It was a glorious spring day, perfect for a day out in the forest. Ken Seily stood in a clearing looking slowly about him, breathing the clear, fresh country air. It was a far cry from the pollution and stress of Sydney, two hours to the north, where he lived and worked. This was the time of the week that he looked forward to the most, when his orienteering club met for their weekly run.
Normally, Ken bushwalked or ran the orienteering courses alone but on Saturday, 19th September 1992, the club had organized a training day along some of the many trails that criss-crossed the forty thousand acres of the beautiful Belangalo State Forest. Ken thought the forest had never looked so good. Everywhere around him was the lush green vegetation of towering Eucalypt trees and native shrubs, bordered by commercial pine plantations. A stark contrast to the blackened desolation normally left after the many bushfires that had swept through the area in recent times.
After a short navigational briefing, Ken and his running partner, Keith Caldwell, set off on the first leg of the run. The sport is not unlike rally driving, where the object is to run a pre-determined course within a specified time, reaching and recording various check points on the way. By early afternoon, they were deep in the forest close to one of the most spectacular land marks of the area, “Executioners Drop.” So called because of its sheer fall into a deep, wooded gorge.
After recording their previous control points, staggered roughly half a mile apart, they took bearings on the next, Control Number Four, designated by a large boulder. Approaching the boulder, Ken smelled something bad. As he got closer the smell became more intense. He thought it was probably a rotting animal carcass. The forest provided a home to many wild animals. Kangaroos, wallabies and even the elusive dingo, roamed free, virtually unhindered my human intervention.
Dismissing it from his mind, Ken concentrated on his navigational bearings and was about to move on when Keith called to him from the far side of the boulder, “Can you smell that?” he asked. The smell got stronger as they approached the western side of the boulder.
Beneath a small overhang they found a mound of debris, approximately 7 feet long and 2 feet high. Stepping closer to the pile of branches and decaying leaves, the two men, braving the smell, saw what appeared to be a bone and a patch of hair. They werent sure it was human until they saw part of a black T-shirt. They both walked slowly around the mound until they got to the northern end of it, where they stopped, staring down at the ground, trying to comprehend what they had found. Protruding from the pile of brush was the heel of a shoe.
By this time it was 3.45 p.m. Soon the forest floor would be in darkness as the sun dipped lower in the sky. They carefully marked the location on their map, 800 feet south west of Long Acre Fire Trail, one of the many access trails in the area. A decision had to be made, back track the way they had come in or complete the course, which would take them out of the forest and bring them closer to their cars. They decided the latter choice would be quickest. Half an hour later, they rejoined their friends and quickly related the experience. They all agreed that the authorities should be informed as soon as possible. Contacting Emergency Services by mobile telephone, Seily, a gentle, softly spoken man, was asked by the operator, Is this an emergency? When he replied, Not really, he was disconnected.
Several phone calls later, he was finally connected with the duty officer at the local police station in Bowral, a pretty little town, nestled in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Seily identified himself and told the officer, “Ive found a body in the Belangalo Forest.” He wasnt sure if they had taken him seriously. It wasnt long before he saw that they had.
Uniform police arrived just as the light was beginning to fade. They were shown the way to the sighting by torch light, marking the way with reflective tape. Local detectives arrived soon after and requested a crime scene unit from Goulburn, the next major town to the south. Lighting was organized for the scene and not long after, regional detectives from the homicide squad arrived. A call was made to the office of detectives in Sydneys Kings Cross, as well as the Missing Persons Bureau, as they were known to be investigating the disappearance of several backpackers who were last seen heading south.
No one at the scene that day realized that the body that had been found would lead to the biggest murder investigation in Australias history. Nor would they know the extent of pain and suffering, that was shared by a small group of people from different parts of the world.
Gravesites of Backpacker Murder victims
Searching the area the following day, two police constables, Roger Gough and Suzanne Roberts, found a second body. It was partially covered by a log just 100 feet east of the first. A shoe and part of a lower leg were visible below a mound of leaves and branches, that was roughly the same size as the first.
Early media reports suggested that the bodies were the remains of two British backpackers, Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters. They had been missing for five months after leaving Kings Cross to travel south together looking for work. Police were yet to make a positive identification.
In Australia and across the world, several families hearing of the grisly discovery, contacted the authorities for more accurate information.
In Germany, Manfred and Anke Neugebauer listened anxiously to the news, wondering if the bodies found were those of their son Gabor and his girlfriend Anja who had disappeared without trace after leaving a Kings Cross backpacker’s hostel just after Christmas Day, 1991.
Herbert Schmidl, in his home in Regensburg, near Munich, listened also hoping that neither body was that of his only daughter Simone, who had been missing since leaving Sydney in 1991.
Several hundred miles south of Belangalo, in Frankston Victoria, Pat Everist, wondered if it was her daughter Deborah and her friend, James Gibson that were laying dead in the forest. They had been missing since 1989.
Caroline Clarke, victim
Late in the afternoon of Sunday, 20th September, police confirmed that the bodies were, in fact, those of Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters. Joannes parents, Ray and Jill Walters had already been in Australia for a month prior to the discovery, searching in vain for some trace of their daughter. The police tracked them down in Sydney to give them the bad news.
Police telephoned Ian and Jacquie Clarke, in England and informed them that the second body was Carolines. The timing of the call was indeed fortunate. Shortly after the phone call, a local radio station carried the story of their daughter’s death.
As the investigation proceeded it became apparent that the murders were committed with a high degree of violence and cruelty.
Joanne Walters, victim
Joanne Walters had been stabbed viciously in the heart and lungs with one wound so deep that it had cut deep into her spine. Caroline Clarke had also been stabbed and shot in the head multiple times.
Homicide detectives, Inspector Bob Godden and Sergeant Steve McClennan were appointed to take charge of the investigation. After his initial evaluation of the crime scene, McClennan speculated that because the bodies had been found in an isolated area, it was possible that the killer lived near by. Crime scene detectives worked around the clock, analyzing and photographing every inch of the murder scene. Joanne Walters body still had jewelry on both hands and she was wearing blue jeans and black shoes. Curiously the zip of the jeans was undone but the top button was still fastened.
Fourteen feet from where Caroline Clarkes body lay, six cigarette butts were found, they were all of the same brand. Someone had obviously spent quite a bit of time at the scene. Not far from them, a fired .22 caliber cartridge case was recovered and next to it a piece of green plastic the size of a large coin.
Ballistic specialists scanned the area with metal detectors and found nine more cartridge cases 12 feet from Clarkes body. From the ground directly below her head three bullets were recovered. Detectives from the Ballistics Squad were confident that, given the condition of the bullets and the spent cases, they would be able to identify the gun that fired them. A further 120 feet from the murder scene, a fireplace had been built from house bricks.
A strange thing to find deep in a forest.
Over the next five days, forty police searched a corridor 500 feet wide and one and a half miles long and did not find any more bodies, nor did they find the camping gear and personal items belonging to the two girls. Following the search, police told the media that they had virtually ruled out the possibility of finding other bodies in the forest. It was an announcement that would prove to be premature and cause a great deal of embarrassment to the New South Wales Police Department.
Cause of Death
Dr. Peter Bradhurst, the forensic pathologist assigned to the case, had the unpleasant task of performing the autopsies. The badly decomposed remains of the two girls had been carefully removed from the forest and transported to the morgue in Glebe, an inner suburb of Sydney.
The first stage of the forensic investigation was to weigh and x-ray Joannes body in search of bullets or other metallic objects. There were none. Carolines body was next and the x-rays revealed that, even though her body was decomposed to a much greater extent than Joannes, it clearly contained what the radiographer described as radio opaque objects. To be more precise, four bullets.
Joanne’s T-shirt shows the frenzy of the knife attack
Next, Dr. Bradhurst began the external examination, methodically checking the entire body for physical evidence. Joannes shirt and hands showed traces of dark hairs. The rotted remains of a cloth used as a gag were removed from her mouth, as were other cloth samples at the throat, suggesting strangulation. An internal examination showed no signs of vaginal or anal penetration, but given the poor condition of the body tissue, it was very difficult to tell. Hair and nail samples were taken for matching with other samples found. A vaginal swab was also taken, as sperm samples can remain in a body for weeks or even months.
