The Backpacker Murders is a name given to serial killings that occurred in New South Wales, Australia during the 1990s. The bodies of seven missing young people aged 19 to 22 were discovered partly buried in the Belanglo State Forest, 15 kilometres south west of the New South Wales town of Berrima. Five of the victims were international backpackers visiting Australia (three German, two British), and two were Australian travellers from Melbourne.
Ivan Milat was convicted of the murders and is serving seven consecutive life sentences plus 18 years.
First and second cases
On 20 September 1992 a group of orienteers discovered a decaying corpse while orienteering in the Belanglo State Forest. The following day, police constables Roger Gough and Suzanne Roberts discovered a second body 30 metres from the first. Early media reports suggested that the bodies were of missing British backpackers Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, who had disappeared from the inner Sydney suburb of Kings Cross in April 1992. However a German couple, Gabor Neugebauer and Anja Habschied, had also disappeared from the Kings Cross area sometime after Christmas, 1991 and Simone Schmidl, also from Germany, had been reported missing for more than a year. It was also possible that the bodies were of a young Victorian couple, Deborah Everist and James Gibson, who had been missing since leaving Frankston in 1989.
Police quickly confirmed, however, that the bodies were those of Clarke and Walters. Walters had been stabbed 9 times, and Clarke had been shot several times in the head. Despite a thorough search of the forest over the following five days, no further evidence or bodies were found by police. Investigators ruled out the possibility of further discoveries within Belanglo State Forest.
Third and fourth discoveries and body identification
In October 1993, a local man, Bruce Pryor, discovered a human skull and thigh bone in a particularly remote section of the forest. He returned with police to the scene and two more bodies were quickly discovered and identified as Deborah Everist and James Gibson. The presence of Gibson’s body in Belanglo was a puzzle to investigators as his backpack and camera had previously been discovered by the side of the road at Galston Gorge, in the northern Sydney suburbs almost 100 kilometres to the north.
Fifth, sixth and seventh discoveries
On 1 November 1993 a skull was found in a clearing in the forest by police sergeant Jeff Trichter. The skull was later identified as that of Simone Schmidl from Regensburg, Germany. She had been last seen hitch hiking on 20 January 1991. Clothing found at the scene was not Schmidl’s, but matched that of another missing backpacker, Anja Habschied. Simone Schmidl was found to have died from numerous stab wounds to the upper torso.
The bodies of Habschied and her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer were found on 3 November 1993 in shallow graves 50 metres apart. They had, like the other victims, been shot and/or stabbed.
Search for the identity of the serial killer
There were similar aspects to all the murders. Each of the bodies had been deliberately posed face-down with their hands behind their backs, covered by a pyramidal frame of sticks and ferns. Forensic study determined that each had suffered multiple stab wounds to the torso. The killer had evidently spent considerable time with the victims both during and after the murders, as campsites were discovered close to the location of each body and shell casings of the same calibre were also identified at each site. Joanne Walters and Simone Schmidl had been stabbed, whereas Caroline Clarke had been shot numerous times in the head and stabbed post mortem. Anja Habschied had been decapitated and other victims showed signs of strangulation and severe beatings. Speculation arose that the crimes were the work of several killers, at least two, and Ivan Milat’s sworn statement had suggested anywhere up to seven people were involved.
On 13 November, police received a call from Paul Onions in Britain. Onions had been backpacking in Australia several years before and had accepted a ride south out of Sydney from a man known only as “Bill” on 25 January 1990. South of the town of Mittagong, Bill pulled a gun on Onions who managed to escape, flag down Joanne Berry, a passing motorist, and report the assault to local police. Onions’ statement was backed up by another one from Berry, who also contacted the investigation, along with the girlfriend of a man who worked with Ivan Milat, who thought he should be questioned over the case.
Milat quickly became a suspect. Police learned he had served prison time and in 1971 had been charged with the abduction of two women and the rape of one of them, although the charges were later dropped. It was also learned that both he and his brother Richard worked together on road gangs along the highway between Sydney and Melbourne, that he owned a property in the vicinity of Belanglo, and had sold a Nissan Patrol four-wheel drive vehicle shortly after the discovery of the bodies of Clarke and Walters. Acquaintances also told police about Milat’s obsession with weapons. When the connection between Onions and the Belanglo murders was finally made, Onions was asked to fly to Australia to help with the investigation.
On 5 May 1994, Onions positively identified Milat as the man who had picked him up and attempted to tie up and possibly shoot him.Milat was arrested on 22 May 1994 at his home at Cinnebar Street, Eagle Vale, a northern suburb of Campbelltown, New South Wales after 50 police officers surrounded the premises including heavily armed officers from the Tactical Operations Unit . Homes belonging to his brothers Richard, Alex, Boris, Walter and Bill were also searched at the same time by over 300 police. The search of Ivan Milat’s home revealed a cache of weapons, including parts of a .22 calibre rifle that matched the type used in the murders, plus clothing, camping equipment and cameras belonging to several of his victims.
Milat appeared in court on robbery and weapon charges on 23 May. He did not enter a plea. On 30 May, following continued police investigations, Milat was also charged with the murders of seven backpackers. At the beginning of February 1995 Milat was remanded in custody until June that same year. In March 1996 the trial finally opened. Milat’s trial lasted fifteen weeks. His defence argued that in spite of the amount of evidence, there was no proof Ivan Milat was guilty and attempted to shift the blame to other members of his family, particularly Richard.
On 27 July 1996, a jury found Ivan Milat guilty of the murders. He was also convicted of the attempted murder, false imprisonment and robbery of Paul Onions, for which he received six years’ jail each. For the murders of Caroline Clarke, Joanne Walters, Simone Schmidl, Anja Habschied, Gabor Neugebauer, James Gibson and Deborah Everist, Milat was given a life sentence on each count, with all sentences running consecutively and without the possibility of parole.
On his first day in Maitland Gaol, he was beaten by another inmate. Almost a year later, he made an escape attempt alongside convicted drug dealer and former Sydney councillor George Savvas. Savvas was found hanged in his cell the next day and Milat was transferred to the maximum-security super prison in Goulburn, New South Wales.
Ivan Milat appealed against his convictions on the grounds that the quality of legal representation he had received was too poor, and therefore constituted a breach of his common law right to legal representation, established in the landmark case of Dietrich v The Queen. However, Gleeson CJ, Meagher JA and Newman J of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal held that the right to legal representation did not depend on any level or quality of representation, unless the quality of representation were so poor that the accused were no better off with it. The Court found that this was not the case, and therefore dismissed the appeal
In 2004, Milat filed an application with the High Court and which was heard by Justice McHugh. The orders sought were that Milat be allowed to either attend to make oral submissions in an impending appeal for special leave to the court and that, alternatively, he be allowed to appear via video link. The application was dismissed on the grounds that the issues raised could be adequately addressed by written submission.
The grounds of his impending appeal were that the trial judge had erred by allowing the Crown to put a case to the jury unsupported by its own witnesses and had also put forward alternative cases to the jury, one of which had not been argued by the Crown. McHugh J indicated that this appeal may be defeated because it has been brought out of time
On 26 January 2009, Milat cut off his little finger with a plastic knife, with the intention of mailing the severed digit to the High Court. He was taken to Goulburn Hospital under high security, however, on 27 January 2009, Milat was returned to prison after doctors decided surgery to reattach the finger was not possible
This was not the first time Milat had injured himself while in prison. In the past, he swallowed razor blades, staples and other metal objects.
“Ivan Milat – Australian – Serial Killer – Documentary”