In 1978, Roberts was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment for a series of armed robberies of building-society branches, credit unions and shops, committed with a toy pistol while addicted to heroin. In a 3-month spree in 1977, armed with an imitation pistol, he netted about $38,000 from 24 armed robberies. In July 1980, he escaped from Victoria's maximum security prison in broad daylight to become one of Australia's most wanted men. After briefly going to New Zealand, he lived in Mumbai, where he became involved with the local mafia, until 1990 when he was captured and imprisoned in Frankfurt. He was returned to Australia and served a further six years in prison, including two years in solitary confinement, during which time he began work on his novel.