Joannes chest showed three stab wounds to the right side, one to the left side and a further stab wound to the neck. When the body was rolled over, the full extent of what could only be described as a frenzied attack became clear. A further two wounds were found to the left side, five more to the right and two to the spine at the base of the neck. Fourteen wounds in all were recorded and measured. The internal exam revealed that five of the stab wounds had cut the spine. Dr Bradhurst speculated that any of the spinal wounds could have been delivered prior to the fatal blows thereby rendering the victim totally helpless.
Two ribs had been totally severed. The hands and arms showed no “defensive wounds,” that normally occur when the victim attempts to ward off a knife attack. This, coupled with the remains of the gag and neck ligature, indicated that the killer was completely in control during the murder. The wounds measured 1 ½” by ¼” with the profile of a Bowie knife or similar style blade.
The arms of Caroline Clarkes body where stretched above her head, which had a red cloth wrapped around it. Bullet holes were clearly visible in the decaying cloth. The cloth was carefully removed and the extent of the injuries became evident. A total of ten bullet holes riddled the skull. Only four exit wounds were found.
Four complete .22 caliber projectiles were recovered from inside the skull. The front of the face and the jaw were shattered, possibly damaged by exiting bullets. She had one single stab wound to the upper back identical to the wounds of the first victim.
The bullets from the body were cleaned and passed on to Sergeant Gerard Dutton, the ballistics expert who was present at the post mortems. He was confident that they, like the other bullets and fired cases collected from the scene, would lead to the identity of the weapon used. A reenactment at the scene later revealed that the gunshot wounds were consistent with having been fired from three different directions, however all ten fired cases were found close together. Sergeant Dutton suggested that the killer may have stood in the one spot and fired the shots, stopping to move the victims head between volleys. In short he had used her for “target practice.”
In an unusual step, Professor John Hilton, the head of forensic medicine, released details of the findings to the large group of reporters, who had gathered outside the morgue. Not accustomed to giving media conferences, he spoke in a faltering, hesitant voice. Even though he was an experienced pathologist, and forensic scientist, he was obviously disturbed by the extent of the injuries and the sheer brutality of the attack.
Profile of a Killer
Weeks after the discovery of the two bodies, Detectives Godden and McLennan had amassed an array of physical evidence, but were no closer to gathering any real clues as to the identity of the person responsible. There had been several alleged sightings of the girls prior to the discovery and even a few after the time the girls had died. The trail was already cold when police became involved. Now it was becoming colder.
In attempt to try to shed new light on the investigation, Dr. Rod Milton, a forensic psychiatrist with over twenty years’ crime scene experience, was asked to consult on the case. Dr. Milton had previously aided police in the hunt, and subsequent arrest, of John Wayne Glover, the “North Side” serial killer, who had bashed and strangled six elderly women in 1989. The “profile” that Dr. Milton had provided to police was incredibly accurate except for the age. Milton had suggested that the killer would be a teenager, based on historical data which indicated the most serious offences against aged victims were committed by persons under twenty. His analysis, although slightly inaccurate, led to Glover’s capture. Glover was fifty-nine years of age at the time of his arrest.
The detectives drove Dr. Milton to Belangalo at his request. As he explained to them, even though he had access to the detailed police reports and photographs, he needed to view the crime scenes for himself so that he could get a feel for the way that the killer had approached his victims. He stepped from the car and walked to the two grave sites in turn. After wandering slowly around the area for some time, he sat quietly in the middle of the scene and thought about why the killer had chosen that particular site. Why did he leave the victims the way he did, what was his motivation?
His first thought was that the killer was familiar with the area.
From experience he knew that killers very rarely operate in unfamiliar surroundings. This wasnt a crime of opportunity but rather a planned murder. Walking between the two graves, he quizzed the police on the details of the investigation. What was found and where? He pondered the variations between the two deaths.
Caroline Clarke was killed in a cold and calculating fashion. The way that the article of clothing had been wrapped around her head indicated that the killer had done so to “depersonalize” her. The angle of the shots suggested that the first bullet may have been fired while she was kneeling. Her clothing was intact, except for her front fastening bra, which was unclipped. The clothing on her lower body was in place at the time of death. This indicated to Milton that her killing was not sexually motivated but more in the style of an execution. The single stab wound to her body, he believed, was inflicted after death as a final example of the killer’s control over the victim, or perhaps the work of an accomplice. In fact prior to Dr. Miltons involvement, Police thought the murders to be the work of more than one killer. The manner in which Miss Clarkes body was laid out with the arms above the head also suggested control and planning on the part of the killer, with the victim acting out the role of supplicant after death.
In comparison, Joanne Walters body and burial site indicated rage and uncontrolled frenzy. The disarray of the clothing, Milton thought, indicated more of a sexual attack. The shirt and bra had been pushed up, but the clasp was still fastened. The zipper of the jeans were undone but the top button was done up. No panties were found on the body or in the area. Milton theorized that because the shoes were still on and laced up, the jeans had not been taken completely off. It was more likely that they were dragged down to enable the killer or killers, to commit a sexual act. Before or after death. The underwear may have been cut off and taken as a “trophy.”
When asked by police for a possible motive, the basis of most homicide investigations, Milton uttered a single word. “Pleasure.” He believed that if there were two killers involved, one would be older and dominant, the other although equally sadistic, would tend to be more submissive. He suggested that they could be brothers, sharing a common interest in guns and hunting and had probably been involved in other sexually related crimes either together or separately.
Later at his Sydney office, Dr. Milton recorded his “profile” in point form.
The main offender he believed would:-
- Live on the outskirts of a city in a semi-rural area.
- Be employed in a semi-skilled job probably out of doors.
- Be involved in an unstable or unsatisfactory relationship
- Have a history of homosexuality or bi-sexual activity.
- Have a history of aggression against authority.
- Be aged in his mid thirties.
At no time did Dr. Milton give any indication that the deaths were the work of a serial killer.
As the end of the year drew closer, the investigation team dwindled in size as the resources were redirected to other crimes. They knew that they would need some startling piece of evidence or a stroke of luck if they were to solve the riddle of the Belangalo killings.
One Man’s Obsession
Bruce Pryor had been into the Belangalo forest many times over the years collecting firewood. It had become a special place for him. He knew many of the trails, yet there were still many parts of it that he had not seen.
As a local, he had been watching the reports of the killings with more than a passing interest and, as a parent, he felt deeply for the families of the girls. He couldnt clear it from his mind and during many trips to the forest he found himself searching areas that he hadnt been to before without knowing why.
The official search had been called off many months before and the investigation was almost non-existent. The last mention of the case had been a public meeting in the Bowral Town Hall that had been organised by police as a means of jogging the memories of local residents, as they still believed that the killer lived close to the forest. The meeting mentioned other young backpackers who were still unaccounted for. For days after, the thought of more young bodies in the forest tormented him, interrupting his work and his sleep.
He set out one morning with no real intention of going to Belangalo but found himself drawn to the area. He turned down a track that he had been to before but instead of driving to the end of it as he usually did, he turned into a small side track called the “Morice Fire Trail.” He drove down it and came to a “T” intersection. He knew the right arm led to a track called “Cearlys Exit Fire Trail,” but he had never been down the left hand track. The track soon opened up onto a bare rocky area. To one side of it was a small fireplace, built from bush rocks.
He got out of his vehicle and wandered slowly around the area still not sure of why he was there. In a clearing about 150 feet from his car, he stopped and stared at the ground, his heart pounding in his chest. There at his feet was a large bone. It looked human. He shook his head trying to think clearly; maybe it was from a kangaroo. Tentatively he lifted the bone and measured it against his own thigh; it was the same length. One end of the bone had teeth marks on it; maybe it was an animal bone. He lay the bone back down where he had found it and walked further ahead.
He walked up an incline scanning the ground hoping to find the rest of a kangaroo skeleton. At the top of the ridge, he turned and walked back to his car but changed direction slightly, walking through an area overgrown with weeds. A flash of white caught his eye. Parting the tangled undergrowth, he saw a sight that raised the hair on the back of his neck.
The lifeless eye sockets of a human skull stared up at him. It was small, possibly an older child or a female. Part of the lower jaw was broken away and, as he looked closer, he saw a thin cut in the forehead. It looked like a knife wound.
