Ivan Milat, also known as The Backpacker Killer, was a serial killer convicted for the 7 murders of backpackers. All of the bodies were found between September 19, 1991 and November 4, 1993 in the Belanglo State Forest, in New South Wales, Australia. The Backpacker Murders were one of the inspirations for the movie Wolf Creek, starring Australian actor, John Jarratt.
The seven known victims were : Deborah Everist and James Gibson (last seen on December 30, 1989) – Simone Schmidl (last seen on January 20, 1991) – Gabor Neugebauer and Anja Habschied (last seen on December 26, 1991) – Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke (last seen on April 18, 1992).
When Ivan Milat, 49, was arrested at his home on May 22, 1994, police only had Paul Onion’s testimony as evidence. By searching his house as well as his brothers’ and mother’s they found various items linking him to the murders, such as camping gears, sleeping bags, dozens of firearms, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Ivan Milat always maintained his innocence up until his death.
These last months I researched the possibility of a second killer. I re-read the main book about Ivan Milat, Sins of the Brother by Mark Whitaker and Les Kennedy, as well as various court documents, the magazine Murder in Mind, old newspapers,… Following my research I’m a little dumbfounded that only Ivan was charged, sentenced to life imprisonment and that the police just stopped the investigation. I have no doubt he was guilty but the main question I have about the case is : “Was he acting alone?” There’s many questions that were never answered :
- The Judge who sentenced Ivan Milat, David Hunt, was aware that they had no physical evidence that Ivan murdered anyone of the victims or was even in the forest at any given time. He also believed that at least two people were responsible for the murders, “it’s inevitable he was not alone”. According to the court documents, “The Crown stated it was unable to establish that the accused personally murdered the victims.”
- The father of Gabor Neugebauer, is convinced Ivan was not alone, “Gabor was 1.86m (6ft 1) tall and very strong. When we sometimes went into the forest to cut firewood he would cut huge logs and carry whole stumps. It would have taken two men to kill him.“
- Caroline Clarke’s father, Ian, also think a second killer is still walking free, “I think we’ve still got the awful prospect that there is someone out there on the streets who shouldn’t be on the streets“.
- Joanne Walters was found clutching hairs in her palm when detectives discovered her body in 1992 in the Belanglo State Forest. The hair were DNA tested at the time, but did not match Milat’s or Walters’. The tested samples were later destroyed by police after they had become contaminated. Strangely enough, former detective Clive Small, claimed that “forensic services retested the hair in Joanne’s right hand, which forensic medicine at Glebe had originally concluded belonged to a man, but the DNA testing showed it consistent to Joanne and that was subsequently corroborated again after being sent to another mob for testing“. On that claim only, Small is now certain Milat acted alone.
- Ivan’s DNA was never found on any of the bodies or on the crime scenes.
- Carolyn Clark had two sperm samples in her body but none of them matched Ivan’s.
- Cigarettes butts and alcohol bottles were found on the different crime scenes but Ivan didn’t smoke and didn’t drink.
- Paul Onions also said that the car had a spare wheel on the back, testimony corroborated by the woman, Mrs. Berry, who picked him up just after his escape. Ivan’s car had no spare wheel behind his car, but underneath where you can’t see it. Ivan installed the spare tire on the rear of his car only in December 1990, 11 months after Onion’s experience. (see picture below dated from 1991). From the court documents : “The witnesses, Mr. Onions and Mrs Berry both gave evidence that the offender’s vehicle had a vertically mounted spare wheel on the back. Mr Onion said, “it was the first one he had ever seen.” He later recalled that the vehicle had chrome on the wheels. Mrs Berry said “that there was a tyre cover fitted on the spare wheel mounted on the back.” The witnesses evidence on the vehicle details was not challenged whilst they were in the witness box. The accused (Ivan Milat) proved that his vehicle was not fitted with a vertically mounted spare wheel on the back or that it had chrome wheel trims, in January 1990.” The Crown then told the jury that the witnesses were mistaken about the spare wheel mounted on the back of the car. There’s always the possibility Ivan borrowed the car to someone even though none of his brothers had a car as described by Onion.
- When the newspapers announced that Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters bodies were found, Paul Douglas and Nick Collins were with Ivan’s brother, Richard Milat. They both remember Richard’s remark, “There’s more bodies out there. They haven’t found the two Germans yet.” The Germans were found over a year later. Richard also randomly mentioned to his colleague, Des Butler, on Easter 1992, “Oh yeah. I know who killed those Germans.” Despite these remarks from Richard, it’s important to note that he was working from 6 a.m. to 2.30 pm on the days Deborah Everist and James Gibson disappeared even though the abduction could have happened later in the day.
