the Yankee drug smugglers and pirates fitted right in.’’

Doan says she was sworn to secrecy about Stansel’s true identity and “kept her lip zipped for 25 years”. She has since fallen out with the family after a bitter custody battle between her brother who married and divorced Stansel’s eldest daughter Jessie.

“Daintree looks like a tropical paradise but underneath the surface it is full of crocodiles, both human and reptile, it’s like the movie Deliverance, a backwater with inbreds and duelling banjos.

“Lee tried to pass it off as a young man’s lark, a bit of a hoot, but he made millions and millions out of a serious criminal enterprise, and all the lies and secrecy caused a lot of collateral damage to the families.’’

Just 60km up the road, Californian drug smuggling kingpin Peyton Eidson, his wife Sonja and daughter Mia lived out their secret double lives under assumed identities for 25 years owning a health retreat in the rainforest hamlet of Julatten.

Eidson, 71, was described in US court records as the alleged “leader” of a sophisticated operation using fleets of vessels to ship tonnes of high-grade marijuana from Thailand into the States in the late 80s.

He and his wife, who entered Australia on fake passports of Mike and Anita McGoldrick, were only busted five years ago when the true owners of the identities died in the United States.

Eidson served time in Lotus Glen prison for fraud and identity theft and told The Courier-Mail how jail helped him lose about 10kg in weight and gave him time to work on his art and the “great novel”.

He declined to discuss if he still faces extradition over the alleged drug conspiracy.

Owsley "Bear' Stanley, left, with Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead in 1969. Picture: Rosie McGhee

Owsley "Bear' Stanley, left, with Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead in 1969. Picture: Rosie McGhee

But perhaps the most monumental figure of all was the late Owsley “Bear” Stanley - the LSD Millionaire, the Artisan of Acid, and one-time FBI’s Most Wanted - who mass produced the pyschedelic drug in the sixties.

Stanley supplied the US West Coast hippie scene with the hallucinogenic drug and gave acid to Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon as a key architect of the Age of Aquarius, before he emigrated to the far north to set up a commune in the remote Walsh River.

The 76-year-old described himself as a “freedom fighter in the war on drugs” before his death five years ago.

Like Stansel, he died in a single vehicle car crash.