He was unsure what to do next. Afraid that no one would believe him, he took the skull back to his car and wrapped it in a cloth and drove out of the forest. As he neared the entrance, he saw a vehicle near a small hut that was used by the orienteering club. Bruce approached the hut and spoke to John Springett, a local builder who was doing maintenance on the hut. “Do you have a phone here?” He asked. “I have a mobile in the truck, why whats up?” Bruce told him of his discovery. “We better call the police.” John got a phone book from the clubhouse and Bruce rang Bowral Detectives. He got no answer. He tried the police station instead. “Ive found parts of a skeleton in Belangalo forest,” he told them.
Half an hour later, two uniformed officers arrived at the hut. “What have you got for me?” one of them asked. “Its in the car,” Pryor answered. He led them to his vehicle and unwrapped his find. The young constable, obviously the one who had taken the call, seemed surprised that it really was a skull. He placed a radio call to the duty detectives, Peter Lovell and Steven Murphy, who arrived shortly after. They asked Pryor to show them where he had found the skull.
After studying the area for a short time, Detective Murphy walked further on. 120 feet into the forest, he stopped and looked down. He walked back to where his partner stood talking to Bruce Pryor about the skeleton. “Theres a pair of sandshoes sticking out of a pile of brush back there,” he declared casually. They both looked warily at Pryor, curious as to why he came to this particular location. Several radio calls later, the search was back on.
Two More Bodies
News of the discovery of additional bodies in the forest spread quickly. TV network helicopters hovered overhead. Reporters and film crews were lined up at the access road trying to gain entry. They speculated as to the identities of the latest victims. “Was it the German couple or maybe the couple from Victoria?” they asked detectives at the scene. The investigators said nothing. Their minds were occupied with their own questions. Had they called off the search too early? Were they searching the wrong areas? How many more bodies were there?
One of the searchers found a floppy black felt hat near one of the gravesites. The Sydney missing persons office was contacted and a review of files indicated that it may have belonged to James Gibson, a young Victorian who was last seen hitchhiking south of the forest in company with a female friend, Deborah Everist, also from Victoria. They had been missing since 1989. Police had earlier discounted Gibson as a possible victim after his backpack and camera had been found lying beside the road 78 miles north of Belangalo in another small forest area called “Galston Gorge.”
James Gibson, victim
Police were puzzled. If one of the victims was Gibson, how did his property get to the other side of Sydney?
Further investigation of the report indicated that when the pack and camera had been found, they had been leaning against a guardrail, in plain view, on the side of a busy road. Were they placed there by the killer in an attempt to divert attention from the southern forest?
Deborah Everist, victim
Crime scene police worked into the night to complete their preliminary investigation and left the scene under heavy police guard. The following day, scientific officers Grosse and Goldie returned to the gravesites in company with Dr. Bradhurst and a forensic odontologist, Dr. Chris Griffiths. Both of the bodies were skeletons; however both were incomplete. Several bones had been scattered across the site, possibly by animal activity. Beside the first body, Grosse found a silver fob chain, a bracelet set with semi precious stones and a silver crucifix. Given the find and the smaller size of the skeleton it was presumed to be female.
The second skeleton was larger and still had a pair of white sneakers laced to the feet. Dr. Griffiths examined the skull and, after cleaning dirt from it, compared the teeth with a dental chart that had been supplied to police earlier.
It was a positive match. The body was that of James Gibson. Positive identification of the second body would come later but police were almost certain that it was Deborah Everist. The remains were carefully removed and taken to the Sydney morgue for reconstruction and post mortem examination. As well as the skeletons, several bags of decayed matter from the immediate area were also taken. It was not known for sure if they contained vegetable matter or decayed clothing or both. One of the items from James Gibsons remains was easy to identify; it was the complete zipper from a pair of jeans. The zip was open; the top button still fastened.
The following day Dr. Bradhurst began the task of reconstructing the skeletons in anatomical order. The bones had been boiled in a special solution to clean the skeleton and make any injuries easier to identify.
Dr. Bradhurst began with what was left of James Gibson. The decayed matter that accompanied his remains was sifted and found to contain several hand and foot bones, some jewelry and buttons.
As the remains began to take shape, the extent of the wounds became clearer. One stab wound had penetrated the mid-thoracic spine, slicing upwards through three vertebrae, splitting the canal holding the spinal column. As with the previous bodies, the wound would have paralyzed the victim first. To do so much damage to a young healthy body would have taken great physical strength.
Two stab wounds had punctured the breastbone, with cuts to the ribs indicating two more wounds to the left and right sides of the front of the chest and two more in the upper back. Seven major wounds marked the skeleton. Many more could have penetrated the body without touching bone. The stab wounds in the breastbone were measured; they were very close to the size of the wounds inflicted to Walters and Clarke.
The second smaller skeleton was in a poorer condition. Part of the jaw was broken away. Several fractures were found at the back of the skull. Four slash marks to the forehead, two on each side, were not deep enough to have been fatal but had etched into the skull at the hairline. A further stab wound had penetrated the lower back close to the spine.
While Bradhurst was completing his examination, crime scene analysts were combing the gravesites for further clues. Thirty feet from the body they found a black bra with a stab wound through one of the cups. Later a pair of gray tights was found under leaf litter close to the female gravesite. They had been tied with a loop at either end, possibly used as a primitive restraint. Later that day, the female remains were confirmed by dental charts as being those of Deborah Everist.
The Task Force
Superintendent Clive Small
Superintendent Clive Small was deputized by Comissioner of Police Tony Lauer to take over control of the investigation. His first task was to combine the individual groups of detectives involved in the investigation into one cohesive unit. Small was an experienced detective with a reputation for being thorough, and, more importantly, objective. He was well respected in the department and the courts for his dedication, his ability to separate the facts from the bulk of erroneous information and to present those facts in a meticulously detailed fashion.
The investigation was officially named “Task Force Air.” The name was intended to be “Eyre,” named after a salt lake in the centre of Australia, in keeping with the departments tradition of using geographical place names. The name had been subsequently misspelled in a press release as “air” and quickly became the official title.
Small appointed as his second in charge the equally talented and meticulous, Detective Inspector Rod Lynch. Lynchs job was to set up and coordinate the Sydney headquarters of the investigation while Small, based near the forest in Bowral, would oversee the onsite investigation.
Lynch was faced with a challenge almost from the beginning. The building that was allocated as his headquarters was a converted factory that had once been the home of Sydneys Criminal Investigation Branch. Having lain idle since the C.I.B. had relocated to larger premises, it was in a bad state of repair. It had no phones, air conditioning, computers, furniture and the plumbing was substandard.
After solving these and other logistical problems, he began recruiting detectives for the task of following up on the many thousands of pieces of information that had already been received. The next task was to set up a public hot-line in cooperation with the media, which would appeal to the general public for any information regarding the events in the forest. From his broad experience in major investigations, Lynch knew that this would increase his teams workload dramatically but would be the most valuable resource of “real evidence,” as opposed to the “circumstantial evidence” that had already been collected.
Small called off the examination of the forest for several days to enable him to view maps and surveys of the area and plan a more expansive search of the general area. Chief Inspector Bob May from the Tactical Support Unit was put in charge of the search team. He divided a map of the main forest area into grids, every inch representing 750 square feet. Forty officers walked each grid side by side, examining every inch of the forest floor. If anything of interest was found, they would shout “find” and scientific police would come forward, take photographs, mark the position on the map and bag any evidence found.
The search was further enhanced by teams of dogs that had been specially trained to detect the presence of phosphorous and nitrogen in the soil. A decaying body will emit traces of these chemicals long after death. The dogs had been used extensively in the United States to “sniff out” old Civil War graves.
Meanwhile another search was under way. The bullets and shell casings taken from the scene, having been positively identified as being from a “Ruger” repeating rifle, were the only positive leads that could link the killer to the scene. From their inquiries, police learned that over 50,000 such rifles had been imported into Australia between 1964 and 1982. The manufacturers provided a list of their distributors in Australia, who in turn provided a list of the gun shops who had purchased them. While gun shops were required by law to keep a record of each firearm sold, there was no such legal requirement for any subsequent “private” sales of the firearms. Police were faced with a “needle in the haystack” scenario.
A list of all such weapons owned by residents in the areas surrounding the forest was drawn up with the intention of impounding the rifles for test firings in an attempt to find a match. The plan was leaked to the press, which infuriated investigators, as they believed that the killer, upon hearing the news, would dump the murder weapon.
