Australian Serial Killer dies in jail

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Australian Serial Killer dies in jail

Post by Belle » Sat Oct 26, 2019 7:17 pm

He was one of our absolute worst; the numbers only exceeded by the Port Arthur massacre of 35 by Martin Bryant. However, many people believe there are still victims of Ivan Milat in crimes which remain unsolved: this story is also one of legal system failure.

Ivan Milat dead at 74: a psychopath unburdened by remorse

Bruce Pryor always had the best eyes.

It’s why his father, a stone and gem polisher, took him for long walks by meandering creeks as a child, knowing he’d find interesting things others would miss.

Pryor prided himself not just on what he could see but on what he could sense, and after two British backpackers were found brutally murdered in Belanglo State Forest in 1992, his intuition was telling him police had missed something.

With the investigation stalling, Pryor began a meticulous grid-pattern search of the native forest around the vast pine plantation at Belanglo, wearing off the soles of his boots on the rugged terrain.

Just over a year after the discovery of the bodies and nine months after he began his solo search, Pryor followed his gut to a fire trail he hadn’t been down. There he stumbled across a femur, and then a skull. In following a hunch, Pryor had found the remains of two 19-year-old Victorians, Deborah Everist and James Gibson, and a serial killer’s graveyard.

Where we would be without Pryor’s extraordinary persistence and dedication will never be known. His discovery would lead to a massive new police search, a further three bodies in the same forest, Australia’s biggest manhunt and, eventually, the arrest and conviction of roadworker Ivan Milat for all seven murders.

Now, Milat’s sentence has ended as intended, with his death from cancer.

Milat, 74, died at Long Bay Hospital at 4.07am on Sunday, Corrective Services NSW said in a statement. Milat had been undergoing chemotherapy since first being diagnosed in May.

The man who had terrorised the Hume Highway, connecting Sydney and Melbourne, was almost unrecognisable by the time of his death. Photographed at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital in May, only the *Merv Hughes-style horseshoe moustache gave away that the thin, grey-haired old man in a wheelchair was Australia’s most notorious serial killer.

That he kept the moustache, inviting recognition, spoke volumes about Milat. He was a psychopath unburdened by remorse, who revelled in his notoriety as he publicly proclaimed his innocence. Not a shred of sympathy was shown to the families of his victims.

The “backpacker murders” changed the nation, ushering in a new level of caution, mistrust and fear. The detectives who caught him believe he takes to the grave secrets of untold evil, the full scale of his crimes never to be known.

“You’d have to be very, very naive to believe that seven backpackers were Ivan’s only victims,” said retired detective Bob Godden, a senior member of the backpacker murders task force.

Terror on the highway

Backpackers hitched a lift for a few reasons in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Every dollar saved stretched finite travel funds. But it was also about the experience; hitching a way to meet “real” Australians, away from the backpacker hostels and fruit picking farms where months could pass without talking to a local. It was a calculated risk and there was a feeling of safety in numbers; many travelled in pairs.

Between December 1989 and April 1992, a sad but familiar pattern emerged.

Backpackers departed Sydney then dropped out of contact with family and friends. Important family occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, deaths and funerals — came and went without a word. Families suspected the worst and enlisted the help of friends, business contacts, private investigators and the media. They made emotional public appeals and launched their own investigations. Often these desperate searches were based on vague or inaccurate descriptions of travel plans, provided in rushed telephone conversations or all-too brief letters. No-one connected the dots.

The forest

On September 19, 1992, two orienteers followed a potent smell in Belanglo State Forest to a mound of branches and leaves on a rock ledge. Up close, they saw the body of a woman, lying on her stomach. When police gently rolled her over, the fly of her jeans was undone, her shirt and bra pushed up, and there was a gag around her neck and chin. Joanne Walters, 22, was stabbed at least 14 times. Some of the blows cut deep to her spine. At least one would have left her paralysed; she may have been like that for some time before her death.