- Another brother, Alex Milat, also made a mistake, when in 1992, went to Bowral police station to make a statement. While leaving the shooting range with a friend, Alex claimed he spotted two cars entering the Belanglo State Forest. One woman was in the first car and the other in the second car. They were both gagged and looked “frightened.” According to him, they looked just like Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters. Alex biggest mistake in his statement? He gave too much details for seeing the cars for 4/5 seconds top : “I saw that the male passenger in the rear seat, next to the female, appeared to be aged in his mid-20s, a caucasian, fair complexion with brownish colour hair which was neatly groomed and cut to the ears and neatly trimmed around the sides to the rear. He was clean shaven and appeared to be well dressed. From memory he was wearing an off-white colour, collar-style, long sleeve shirt. As I became closer and almost level to this person, he raised his left hand and placed it beside his face so it blocked my view of him. At this time, I noticed his hands were not rough as if he was an office worker as opposed to a labourer and his hands were clean.” He also claimed to have written down the plate number of one of the vehicles but lost the paper, even though he could remember it was “ALD 537 or ALO or DAL or ACL”.
- Two surviving victims, Therese and Mary, couldn’t agree about their abductor. When showed different mugshots, Therese selected Ivan’s and another unknown person. Mary selected Richard Milat but when she later saw a picture of Wally Milat on television she said he looked more like their abductor.
- According to the Sun Herald, witnesses mentioned “two men who boasted about bodies buried in the forest, long before the backpackers’ fate was publicly known. One of the men was a regular drinker at the Blue Boar Inn at Bowral, the scene of one of the last sightings of murdered British backpackers Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters who left the bar with a group of men. They were never seen again. The man, whom police have never interviewed, closely fits a profile of the murderer prepared by criminologist Paul Wilson before Milat’s arrest. A violent loner with an alcohol and drug problem, the man lived in Bowral at the time of the murders and owned several weapons, including a 30 cm Bowie knife, a sawn-off shotgun and a .22 Ruger rifle, the type of weapons used in the Belanglo attacks”.
- Ballistic expert, Gerard Dutton, linked the Ruger rifle found in Milat’s wall to one of the victims. He also believe that the murders was the work of two people, “Looking purely from the firearms evidence, it’s suggestive of a second person. It’s not conclusive proof, I have to say, but to my way of thinking it suggests that.” Cartridge cases found near the German victims were from two different brands of ammunition fired from different guns, from different directions, “There was no crossover of one type of cartridge being used in another gun. One brand was used in one gun and another brand in the other. That to me is suggestive of two people with two guns and two different boxes of ammunition. Whatever they were doing, whether they were target shooting at that time, suggests there were two different people. That’s not definitive proof, but it’s more probable.” (The Independent, January 30, 2011)
- Evidence was given that the branches used to cover the bodies were too heavy for one man to lift.
- The British victims were killed in different ways, Caroline Clarke was shot 10 times in the head and Joanne Walters was stabbed multiple times.
- Paul Onions’ shirt was found in the garage bin of Ivan’s mother house on May 24, 1994, 4 years after Onions’ abduction. At the time of the murders, Ivan lived with his mother. There’s a possibility that Ivan kept it in his house when he moved and throw it in his mother’s garbage can knowing he was under police surveillance. My main questions about this is why he only tried to get ride of some of the evidences and not everything when he knew about the surveillance? And why giving the stuff to his brothers and sisters or using his mother’s garbage can when he could have thrown it somewhere outside of police’s reach? Even though Ivan Milat was known as a smart man and someone who was reflective maybe he thought he was still ahead of the police ?
- Paul Onions described his attacker as strong and solid, in his mid-30s, six foot tall, with dark hair and with a Merv Hughes-type-moustache, only thinner. Ivan Milat was 45 at the time of the attack. He did have dark hair but was 5 foot 8 (same size as Onions). Onions also recalled his attacker “railing against Asian immigration“. Ivan did held such views against Asian and Black. He mentioned it to a friend at some point in 1992 when he started to date Chalinder Hugues, “You know, John, about my views about Asian and blacks? Well, this is gonna come as a shock. Me girlfriend’s Indian.” The attacker told Onions his name was Bill and that he worked on the road, was divorced and from Yugoslav parent. These details also fit Ivan. He often used the name “Bill” and admitted it in court. On the other hand, Ivan’s lawyer, Mr Martin, presented evidence that his brother, Richard fitted Onion’s description of the attacker, “Richard Milat was 35 in January 1990, was also solid and strong, had dark hair, was 5’10 and had a mustache,” and that “Richard Milat could not conceal his racist views.” Richard also often used aliases.