Members of the local gun club were contacted and their weapons examined. One of the members told the detectives that a friend of his had witnessed something suspicious in the forest the previous year. Police later contacted the man who gave them an incredibly accurate description of two vehicles, one a Ford sedan and the other a four-wheel drive that he saw driving down one of the trails into the forest.
He told them that as the first vehicle passed him, he looked in and saw a man driving and in the back seat were two other men. Between them was a female with a cloth tied around her head like a gag. In the second vehicle were two men, one driving and the other sitting in the back next to another female who was also bound. He gave police detailed descriptions of all the occupants including clothing, coloring and approximate ages. He stated that at the time, he had written down the details of the numberplate of the second vehicle on a scrap of cardboard but had since lost it. Police typed out an official statement and asked him to read it and, if he agreed with the details, sign it. He signed his name “Alex Milat.”
How Many More?
Twenty-six days had passed since Deborah Everists body had been found in the forest. The searchers were tired. They had covered most of the allotted search area and were now entering the final gridded section three miles east of the last grave. Confidence was running high to the point that the police public relations section were already compiling a press release expressing the opinion that no further bodies would be found in Belangalo Forest.
The search team leader, Sergeant Jeff Trichter, led the searchers into a small clearing. A pair of pink womens jeans and a length of blue and yellow rope lay in plain view. Next to them was an empty .22 bullet packet. The find was not unusual as a lot of strange items had been found that were seemingly unrelated. Moving deeper into the clearing they found more articles. Empty drink cans riddled with bullet holes, a length of wire bent into loops, cartridge cases and empty bottles. At the edge of the clearing, Sergeant Trichter saw something that fired warning signals into his brain. A primitive fireplace.
Knowing that the final part of the search was going to be intensive, Trichter decided to give his men a lunch break and spend the rest of the day in the area. No sooner had they resumed when one of the men called find.
The line stopped and Trichter walked to the edge of the rocky outcrop where Senior Constable Rullis stood with his arm raised. It was a bone and it looked human. Ten feet further on at the base of a pile of timber lay a skull. The sight was marked and the crime scene squad was summoned by radio.
Beyond the timber lay the, now familiar, pile of sticks and brush. Protruding from one end of it was a large bone inside a brown leather hiking boot. Searchers spread out and scoured the area around the grave but no further remains were found. John Goldie, the senior crime scene investigator, identified the remains as female. She appeared to be alone.
Simone Schmidl, victim
A distinctive purple headband was found on the skull. That and the clothing found near the body, after comparisons with missing persons reports, indicated that the skeleton was all that remained of missing German girl, Simone Schmidl. The other items mentioned in the report, a large backpack and other camping equipment, were not found. Dr Chris Griffiths, the forensic odontologist, was summoned to the scene and shortly after he arrived with his file of dental charts, the body was officially identified as Simone.
This young adventurous girl who her family and friends had called “Simi,” had been last seen on January 20th, 1991, in Liverpool, west of Sydney, hitch-hiking south. The confident and seasoned traveler who had seen much of the world ended her days in a lonely forest thousands of miles away from the safety and security of her home.
In Germany, Simones parents heard the news in the worst possible way — on the radio. They contacted German police for confirmation and, even though Australian authorities had advised them of the discovery, the German police department did not confirm the identification until more than two weeks after Simones remains had been flown home and buried.
The original press release was aborted and another sent out in its place.
It basically said that police now believed that there were more bodies in the forest. Speculation was rife that the next bodies found would be those of the two Germans, who were still unaccounted for.
Anja Habschied, victim
Simones body was found still partially dressed with her shirt and underclothing pushed up around the neck. A pair of green shorts hung on the pelvis with the cord ties undone. Several items of jewelry and two coins were found next to the body. The pink jeans were not Simones, but matched the description of a pair worn by another German girl, Anja Habschied. She and her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer, had been missing since December 1991.
Two days later, as the search continued, the remains were transported to Sydney for the post mortem. Dr. Bradhurst examined the almost complete skeleton. He had no doubt that it was the work of the same killer.
There was no injury to the skull. The chest and back showed numerous stab wounds to the left and right sides, front and back, including the “tell-tale” knife thrusts to the spinal area, which had severed the spinal column completely. No sooner had he completed his grisly task than he was summoned back to the forest. The message was simple, “Weve found two more.”
Dr. Bradhurst and Dr. Griffiths were conveyed to the scene by police helicopter and taken to the site of the new graves which lay 150 feet apart at the very edge of the prescribed search area denoted on the map as “Area A.”
Gabor Neugebauer, victim
Dr. Griffiths had in his possession the dental charts for the boy, Gabor. The charts for his companion, Anja, had not arrived from Germany. Gabors remains were under a pile of brush partially covered by a large log. It took several burly police officers to lift it away from the grave.
Dr. Griffiths confirmed Gabors identity. His skeleton was complete with the remains of decayed clothing evident, including a pair of jeans with the zip opened and the top button fastened. The second body, although not officially confirmed as Anjas, was that of a young female. The upper clothing was bunched up around the shoulders and no lower clothing was found on or near the body. The pink jeans had been found some distance away. The female skeleton had one striking feature, the head and the first two vertebrae were missing. No other wounds were evident.
On closer examination Dr. Bradhurst deduced that the head had been severed from the body cleanly by a sharp instrument, possibly a machete or sword. The angle of the cut indicated that the victim had probably been in a kneeling position with her head down when the cut was made. It showed all the signs of some form of “ritual” decapitation.
The Task Force Commander, Clive Small, gave a short media interview near the gravesites. He told reporters that following the discovery of the new bodies that they were now looking for a “serial killer.” It came as no surprise. The media had been reporting that opinion since the investigation began.
Back at the morgue, Dr. Bradhurst examined Gabors remains. The mouth contained two gags. One that had been tied across the mouth using a “reef” knot. The other had been placed in the mouth prior to the other being tied. Even though Bradhurst had performed all of the autopsies, he still retained the details of them all in his mind. One thing that didnt escape his attention was the fact that this gag was tied with a different knot. The last gag used, the one on Joanne Walters body, had been tied in a simple overhand, or “granny” knot.
The size of the cloth in the mouth cavity made strangulation very likely. Supportive to this theory was the fractured hyoid bone in the throat, which is usually an indication of manual strangulation. The jaw was fractured in several places. The skull showed six bullet entry wounds, three from the left rear and the others from the lower rear. One exit wound was found on the right side. Gerald Dutton the ballistics investigator on the case, was present when the examination of the skull took place. Four bullets were recovered from inside the skull. A fifth bullet was recovered from the bones of the upper body.
Dutton had found no fired cases near the body and the angle and alignment of the entry wounds versus the exit wounds indicated that seven bullets had been fired into the skull. When found, the skull had been laying on its side but, after searching the soil under the grave, no spent bullets were recovered. Gabor had not been killed at the gravesite. Later, several fired bullets and empty cartridge packets would be found near the new graves. Over ninety fired cases were found scattered around the area. After examination under a comparison microscope, the cases and bullets were positively identified as the same as those found at the Walters site.
The ballistic evidence showed conclusively that the same weapon that murdered Joanne Walters had been used only 200 feet from Anja and Gabors remains. Dr. Bradhurst completed the examination of Anjas skeleton and found no other evidence of additional wounds.
Most horrifying was the fact that the seven had died in various ways. They had been either beaten, strangled, shot, stabbed and decapitated and almost certainly sexually molested in some way, male and female alike. Given the extent of the injuries and the various methods used to inflict them, the investigation team deduced that the killer, or killers spent more time with each victim as the crimes progressed. This fact indicated that, apart from being cruel and sadistic, the perpetrator was a calculating and confident individual.
The Sole Survivor
Paul Onions had arrived in Australia eager to see the country about which hed heard so much. He stayed at a modest backpacker hostel in Sydneys Kings Cross, spending his time seeing the sights and generally having a good time partying with friends. As his money dwindled, his thoughts turned to part time work. His visa was good for six months but his money looked like it was running out before that time expired. He asked around the city but found casual work hard to come by.
One of his friends suggested fruit picking. After making further inquiries, he learned that most of the work on offer was in the Riverina district, several hundred miles to the south. He decided to save the cost of the fare by taking the train to Liverpool, south west of Sydney and hitchhiking from there. On 25th January 1990, he set out early for the station and was soon standing on the side of the Hume highway in Liverpool waiting for a ride.