The next day, under another mound of sticks 30 metres away beside a fallen gum tree, searchers found the body of Caroline Clarke, 22, shot 10 times in the head. The bullets were fired from several directions, the shooter or an accomplice moving her head while unloading a full magazine from a Ruger .22 rifle. The two British backpackers disappeared after leaving Sydney together to hitch to Melbourne in April 1992.

Detectives were grinding away, getting nowhere, when Bruce Pryor returned to the forest on October 5, 1993. Pryor was a potter from Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands. His subconscious was nagging him about a fire trail he hadn’t explored. The body of Everist was at the base of a tree and her friend Gibson’s body was 25 metres away beside a fallen log. The two friends went missing while hitching from Sydney in December 1989. Both were repeatedly stabbed, their bodies covered in sticks and leaves. Pryor would pick up a newspaper in the following days to be confronted by a front-page photograph of Everist. He recognised the teeth from holding the skull in his hands, and couldn’t stop crying.

Police and media came from everywhere, and this time wouldn’t leave until all of Belanglo State Forest was checked. Searchers found German backpacker Simone Schmidl, 21, on November 1, 1993. She went missing in January 1991, after trying to hitch from Sydney to Melbourne to meet her mum. A friend was concerned about her hitching alone, but Schmidl had a guidebook which said it was fine. She was stabbed to death, and was found gagged.

Three days later, on November 4, the remains of German backpackers Anja Habschied, 20, and Gabor Neugebauer, 21, were found, 55 metres apart. They had gone missing just after Christmas 1991, after setting off to travel from Sydney to Darwin. Habschied was decapitated, Neugebauer gagged and shot up to six times in the head. Like the others, the three Germans were found under branches. Police knew they were hunting a serial killer, and the world was watching.

Task Force Air was formed to investigate all seven murders and any other linked crimes. Looking back now, retired detective Godden says Pryor’s discovery changed everything.

“Probably would never have found them,” he says of what could have been. There were signs of sexual interference in six of the murders. Investigators had to stop whoever was responsible, before they killed again.


Ivan Robert Marko Milat was the fifth of 14 children to a Yugoslav immigrant father, Stijpan (Stephen), and Australian mother, Margaret. Stephen was 32 and Margaret only 14 when they met. Family homes included a dirt-floor cottage at Bossley Park, western Sydney. Stephen was a disciplinarian prone to outbursts of violence. He worked long hours, whether as a labourer or market gardener, and in his absence his children ran wild.

One brother, Boris, would say Milat “was going to kill somebody from the age of 10”.

But Milat did have a lengthy affair with Boris’s wife, fathering a daughter that Boris had thought was his. According to their brother George, Milat also had a long incestuous relationship with his younger sister Shirley that dated back to the 50s.

The head of Task Force Air, Clive Small, would write in a book on the case that George thought Shirley was in some way “involved” in the backpacker murders.

Shirley was living with Milat when he was arrested. She died in 2003. Another brother, Richard, had this to say about Shirley and Ivan: “What’s the difference, one or the other, if you’re doing it with your sister or your mate up the road?”

Milat went from causing trouble as a youth to serious offending into adulthood, charged with armed robberies and rape.


The police investigation got an early link to Ivan when his brother, Alex, went into Bowral police station in October 1993, and shared a remarkable story. Alex said he saw two bound and gagged women being driven into Belanglo State Forest in two cars filled with seven men. He provided an extraordinary level of detail. For instance, he said one of the passengers had the soft hands of an office worker.

“I didn’t wish to get involved, so I didn’t contact police,” he said.

Police also became aware of comments from Ivan’s younger brother Richard. “I know who killed those Germans,” he is said to have told a workmate in 1992.

Detective Paul Gordon, working the Milat angle, became frustrated at what he perceived was a lack of interest and support in the task force. Gordon struck gold when he retrieved Ivan’s criminal history. Taskforce Air’s leader, Small, says Gordon initially missed this key information and had to be told to go back and search Milat’s history again. A deep and irreparable rift had developed in the team.

