Lorraine Cohen, NZ drug smuggler, dies

05:26, May 28 2014
Lorraine and Aaron Cohen
FAMOUS CRIMINALS: Lorraine and Aaron Cohen during a court appearance in Penang in 1989.

Lorraine Cohen, who spent more than 11 years in a Malaysian prison for heroin smuggling, has died in Auckland.

She died in hospital yesterday aged 71.

In 1987 she had been sentenced to death by a Malaysian judge. On appeal the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The former Auckland housewife, then aged 44, had stared blankly at the judge as she learnt of her punishment for trafficking 140 grams of heroin in her underwear.

Her son, Aaron Cohen, 20 at the time, had been found with 34g in his underwear. He was spared from death, instead being sentenced to life imprisonment and six strokes from the rotan cane.

"That's just what I expected," Cohen said at the time.


"I'm happy for Aaron."

Lorraine Cohen was a long-term opiate addict with links to notorious drug baron Terry Clark. Aaron, exposed in the womb, was born addicted.

In 1984 she had received a $10,000 inheritance from her mother. The money sparked the pair's ill-fated trip to Penang, Malaysia - a mission to buy cheap heroin to feed their growing drug habits.

It was during their departure from Penang International Airport on February 9, 1985 that officials searched Lorraine Cohen, subsequently finding the140 grams of heroin hidden in her underwear. A later search found 34 grams of heroin in Aaron's underwear.

Under Malaysian law anyone possessing 15 grams or more of heroin was deemed to be carrying drugs for supply and automatically given the death sentence.

Lorraine Cohen successfully appealed her death sentence in August 1989, the judge commuting her punishment to life imprisonment. An appeal by Aaron was rejected.

Life in prison was hard for the pair. Lorraine was hospitalised for breast cancer, before eventually recovering, while Aaron's heroin addiction continued, his life consumed by the constant battle for supply in jail.

In June 1996 Lorraine and Aaron Cohen were officially pardoned and released from Penang Prison, the hellish place they had called home for eleven and a half years.

Mother and son arrived back in Auckland amid a flurry of media attention. The court case had captured the imagination of the nation and garnered international interest - a sordid, tragic story of drug dealing, prostitution and a devoted mother and son.

Aaron was admitted to a methadone programme immediately after returning home, while reports from the time say Lorraine was clean, having kicked her drug habit while in jail.

In March 2000 Aaron appeared at Waitakere District Court on drug charges and two charges of presenting a firearm to police.  His mother Lorraine was in the courtroom to support him.

By 2001 both mother and son were back behind bars - both sentenced to four years jail time for a raft of drug related charges at the Auckland High Court.

In 2003 an ailing Lorraine, battling cancer, was charged with possession of heroin at the Auckland District Court. The judge sentenced her to 100 hours of community service, taking into account her guilty plea and ill health.