The heat was searing as he stood trying to flag down a suitable southbound vehicle. His only possessions were a small pack containing a Sony Walkman, a camera and several items of clothing. He walked south trying desperately to thumb a ride. Stopping at a small shopping centre, he bought a drink and was seriously contemplating returning to the hostel when a fit, well-muscled man approached him and asked, in a distinctive Australian accent, “You need a lift?”
Paul told him his destination and accepted his offer of a ride gladly. The two men climbed into the stranger’s four-wheel-drive vehicle and headed south. The first thing Paul noticed about the man, apart from his muscular build, was his long “Zapata” styled moustache. They talked for a while and Paul introduced himself and the man told him his name was “Bill.”
Pauls new found friend was full of questions:
“Where you from?”
“When are you due back?”
“Who knows youre here?”
“Whats your occupation?”
So many questions but “Bill” seemed friendly enough so Paul answered them. “Bill” told Paul that he worked on the roads, was from a Yugoslavian family, lived near Liverpool and was divorced. They drove for an hour and “Bill’s” demeanor began to change. His language became more aggressive and critical. He became agitated and launched into a racist tirade about “gooks” and “pommies” and shortly after became morose and refused to talk.
By mid afternoon after leaving the southern town of Mittagong, Paul noticed that “Bill” was acting strangely, varying his speed and looking in the rear view mirror every few seconds. Paul, feeling tired and drained from the trip, began to feel uneasy. “Bill” leaned forward adjusting the radio and said, “I think Ill pull over and get some tapes from the back.” As they pulled up on the side of the freeway, Paul looked down and noticed a tray full of tape cassettes in the front console between the seats.
As “Bill” got out, Paul decided to get out as well. “Get back in the car,” “Bill” told him, his voice full of menace. Not wanting to alarm him any further, Paul complied. As soon as they got back in the car “Bill” reached under the driver’s seat, pulled out a large black revolver and pointed it at Paul.
“This is a robbery,” he said. Again he reached under the seat and produced a coil of rope. Paul, highly alarmed, tried to reason with “Bill.”
“Whats going on? What are you doing?” he asked.
He was told in a firm but controlled manner, “Shut up and put your seat belt back on.” Paul, scared out of his wits, started to obey but instead grabbed for the door handle and leapt to the ground. Paul ran away from the car hearing the words, “Stop or Ill shoot,” from behind him.
Panicking, he ran into the oncoming traffic causing cars to swerve alarmingly trying to avoid this “madman” on the road. Briefly he looked back expecting to see “Bill” chasing him. Instead, he saw him standing casually by his vehicle grinning. “Get back here, you,” he called. Paul managed to flag down a van. As it slowed, he ran to the grass dividing strip in the middle of the highway. “Bill” lunged at him from behind, tackling him to the ground. Paul managed to break free and ran to the van and threw himself in front of it. The driver, Joanne Berry, a local resident, slammed on the brakes and before she could protest Paul leapt inside the van screaming, “Hes got a gun, help me!”
Joanne, against her better judgement, drove away. In the car were her sister and four children. She feared for their safety and was about to ask him to get out. She looked into his face and seeing his look of terror, decided to take him to the nearest police station which was in the opposite direction. As she turned the van around, she noticed the other man running back to his car. He looked like he was carrying something. Anxious to put some distance between them, she accelerated rapidly.
When they reached Mittagong police station, it was closed. They drove on to the next town, Bowral. Paul related his story to Constable Janet Nicholson at the front desk, describing his attacker, the vehicle and the pack he had left behind. He detailed its contents including his passport and return ticket to England. After filling out a detailed report, Constable Nicholson circulated the mans description and the details of his vehicle via radio and advised Paul to return to the hostel. He explained his financial predicament and was given twenty dollars. She explained to him that without a registration number they had very little chance of locating the suspect vehicle. He went to the British High Commission when he returned to Sydney, to replace his passport and to borrow additional funds. He got the passport, but no cash. A woman waiting behind him felt sorry for him and gave him twenty dollars. He was amazed at her generosity.
Weeks later, after deciding to stay in Australia, he found a well paying job. His girlfriend arrived from England shortly after and they traveled around the north of Australia for a few weeks, then left for home. After arriving home, Paul attempted to settle back into a normal life but over the next year had trouble sleeping and developed a string of mysterious illnesses.
Several years later, Paul learned of the discovery of the bodies near where he was attacked. The thought chilled him to the bone as he relived the incident in his mind.
Back in Australia, the investigation was still dragging on. Over two hundred police still searched the forest. At the task force headquarters, thousands of calls regarding the events in Belangalo poured in every week. Two such calls in particular were interesting. One was from a woman who claimed her boyfriend worked with a man who she thought should be checked out. He owned a property near the forest, drove a four-wheel-drive and owned a lot of guns. His name was Ivan Milat.
The second call was from Joanne Berry who described the time that she had picked up Paul Onions after his attack. These, like the other calls, had to be recorded and entered onto an extensive computer database, which was becoming increasingly overloaded. In short, they were buried under the weight of the many crank calls and alleged sightings.
Paul Onions called the Australian High Commission and was given the hotline number of the task force. On 13th November 1993, he told the officer who answered the telephone the details of his attack in 1990 and was asked why he hadnt reported it then. When he replied that he had, he expected the officer to ask him where and when and the name of the officer he spoke to. Instead he was thanked for the information and the call was terminated. When he didnt hear any word weeks later he decided that his report was of no value and did his best to clear his mind of it.
The official search of the forest was suspended on the 17th November 1993.
No more bodies or additional evidence had been found.
By December 1993, it was apparent that although an enormous amount of information had been compiled, the investigation wasnt progressing at an acceptable rate. Ten thousand “running sheets” had been assembled, mostly by hand. Of the thousands of calls received over the “hotline,” police had produced a list of two thousand “persons of interest” that callers had suggested may have committed the crimes or had some knowledge of them.
The sheer volume of data overloaded the computer system. The program called T.I.M.S. (Task Force Information Management System) was made up of multiple databases that stored the information in various subject areas. However, it was unable to cross-reference more than a single inquiry because the system had not been designed to handle the volume and complexities involved in an investigation of such magnitude.
The decision was taken to introduce a new program, which would be more powerful and flexible enough to handle the task. This meant long weeks of data entry and compilation, which meant all data received in the mean time would have to be processed by hand. Detective Senior Constable Gagan, the senior analyst for the Task Force, assembled his team and began the long grueling process. Every file had to be read, assessed and set aside to be entered into an appropriate section of the data base at a later time.
One such file came to the attention of the analysis team because of the unusual surname of the person involved. The name was Onions, Paul Onions. They read the report and added it to the “lead” file for further attention. Several weeks later a similar report came to light. It was Joanne Berrys statement regarding the Onions incident. It, too, was filed for further attention.
Early in the New Year, thirty-seven detectives were working full time on the investigation, the main focus was tracking down the suspect firearm and ammunition used in the offences. Two of the new detectives assigned to the case, Senior Constables Gordon and McCluskey, were given the job of following up on a file that contained three separate leads. Gordon looked at the name on the file folder. “Milat.”
Richard (l) and Ivan Milat
Lynne Butler and Paul Douglas were interviewed and confirmed their earlier statements. The third lead was from the woman whose boyfriend had worked with Ivan Milat but as she hadnt given her name, Douglas decided to go to the company in question, “Readymix” and ask about Milat.
Richard and Ivan Milat had both worked there at one time. They learned that Ivan had been a hard worker and was highly respected. Richard, on the other hand, was remembered as being crazy and unpredictable.
Time sheets were requested for both men but when matched up later with the approximate times and dates of the offences, Richard was found to have been working on every occasion. However, his brother Ivan had been away from work when each of the murders had taken place. Gordon felt that Milat was fast becoming the prime suspect but when he raised the subject with his superiors he was told, “Get more evidence.”
Gordon searched criminal records and found that Ivan Milat had been found guilty of committing various offences and had served several years in prison. None of the offences indicated that he was a potential serial killer. After digging further through the archives, he found something that really aroused his suspicion. In 1971, Ivan had picked up two girls hitch hiking from Liverpool to Melbourne and had allegedly raped one of them. Both girls testified that he was armed with a large knife and carried a length of rope. He was later acquitted when the prosecution case was dismissed as unproven.