Either way, in 1971, at the age of 25, Ivan picked up two 18-year-old women hitching at Liverpool. He was accused of threatening to kill the women if they didn’t have sex with him.

Facing rape and separate armed robbery charges, Milat faked his death in ‘71 by leaving his shoes at notorious Sydney suicide spot The Gap. When eventually found three years later he got off the charges, but the similarities to the Belanglo murders were striking. Gordon told Small that Milat was the killer. Small told Gordon to find any reason Milat couldn’t be the one.

Global publicity about the Aussie serial killer reached England, and Paul Onions contacted the taskforce in late 1993 with an extraordinary story. On Thursday, January 25, 1990, Onions had left Sydney, intending to go fruit picking in Mildura.

The then-23-year-old, from Willenhall, West Midlands, had been in Australia for five weeks, and someone told him hitching was the best way to meet Aussies. He made his way to Liverpool train station and started looking for a lift. No-one picked him up so he walked along the Hume Highway as far as Lombardo’s Shopping Centre at Casula. It was hot and he stopped to buy a drink, striking it lucky, or so it seemed. A bloke with a Merv Hughes moustache and a 4WD offered him a ride.

The driver called himself Bill, said he worked on the roads and his family was Yugoslavian. The mood darkened on the drive as Bill aired grievances about the Brits in Northern Ireland and Asians invading Australia. The 4WD came to a halt over a rise. Bill said he wanted to get some cassette tapes from the back. Onions’ instincts were screaming that something was wrong long before he saw Bill pull out a revolver.

Onions made a split second decision and ran, abandoning his rucksack. He heard a shot fired before diving into the back of an oncoming van. There were four young children in the back. At the wheel, Joanne Berry put the pedal to the floor and saved his life, perhaps all their lives. They immediately went to police, but the gunman had not been found.

After Onions contacted Task Force Air, police took months to get back to him, finally reaching him in April 1994, when the penny dropped about his importance. Former homicide squad detective Stuart Wilkins and another detective met Onions at Sydney airport, where the visitor demanded to see their badges, scared he was being set up by “Bill”.

Onions retraced his movements with the detectives, identifying the spot Bill pulled the gun on him — it was about 900m from the turn-off to Belanglo State Forest. Wilkins showed him a video with photos of 13 men. “He picked out Ivan,” Wilkins tells The Australian. “That’s when he said those famous words — ‘that’s him Stu’.”


Police had enough to arrest Milat for attempting to rob Onions, and to obtain search warrants on family properties. Detectives were told that whoever the backpacker killer was, he would have kept his victims’ belongings.

On the day before the planned arrest and raids, Wilkins and detectives Bob Benson and Tony Roberts travelled to Alex Milat’s home in Woombye, 100km north of Brisbane, to see if he’d talk. Out of nowhere, Alex’s wife Joan had a question of her own.

“She looked at Bob Benson and said, ‘do serial killers keep mementos of their kills?’,” Wilkins says. “Here I am, going ‘I know the answer to that, I’ve done courses’.

Bob, in his cool calm way, goes ‘why do you ask?’”

Joan brought out a backpack with Ivan’s initials written on it. It was Schmidl’s. Only about 100 had been made worldwide. Joan said it was Ivan’s.

“We knew she knew,” says Wilkins.

The next day, a police negotiator uses a loudspeaker to order Milat out of his home in Eagle Vale, southwest Sydney. Raids on this property and the homes of his mother and his brother Walter — who was storing things for Milat — unearthed a treasure trove of evidence detailed in court.

On his coffee table, there was a photograph of his girlfriend in a green and white striped Benetton jersey, an exact match to one missing from murdered backpacker Clarke’s belongings.

Simone Schmidl’s sleeping bag cover, holding some of her belongings, was found in his garage. The sleeping bag itself was in a bedroom. Her water bottle, with her name, “Simi”, was in another room. Clarke’s camera was in the kitchen. A blood-stained chord was linked by DNA testing to Clarke. A sleeping bag believed to be Deborah Everist’s was in a bedroom.

