- The Australian serial killer Ivan Milat used the severed heads of his victims as target practice.
- In a bizarre twist, Ivan’s great-nephew Matthew Milat committed a copycat murder in 2010, at the of age 19, he axe-murdered a 17-year-old acquaintance in the Forest while a friend filmed the deed.
The early Nineties were marked by a spate of disappearances of young backpackers travelling throughout Australia under mysterious circumstances. On 19 September, 1992 New South Wales homicide police caught a body. It turned out to be the first of many. Two runners had discovered a badly decomposing corpse whilst orienteering in Belanglo State Forest. They made the grisly find after a foul stench attracted their attention and they decided to investigate, expecting the source to be a dead kangaroo.
The site where the body had been dumped was the appropriately named Executioner’s Drop. They led police to the scene and the following day constables Roger Gough and Suzanne Roberts turned up another corpse 30 metres away from the first. The bodies were identified as those of Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, British backpackers who had gone missing from the notorious Sydney party district of Kings Cross five months previously. Walters had suffered 35 stab wounds whilst Clarke had been shot in the head 10 times. No other bodies were found at this stage despite an extensive search and so for now police were not talking serial killer, but rather a puzzling double murder.
Just over a year later a bushwalker discovered a decapitated human skull in a remote section of Belanglo. Again homicide police were led to the scene and again another murder victim was found, as well as the body to match the skull. The two new victims were identified as Deborah Everist and James Gibson, Australian backpackers from Melbourne. The couple had been missing for four years. Police had a serial killer on their hands.
The following month, police sergeant Jeff Trichter found another severed skull during a search of the forest, that of Simone Schmidl from Germany. She had vanished nearly two years prior, having last been seen attempting to hitch a ride to Melbourne. Clothing belonging to another missing German backpacker, Anja Habschied, was also located at the scene. Habschied’s decapitated body, along with the body of her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer were discovered in shallow graves two days later 50 metres apart. Neugebauer had been shot 9 times in the head, while Habschied’s head was never found.
Homicide profilers cross-referenced records of vehicles the killer possibly drove, gym memberships (several aspects of the crimes pointed to either multiple, or one very strong, powerful perpetrator), firearm licences (as well as the gun-shot wounds to the heads, numerous matching shell casings were found at each murder scene) and police records. Ten days after the discovery of the most recent murder scene, British backpacker Paul Onions phoned a tip hotline that had been set up for the murders and recounted an incident from January 1990 where he had hitched a ride out of Sydney from a man calling himself Bill. During the drive ‘Bill’ attempted to abduct Onions at gunpoint but fortunately the would-be victim managed to flee to safety. Onions met with investigators and provided a police sketch artist with details of the abductor’s appearance. One prominent feature was a distinctive handlebar moustache. At around the same time, the girlfriend of a man who worked with Ivan Milat phoned the tip-off line. Milat sufficiently gave the woman the creeps that she felt he should be questioned over the murders. Milat was already on investigators’ radars (out of a list of 32 viable suspects) from the cross-referencing.
Milat was quickly promoted to prime suspect. He had previously done hard prison time and was charged with the 1971 abduction of two women and rape of one of them. He later managed to beat the charges. He sold his Nissan Patrol 4-Wheel Drive straight after the discovery of Clarke and Walters. He was known as a gun nut, completely obsessed with weapons. He exhibited a hyper-masculine personality, an obsessive, fanatic hunter and body-builder who eschewed alcohol and cigarettes. He had the power to control multiple victims simultaneously. He had a trademark handlebar moustache and had previously used the alias Bill. In May 1994, Onions positively identified Milat as the man who had attempted to abduct him.
Fifty heavily armed Tactical Operations police swooped on Milat’s home in a pre-dawn raid, apprehending Milat and discovering a cache of weapons, including a .22 calibre rifle matching the murders, along with trophies in the form of belongings of the murdered backpackers. Milat was charged with the seven Backpacker Murders as well as the Paul Onions incident. The thrill-killer who used the severed heads of his victims as target practice is currently serving seven consecutive sentences of life without parole in Goulbourn’s super-max prison facility, New South Wales.
In a bizarre footnote to this case, Ivan’s great-nephew Matthew Milat committed a copycat murder in 2010. At age 19, Matthew axe-murdered a 17-year-old acquaintance in the Belanglo State Forest while a friend filmed the deed, a crime for which Matthew is now serving a 43 year prison stretch.
In sentencing, Acting Justice Jane Mathews read out a chilling poem he wrote more than nine months after the murder.
‘your last day’
Click-clack hear that, stopping in the, middle of the track, Are you Getting Nervous in the back, Should be C—- your getting wAcked, talk s—- here, talk s—- there, No-one’z really gunna care, but talk s—- with every breath, You just signed away your health, I can see you start to sweat, Wanderin what your gunna get, hopin 4-1 in the head, C—- ILL Put it in Your Leg, tell me, ARE YA HAVIN FUN, get up C—-, And start to run, how fAr are ya gunna get, Your Match C—- you have just Met, stumblin all OVA the place, Hear the crunch of leaves and feet, feel your heart, skip a beat, Are ya gunna get away, No hope kid this is your day, The day that you wont be found, Six feet under Neath the ground.