Gordon and McCluskey again went to their superiors to request phone taps on Milats house and to have listening devices installed in his car. Clive Small refused. Gordon was not impressed. Small had made the correct decision. The law was very firm on the subject of electronic surveillance. It was only to be used when all other methods of acquiring evidence had been exhausted. He also knew, from long experience, that although one suspect stood out, to build a strong case they would have to investigate and eliminate any other suspects.
Several days later he assigned four detectives, including Gordon and McCluskey, to work full time following up the “Milat” leads and also arranged for a surveillance team, known as the “Dog Squad,” to follow Milat and watch his house. The “Milat” team began the exhaustive task of interviewing, checking and crosschecking statements and amassing evidence. It was a task that would occupy them several months. For Detective Gordon it was a frustrating time but he was still quietly confident that they were close to their man.
To strengthen his investigation team, Superintendent Small began to assemble a team of experts to examine the motives and “state of mind” of the type of person that would have committed these hideous crimes. Knowing that the end result of the long and protracted saga, that the case had become, would be a trial of epic proportions, Small wanted the opinions of several experienced professionals to further enhance and support the weight of evidence.
The police psychiatrist, Dr. Rod Milton was essential to the proceedings. Since the beginning of the case, he had studied and reviewed every shred of information as it came to hand. He watched carefully as his original profile began to take realistic shape.
Smalls second choice was Dr. Richard Basham, the Dean of Anthropology at Sydney University. Basham, an American, had assisted police previously with investigations of Asian crime in Australia. His forte was psychological anthropology but he was well versed in experimental and clinical psychology. Milton and Basham were wary of each other at first, but came to respect each others abilities very quickly. Another member was Bob young, a trained sociologist and computer analyst. His expertise was in research methods and was very experienced in the handling of large amounts of data.
Small still believed that the killer lived somewhere in the southern highlands, the region that incorporated Belangalo. His plan was to organize a “door to door” survey of the entire area, in search of the murder weapon. The panel disagreed. They reasoned that police resources were stretched to the limit as it was. Most of them felt, particularly Basham, that the person and or weapons that they sought was mentioned somewhere in the mountain of information that had already been received.
As the group reviewed some of the files, one particular statement (Alex Milats) was mentioned. Small told them of the depth of detail it contained and suggested that the person who gave it must possess a “photographic” memory. Basham suggested that to retain such detail could also mean that he might have been part of the events that he had recalled so well. It was an interesting theory. Basham also was of the opinion that more than one person was involved, probably a brother. When part of the ballistic evidence was presented, the panel discussed the scratches that were found on some of the spent projectiles, possibly caused by a crude silencer.
“Well, a silencer could mean that this man is living in a fantasy world,” Basham said. “He probably owns a motorcycle too. He considers himself an outlaw.”
Milton agreed. He went back to the “brothers” theory. “We could be looking for a group of brothers who spend their time in the forests shooting cans and wounding animals and generally “showing off with each other.”
Smalls ears pricked up. “We have a family just like that on file,” he said.
“Well watch them closely,” Basham replied, “One or more of them could be who you are looking for.”
The discussion turned to the probable location of the killer. Milton suggested that the killer might not live in the immediate vicinity but may visit the area regularly and could even own or rent a property near by. After studying maps, they deduced that the killer would most probably live in an area to the North, close to the Hume highway. The fact that all of the victims had, at some stage, been seen at or near Liverpool and their bodies found in Belangalo forest strengthened that theory.
The members of the panel were unaware of the interest the police were taking in the Milat family, in fact their name hadnt been mentioned during the briefing. Small knew that they still had a long way to go to build a case but couldnt help thinking how closely the Milat family matched the theories.
The painstaking search for supportive evidence continued through to March 1994. The “Milat” team obtained records of all premises and vehicles that the Milats had owned in the past. They found that three of the Milat brothers owned a small property on the “Wombeyan Caves” road, twenty five miles from Belangalo. In addition, one vehicle found was a silver “Nissan Patrol” four-wheel-drive that had been owned by Ivan Milat.
The new owner was interviewed and showed police a bullet that he had found under the driver’s seat. It was .22 caliber and was later analyzed and found to be consistent with the empty boxes found in “Area A” and cartridge cases found at the Clarke and Walters gravesites. Milat had sold the vehicle two months after the bodies of the two English girls had been discovered.
Detective Gordon and his team were uncovering numerous pieces of evidence but still needed something to tie it all together. Additional evidence that would put Ivan Milat and his vehicle in the area at the time of the offences. They tried using the “new” computer database in the hope of finding the match that they were looking for, but after entering keywords such as “silver four-wheel-drive,” “Liverpool,” and “hitchhiker,” no matches were found. The system was better than the previous one but was still not capable of providing the information that was required.
They began the unenviable task of sorting through the boxes of reports by hand, some still not entered into the database. The job took weeks. Finally on 13th April, Gordon found the note regarding Paul Onions’ call to the hotline five months earlier. He read the report describing the events of January 1990 and as he read he realized that if this man was a credible witness, his testimony could give them the link that they were looking for. Onions’ statement described the vehicle, the area where the attack was committed, and the driver. Gordon took his newfound evidence directly to Superintendent Small.
Small was furious, how had such an important piece of evidence been overlooked? He immediately called for the original report from Bowral police but it was missing from their files. Fortunately, Constable Nicholson had taken a full report in her notebook, which provided more details than the original statement. Knowing that Richard and Ivan Milat were similar in appearance, police checked the two mens work records and confirmed with their employers that Richard had been working on the day of the attack but Ivan had not.
In addition, while checking Ivans work records they found that he had been working in the “Galston Gorge” area at the time when James Gibson’s pack had been found. Several of Ivans work mates were interviewed and told of his interest in guns. One friend of Ivans, Tony Sara, told police that Milat had owned a motorcycle and a four-wheel-drive Nissan and kept an “arsenal” of guns at his house. He told them the story of the time he and Ivan were on the way to a job and drove past the Belangalo Forest.
“You wouldnt believe whats in there,” Ivan had said, but when Sara pressed him for details, Ivan just smiled and said nothing more.
At the end of April, Paul Onions received an important telephone call from Australia. Detective Stuart Wilkins told him that he was an important witness in the “backpacker” case and could he fly to Sydney as soon as possible? He was totally confused. From the beginning he had felt that the Australian police had no real interest in him or his story. Now all of a sudden, he was their “star witness.” What had taken them so long?
A week later, he was being driven out of Sydney towards Liverpool by police who wanted him to “get his bearings,” before they interviewed him further. As they drove through Liverpool, he pointed out the small shop where he had met “Bill.” The shop, a newsagency, was called Lombardos.
After they had driven further south on the expressway, Onions told them, “This is wrong. We went through a town.”
“You must be mistaken,” they answered. “Theres no towns on this road.”
Police later discovered that at the time of the attack on Onions, January 1990, the expressway had not been completed and the Hume Highway had originally gone through the centre of Mittagong.
As they approached the attack site Onions began to feel uneasy. He detailed the conversation, his voice trembling as he spoke about the tapes, the gun and the rope. He pointed out approximately where he had escaped. It was less than a mile from the entrance to the forest.
The next day he was shown a video “line up” of a group of suspects. For purposes of identification, each image was individually numbered one to thirteen. Onions was left alone to view the images as many times as he liked. He was told to take his time. He felt strange. Four years had passed since the attack and here he was looking for the man who did it. He looked through the tape again and again. Two images seemed to stand out, numbers four and seven. He kept looking.
A short time later, he called the detectives and pointed to the single image on the screen, “Thats him, number four.”
“Are you sure?”
He was spooked by their question. “I better take another look.”
He ran through the tape several times more and finally declared, “Yes Im sure. The man who attacked me is number four.”
Paul Onions had positively identified Ivan Milat.
Small was immediately informed and, after consultation with Lynch, he made his decision. They now had sufficient evidence to arrest Ivan Milat for the assault on Paul Onions. As well as the arrest warrant, they applied for search warrants of Ivan Milat’s home in Eaglevale, a suburb just off the Hume highway and a few short miles from Liverpool. On the premise that Ivan hadnt acted alone, police also applied for search warrants to search the houses of Ivans mother and his brothers, Richard, Walter and Bill. The property near the forest was also to be searched, as was the home of Alex Milat, who had moved to a town called Woombye, which was located several hours drive north near Brisbane, Queensland.