There was another very important item: A blue Next-brand denim shirt belonging to Onions, found in a box in his mother’s garage. It verified Onions’ story.

Milat had killed for pleasure. His compulsion to surround himself with reminders of his victims was textbook for a serial killer and ultimately helped end the killing spree.

Firearms and ammunition were discovered that were shown to be linked to the murders. Milat owned a Ruger 10/22, the model of gun used to shoot Clarke and Gabor Neugebauer. He had an Anschutz rifle, used in the area Neugebauer was murdered. There was Winchester Winner ammunition with the same batch number as ammo used at the Neugebauer site. Police discovered that a week after Neugebauer and Habschied were murdered, Milat asked a neighbour to repair a bullet hole in a door of his 4WD.

Milat denied he had a Merv Hughes moustache in January 1990, but a photograph from the time proved otherwise. Police confirmed he frequently used the alias “Bill” — his brother’s name — and that he visited Lombardo’s, where Onions was offered a lift. Milat was found to be off work at the time of every murder.

Milat blindsided his family at his trial when his defence suggested one or more of his brothers, such as Richard or Walter, or some other family associate, probably murdered the backpackers. The jury didn’t buy it, convicting him of all seven murders and the attack on Onions. Trial judge David Hunt said any other verdict “would have flown in the face of reality”, the evidence “overwhelming”.

Clive Small, now retired, tells The Australian: “Ivan was a very nasty criminal. As far as I can see he would have gone on killing until he got arrested or killed.”

Wilkins agrees: “They never stop, do they.”


Prosecutors never ruled out that someone else could have been involved, and Justice Hunt said there probably was. There are some reasons to suspect that was the case: The differences in the way the victims were murdered, some stabbed, others shot; the fact that three pairs of victims were able to be subdued; the remarks of relatives, which indicated possible knowledge of the murders; and the use of multiple firearms. But Milat’s solo attack on Onions, and the rarity of serial killers working together, points to him being alone.

“I’ve got no doubt he acted on his own,” says Small. “The property belonging to the victims found was all under Ivan’s control until he gave it to other members of the family. No other brother seemed to have any control over it or access to it.”

Wilkins says: “My personal view is I don’t think anyone else was involved. People say Gabor Neugebauer was a big strapping young man. He probably was, until someone stuck a .44 magnum in his head — it levels the playing field.”

How much Milat’s family knew is a different question. His brother David “Bodge” Milat is said to have told a friend: “Ivan’s been doing something bad, years ago … We stopped him, but now we think he’s doing it again.” When the friend asked if he meant armed robberies, he said: “No, it’s worse than that.” And then there was the detailed story Alex Milat told police in the early days of the investigation about seeing a group of men driving two bound and gagged women into Belanglo State Forest.

“I thought maybe Alex was in a very strange way trying to point to the family being involved, and Ivan,” says Godden. “His statement was so far-fetched it was hard to believe. It puzzles everybody … Alex was a bit of a strange character himself.”

Wilkins says Alex may well have been trying to tip police off to Ivan. “But there’s a bottom line — he didn’t say Ivan’s a suspect for these murders, as none of the family did.

“So while they may have tried to give police a push towards a direction, they certainly didn’t overtly or covertly go ‘Ivan did this’.”

Alex died of a heart attack outside a post office at Palmwoods on the Sunshine Coast in 2017, taking any knowledge with him.

In hindsight, a pattern can be seen. First, Milat murdered a pair — Everist and Gibson. Then, there was the close call with Onions. Perhaps shaken by this botched attempt, Milat selected a woman hitching on her own, Schmidl. His confidence returning, he again picked up a couple, Neugebauer and Habschied, and then finally another pair, Clarke and Walters. But how many others were there?

