By Chris Daniels

Police are one step closer to catching a criminal mastermind they believe has helped six people to break out of New Zealand's toughest prison.

Convicted murderer Michael Bullock, who escaped from Paremoremo maximum security prison, is behind bars again after nearly six years on the run.

Police believe he was helped in his escape by the same underworld network that sprung armed robbers Arthur Taylor and Matthew Thompson and murderers Darren Crowley and Graeme Burton from Paremoremo last year.


All four were recaptured after a big hunt on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Bullock escaped in August 1993 with drugs baron Brian Curtis, described as a violent and ruthless man and known as the "Godfather" of New Zealand crime.

Prison sources speculated that Bullock might have been killed soon after the escape - that 64-year-old Curtis needed the younger, stronger accomplice only to help him to break out.

But late on Friday night, a former detective spotted a familiar-looking man on the dance floor of the Opera Bar in Wellington's trendy Courtenay Place.

He rang police on a cellphone and stayed watching the man. It is thought that the former detective, who does not want his name publicised, had once arrested Bullock on a minor matter.

Detectives and uniformed staff surrounded the bar and arrested Bullock as he left with two friends.

He appeared in the Wellington District Court on Saturday and was remanded to appear in the Auckland District Court next Friday.

Police last year posted a $10,000 reward for the capture of Bullock and Curtis, not long after the Paremoremo breakout in June.

Soon after the recapture of the Coromandel four, detectives investigating similarities between the escapes said the same criminal mastermind might have organised both.

"We have been told from sources we do not want to identify that the modus operandi is very similar," said Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Bush last July.

Detective Senior Sergeant Bush flew down to interview Bullock at Rimutaka Prison, north of Wellington, at the weekend.

"Police investigating the escape are surprised Bullock went so long without being identified. It is thought he had assumed another identity," he said.

"Police are no closer to locating Curtis, who is believed to be operating an international drugs supply network from an overseas base."

In the past five years, Interpol and New Zealand detectives have checked sightings of the pair in Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Bullock had little criminal history to speak of before his arrest in 1989 for the murder of Napier man Murray Douglas Higgin.

Throughout his trial, he claimed he stabbed Higgin - a close friend - in self-defence during a fight.

Bullock's father, Ken, spoke to reporters not long after his son's escape. He said Michael was frustrated at not getting a fair trial.

Two weeks before Bullock escaped from Paremoremo, his sister and her child died in a house fire. His youngest sister was then killed in a car crash en route to the funeral.

His father said: "I think he probably thought, 'Nobody cares. Being the good guy isn't getting me anywhere, so why not [escape]'?"