All warrants were granted.
The logistics of organizing multiple raids across two states were daunting. Over three hundred police would be involved. To maintain secrecy most of them would not be informed of the location and timing of the raids until just before the event. The raid on Ivans house was code named “Air-1.”
As Ivan Milats hours of work were erratic, it was decided to raid his house at 6:30 a.m. on 22nd May 1994, a Sunday. Fifty police, including members of the heavily armed “State Protection Group,” general duties officers and police negotiators, were assembled at 2 a.m. at Campbelltown police station. Campbelltown was halfway between Liverpool and Ivans house.
Present at the early morning briefing, besides Small and Lynch, was Dr Rod Milton. He briefed the chief negotiator, Wayne Gordon, on how best to approach Ivan, who was to be contacted by telephone after the premises had been surrounded. Milton suggested that Gordon use a firm and authoritative tone, as he believed that Milat would try to take control of the situation. Surveillance police had reported that Ivans girlfriend, Chalinder Hughes, was also in the house. The plan was to calmly ask them to come out of the house, affect the arrest and search the premises.
At precisely 6:36 a.m., the team was in place. Detective Gordon dialed Ivans number. A male voice answered. When asked if he was Ivan Milat, he answered, “No.” Gordon confirmed the address. It was correct. Gordon then introduced himself and advised Ivan that police were stationed around the property, were in possession of a search warrant, intended to gain entry and search the premises in relation to an armed assault. He advised Milat to come out with his girlfriend and surrender to police. Ivan mumbled something and hung up.
After several minutes, nothing had happened. Mindful of the guns that Milat was known to possess, police were reluctant to storm the house. The presence of his girlfriend was also a prohibitive factor. Gordon again dialed the number and spoke to Milat a second time. When Gordon asked him why he hadnt come out as requested Ivan replied that he thought it was a joke. Gordon convinced him that it was no joke.
Several minutes later, the front door of number 22 Cinnabar Street, Eaglevale opened and Ivan Milat and Chalinder Hughes stepped onto the front lawn and were taken into custody by two members of the State protection group. Several more of the group entered the house and “swept” the house for other occupants.
After the premises were secured, the search began. Ivan was handcuffed and advised of his rights. He was also advised that he was to be questioned in relation to seven bodies that had been recovered from the Belangalo state forest. In reply Milat said, I dont know what you are talking about. The “specialist” search team was comprised of Gerald Dutton, the ballistics expert, Andy Grosse, the senior crime scene investigator and two other detectives. They began a methodical search of the four-bedroom house.
At the other premises, the additional raids had gone smoothly. Police were beginning to search each of the homes at virtually the same time.
Ivan, the gun fanatic, in the mid 1980′s
Damning EvidenceThe first item found in Ivans house was a postcard. He was asked who it was from. He replied that it was from a friend in New Zealand. It began with the words, “Hi Bill.” Ivan was asked if he was also known as “Bill.” He replied, “No, it must have been a mistake.” When a bullet was found in one of the bedrooms, police asked Ivan if he owned any firearms. He said that he didnt. When asked about the bullet, he said it was left from when he went shooting with his brother. The rooms were searched one at a time. In the second bedroom, two sleeping bags were found in a wardrobe. They were later identified as belonging to Simone Schmidl and Deborah Everist.
In one of the other bedrooms, a bag was found containing several personal items that indicated that it was Ivans workbag. He confirmed that fact to police. Also in the bag was a Bowie-style knife, 12 inches long. In the same bedroom was a technical manual for the road-making machine that Ivan operated at work. Inside it was a small book that sparked Duttons interest. It was an owner’s instruction manual for a Ruger .22 caliber rifle. Ivan refused to comment on the find.
A photo album contained a photograph of a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a holster. In the holster was what looked to Dutton like a Colt .45 handgun. It was the type that Onions had described. A box of .45 ammunition was later found in Ivans bedroom. One other framed photograph showed Chalinder Hughes wearing a striped Benneton top. It was identical to a top that Caroline Clarke owned.
The garage, which was attached to the house, was next. On a rack of portable shelving against a wall, a nylon sleeping bag cover was found. It contained a rolled tent. Wrapped around the tent was a purple headband identical to the one found around Simone Schmidls skull. Also in the bag was a homemade silencer. When Milat was taken into the garage and asked about the bag, he stated that he had never seen it before.
The ceiling of the garage had a “man-hole” which opened into the roof cavity. One team member climbed a ladder to search it. Nothing was found until the insulation material was removed. Tucked inside one of the wall cavities was a plastic bag. It contained what looked like gun parts. Dutton was summoned and identified the parts as being a complete breech block assembly, a trigger and a magazine. All were from a Ruger .22 rifle. Another object was below it in the cavity but was beyond reach. Finally, after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve it, police resorted to cutting a hole in the adjoining wall and found that it was the rotary magazine from the same weapon.
Milat was taken from the house and conveyed to Campbelltown police station where he was questioned. The entire interview was recorded on both video and audio tape. During the interview, Milat was evasive and uncooperative. The interview finished an hour later and Ivan was then charged with the robbery and attempted murder of Paul Onions.
Back at his house, police had found electrical tape, cable ties and a bag of yellow and blue ropes similar to those found at the crime scenes. After searching more thoroughly inside a bedroom wardrobe, another part of the Ruger rifle was found hidden inside a leather work boot.
More camping and cooking equipment was found in the kitchen pantry, belonged to Simone Schmidl. The police had hoped that they would find some evidence linking Milat to the murders, but were completely unprepared for the amount of property that was found.
As the search progressed, more items came to light: a camera, which proved to be Caroline Clarke’s and a water canteen which had a scratched area on it as though a mark had been erased. Later, subjected to light analysis, the name “Simi” could be clearly seen. A fully loaded Browning automatic pistol was found wedged under the washing machine.
At the other locations, more evidence was found. Rifles, shotguns, knives, crossbows and an incredible amount of ammunition. Nearly all the camping gear belonging to the victims was found in the raids. The most disturbing find of all was unearthed in a locked cupboard in the house of Margaret Milat, Ivans mother. A long curved cavalry sword.
Gerald Dutton, the ballistics expert, had been working on the case since the first fired cases and bullets had been recovered from the forest. He worked long hours examining all the ballistic evidence and was eventually rewarded for his diligence. The fired cases and several of the bullets matched the Ruger .22 rifle that was found in Ivan Milats home.
Ivan Robert Marko Milat was charged with the murders of the seven backpackers and was committed to stand trial. At a bail hearing, several weeks after the arrest, Ivan dismissed his lawyer after being advised by his counsel to plead guilty. Ironically it was the same lawyer that had won him an acquittal during the 1971 alleged rape trial. The trial was set down for June 1995. But Ivan Milat did not stand trial in June. In fact it was almost a year before the case came to court. It was delayed while Milats lawyers argued with the state’s Legal Aid office over their rate of pay. Eventually they accepted the original offer and were ready to go to trial.
Camping equipment and guns found during Milat property raids
Ivan Milat sat passively in the courtroom as the jury filed in for the first day of the biggest murder trial in Australias criminal history. The presiding judge, Justice David Hunt, asked the crown prosecutor to begin. Mark Tedeschi QC (Queens Counsel) made a brief opening statement during which he told the jury that Ivan Milat would be proven guilty of seven cruel murders, whether he had accomplices or not. He wasted no time in calling his first witness, Paul Onions.
Milat stared at him as he took the witness stand, the hint of a faint smile on his lips. Onions positively identified Milat as the person who attacked him. Tedeschi led him through his evidence and Onions waited for Milats defense counsel, Terry Martin, to attack his testimony during cross-examination. The attack did not come. A few points of identification were challenged, but not the scrutiny that he was expecting.
After Onions stepped down, the parents of each of the victims were called to the stand one at a time. The courtroom was hushed as they spoke about the last time they seen their children alive. Some suppressed sobs and others struggled to control the seething anger that they felt when they looked into the eyes of the “monster” that stood accused of murdering their children.
The list continued as the evidence was presented: 356 exhibits and hundreds of photographs all had to be explained in detail. The days crawled by in the hot and stuffy courtroom as each witness was called. The public galleries were full every day. Members of the media from all over the world jostled for position in the crowded press gallery, knowing that the case was big news.