Other victims

In May this year, Brian Letcher spoke publicly for the first time, to The Weekend Australian. His 18-year-old son, Peter Letcher, from Bathurst, was found dead in the Jenolan State Forest in January 1988, shot five times in the head. For a long time it was believed Letcher had fallen foul of the local drug trade, but Small says it is now almost certain he was given a lift by Milat while hitchhiking back to Bathurst from Sydney.

Letcher was shot with the same model rifle used to murder Clarke and Neugebauer, and Milat had worked on the Jenolan Caves road at around that time. Letcher was disposed of in the same way as Milat’s other victims — under a mound of sticks, in a hollow in the ground left by the roots of an upturned tree.

Two other unsolved cases stand out. Keren Rowland, 20, went missing after her car broke down on Parkes Way in Canberra in February 1971. She was found dead in the Fairbairn Pine Plantation three months later.

Dianne Pennacchio, 29, was intending to hitchhike from Bungendore, NSW, to her home in Queanbeyan in September 1991. Her body was found two months later in the Tallaganda State Forest.

Milat was also named a person of interest at an inquest into the disappearances of Leanne Goodall, 20, Robyn Hickie, 18, and Amanda Robinson, 14, who went missing in the Newcastle area from 1978 to 1979. NSW police have been reinvestigating those murders.

Separately, a retired detective has been investigating claims Milat is linked to the 1972 murder of hitchhikers Robin Hoinville-Bartram and Anita Cunningham.

Hoinville-Bartram’s remains were found under a bridge on the Flinders Highway, about 80km west of Charters Towers in Queensland, in November that year, shot twice in the head. Cunningham has never been found.

Small says there’s a tendency to blame Milat for every unsolved murder or disappearance from before he was jailed, but has no doubt he committed further crimes.

There’s rightly a monument at Belanglo State Forest for the seven victims. It acknowledges the efforts of NSW police and the SES. But the efforts of Paul Onions and Bruce Pryor should also be remembered.

Pryor’s reward was to be treated as a suspect. He was repeatedly grilled by detectives. He knew at the time that he was being followed, and has since been told his phone was bugged. Pryor wound up with PTSD, his family put through enormous upheaval. He says it was from police mismanagement, not from finding the bones. No-one ever came and said he was in the clear. He would not wish the experience on anyone, yet would do it again, for the families of the victims and the lives he surely saved.

Pryor sometimes went back to the forest. Once, about two years after his discovery, he was driving out when he passed a man walking alone on a fire trail.

“He spoke to us in German. It was Gabor Neugebauer’s father,” Pryor tells The Australian. “I was able to express to him my deep sorrow and sympathy.” If there is anything redeeming from the senseless violence of the Belanglo Forest murders, it’s the good in people like Pryor and Onions — the lengths they were willing to go for the victims; their empathy, contrasted with Milat’s complete absence of it.

(*Merv Hughes is a famous Australian cricketer)

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Re: Australian Serial Killer dies in jail

Post by absinthe » Sun Oct 27, 2019 9:02 am

A most interesting and horrifying story, Belle.
It harks back to the Peter Sutcliffe story here, caught not by detective work but when he was stopped for Road Traffic offence and a connection was made. He's still inside. Just my personal opinion(s) but a) a life sentence should mean life inside, not the soft sentencing many of these miscreants get here with the prospect of parole after so-many years, because b) I can appreciate the abolition of the death sentence because death is too good for most of these people; and they should die inside and until they do, work for their keep, not burden the taxpayer. Bring back mailbag sewing!

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Re: Australian Serial Killer dies in jail

Post by barney » Sun Oct 27, 2019 4:37 pm

Timely to lighten the mood?
Re sewing mailbags:
Horatio Bottomley, the British independent MP jailed for fraudulent conversion in 1922, was discovered sewing mailbags by a prison visitor. “Ah Bottomley,” he remarked. “Sewing?” “No, reaping.”

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Re: Australian Serial Killer dies in jail

Post by Belle » Sun Oct 27, 2019 6:37 pm

A stitch in time saves 9? :mrgreen:

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Re: Australian Serial Killer dies in jail

Post by barney » Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:30 pm


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