When the T-shirt that Joanne Walters last wore was displayed, bearing numerous cuts, front and back, the courtroom fell silent. So too when Dr Bradhurst took the stand to describe the injuries inflicted on each of the victims. The most dramatic moment was when he was shown the sword found at Ivans house. He suggested that it was very likely the type of weapon used to decapitate Anja Habschied.
The enormous weight of evidence and the long list of witnesses took weeks to present. Gradually, during cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses, the defense tactics unfolded. They were determined to convince the jury that Ivan was not responsible for the murders but instead implied that his brothers, Richard and Walter, committed the crimes and implicated him by “planting” the evidence at his house. Twelve weeks and 145 witnesses later, the prosecution completed its presentation of a strong case.
The first witness called by the defense was Ivan Milat. Martin led him through the accusations that had been made. His defense was simple: he denied everything. During cross-examination, Tedeschi proved merciless.
He pursued Milat on every point. When asked how he came to be in possession of the property belonging to the victims he answered, “Someones trying to make me look bad.”
He faltered after Tedeschi reminded him that the gun parts that he said were put in his home by someone else, were painted in camouflage colors in the same fashion as his other hunting equipment. Tedeschi pointed out that it was an amazing coincidence, considering that Milat had already admitted that the paints used were in fact his. On the sixty-fourth day of informed and the juror excused from further proceedings.
In the trial’s fifteenth week, after all the evidence has been presented and argued against, the final summations begin. Tedeschi told the jury of Ivan Milats arrogance in believing that he would get away with the attack on Onions and the abduction and murder of seven young people — an arrogance that prevented him from disposing of the property belonging to his victims. His address ran for three days as he spelled out the many pertinent facts that indicated that Ivan Milat was the killer, none of which had been suitably explained by his defense.
Martin began his summing up by telling the jury that obviously someone in the Milat family was responsible for the murders, but not his client. He tried to explain away the damning evidence as a conspiracy against Ivan by his own brothers. He began to narrow down his attack, suggesting that Richard made the comments about the murders to his friends at work and “may” have been in a position to commit all eight crimes, even though he was at work at the times of the offences. He ended his comments in the same vein: his client Ivan Milat had been set up.
Justice Hunt took two days to summarize the evidence for the jury. At 2:42 p.m. on the 24th July, he sent the jury out to consider their verdict. Three days passed, still no verdict. Meanwhile the Milat family, confident of an acquittal, made plans for a celebratory dinner. A strange ritual considering Ivans defense was based on the implication of members of his own family.
On Saturday, 27th July 1995, the remaining jurors filed into the courtroom to deliver their verdict. Justice Hunt asked Ivan to stand as the by the jury foreman read the verdicts. As each of the eight charges were read the verdict was the same. Guilty. Ivan Milat was asked if he had anything to say.
He replied, “Im not guilty of it. Thats all I have to say.”
The sentences were then handed down. For the attack on Paul Onions, six years’ imprisonment. For the remaining seven counts of willful murder, a life sentence for each. Ivan Milat was sentenced to prison “for the term of his natural life.”
On the Sunday following his conviction, Ivan was transported to a maximum-security prison in Maitland, south west of Sydney. After the normal prison induction of showers and the issue of bedding, Milat was “welcomed” to the jail in a manner that he could not have expected. While waiting in line to be assigned to a cell, he was approached by a tall, well-built inmate and punched to the ground.
Ivan Milat, the prisoner
Despite his bad start, Ivan settled into prison life in a cell in A wing. Several months later, on the 17th July, he was involved in a foiled escape attempt that was masterminded by George Savvas, a former city councilman who was serving time for drug trafficking. Ironically, Ivan was immediately transferred to the high security wing of Goulburn jail, only a few short miles from Belangalo Forest.
The next day Savvas was found hanged in his cell. To this date, Ivan Milat has not been charged for his part in the escape attempt.
As a follow up to the Milat story, several reporters approached members of Ivans family for interviews. Some of them refused; others demanded money.
Richard Milat, when asked by the press if he feared he would be arrested in relation to the murders, replied, “not really, if they wanted me theyd have me by now.” Margaret, Ivans mother, was shocked by the sentence handed down on her son, but told reporters, “if he did these crimes then he deserves to be punished.”
Other reporters tracked Ivans brother Boris down to a secret location, where he was supposedly “hiding” from his family. When asked if he thought that Ivan was innocent, he answered, “all my brothers are capable of extreme violence, given the right time and place individually. “He continued, “the things I can tell you are much worse than what Ivans meant to have done. Everywhere hes worked, people have disappeared, I know where hes been.
He then asked the reporters if they thought Ivan was guilty, they replied that they did. “If Ivans done these murders,” he told them, “I reckon hes done a hell of a lot more.”
“How many?” they asked.
His reply was disturbing. “About twenty eight.”
Ivan Milat to this day continues to profess his innocence. He has formed a support group that lobbies the government for his release.
Ivan Milat was moved to solitary confinement after prison officers found a hacksaw blade hidden in his cell. The searchers, using a metal detector, found the blade inside a packet of biscuits. At the time of the routine search, Milat was already segregated from other prisoners in the maximum-security wing of Goulburn jail. He has indicated that he will attempt escape at every opportunity.
While in prison, Ivan Milat turned to self-mutilation in an attempt to jumpstart his appeal to the High Court in Sydney. He hoped that by swallowing razor blades, staples and a spring from a toilet mechanism, and periodically starving himself, he would get the judges attention and maybe get the process moving a little faster. However, Ivans desperate ploy failed to work. In July 2001, Judge William Gummow refused Milats appeal, stating that there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the decision by the New South Walse Criminal Court of Appeal, the AP Worldstream reported.
Ivan Milat in prison, recent photo
Many, especially the victims families, were relieved by the courts decision because it would ensure that Ivan would spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. There was little doubt that if he were ever released early he would likely kill again and again. Of course, Ivan denies that he is capable of ever doing such a thing and continues to profess his innocence in the seven murders for which he was earlier convicted.
Despite Ivans declarations, investigators have tried to link him to a further six disappearances of young women between 1978 and 1980. All of the women are thought to be dead, even though none of their bodies have ever been found. At the time of the girls disappearances, Ivan allegedly worked or lived in close proximity to where they were last seen. Ivans murderous record has lead to his being suspected in their probable murders, although there is no evidence directly linking him to any of the cases.
Ivan Milat as he looked around the time of the girls’ disappearances
Ivan was ordered to give evidence at an inquest in the summer of 2001 into three of the girls disappearances. During the inquiry, he was questioned about Leanne Goodall, 20, Robyn Hickie, 17, and Amanda Robinson, 14, all of whom went missing from New South Wales and Newcastle in 1978 and 1979.According to an article by Tony Larner in the Sunday Mercury, detectives re-opened the files on the three missing women after the discovery of a female jawbone on a Newcastle beach in March 1998, which was, incidentally, not linked to either woman. None-the-less, Ivan worked with a road crew just minutes from where two of the women were last seen. During the line of questioning, Ivan looked directly at the families of the girls and firmly stated that he had nothing to do with their disappearance, Denise McNamara said in an AAP General News article. Based on a lack of evidence, he has not been formally charged.
During another inquiry in 2003, Ivan was questioned into the disappearances of two 20 year-old nurses, Gillian Jameson and Deborah Balkan, who were last seen leaving a hotel with a man in dirty work clothes, the APP General News reported in December 2003. The article stated that at the time, Ivan was working at the Department of Main Roads, (now the RTA) less than two kilometers from the hotel. Ivan flatly denied having anything to do with the women and the investigation against him was stalled, due to a lack of evidence.
In 2005, he was questioned about another girl who went missing while hitchhiking home in January 1980, named Anette Briffa, 18. She never made it home and was thought murdered. It is uncertain if Ivan was in the area at the time she went missing, but because her case matched those he was previously convicted of, he could never be totally eliminated as a suspect, Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich was quoted saying in a January 2005 AAP article.
The reality is, there is a chance that Ivan could have murdered more women than those for which he was convicted. However, unless he confesses, no one will ever know the true number of victims attributed to him. Thus, investigators are simply left to guess, hoping to one day strike it lucky and close one of the many unsolved cases that haunt the region.