It all started in the shallow grave woods of Australia’s Belanglo State Forest between 1992 and 1993 when detectives uncovered several corpses hidden in the state park.
The Most Dangerous Game
Ivan Milat was born in 1945 to Croatian immigrants. Milat’s early life was relatively normal; his mother was a devoted caregiver, and his father owned a tomato plantation in western Sydney. Police became very familiar with Milat and his family early on, both him and seven of his ten brothers were involved in petty thefts and burglaries. Unlike the rest of his siblings, Milat never truly gave up his criminal lifestyle. During his late teens, Milat served multiple stints in jail for break-ins. He was described as meticulous and charming; in fact, he was endearing enough to have affairs with two of his brothers’ girlfriends at the same time.
Suffice it to say; he did not have the best relationship with his siblings, his parents, or people in general.
When Milat’s crime rate increased in severity, he was tried and acquitted of raping an 18-year-old woman who had been hitchhiking in 1970. As his obsession with guns and hunting grew, Milat eventually graduated from hunting animals to hunting humans, similar to Richard Connell’s famous short story, The Most Dangerous Game.
Hidden in the Forest
On September 19, 1992 two runners stumbled upon the decomposing bodies of Joanne Walters, 22, and Caroline Clark, 22, poking out from a shallow grave in the woods of Australia’s Belanglo State Forest. Between 1992 and 1993, detectives uncovered five more corpses hidden in the state park. This would mark the beginning of what would eventually lead to the arrest of Australia’s most notorious serial killer.
Clark and Walters were from Britain and had been traveling on foot in Australia, they were reported missing five months prior to the discovery of their bodies. Walters had been stabbed a total of 21 times in her back and 14 times in her chest, puncturing her lungs and heart. The attack was so ruthless that it had severed her spine. As for Clarke, she had been shot 10 times in the head and stabbed in the chest.
It would not be long before more bodies were discovered in the forest.
- In October 1993, the body of James Gibson, 19, was found by an Aboriginal man who was collecting sticks in the area. Gibson had been stabbed multiple times and his girlfriend, Deborah Everist, 19, was found shortly after by the police. Her face was slashed, she also had multiple stab wounds. The couple had been reported missing since December of 1989.
- In November 1993, a fifth victim was found. German hitchhiker, Simone Schmidl, 21, had been reported missing in January of 1991, was discovered beneath sticks and leaves. She had been stabbed several times. A pair of jeans was found near her body, it was determined the clothing belonged to yet another missing person.
- Four days later, the owner of the jeans, Anja Habschied, 20, and her boyfriend, Gabor Neugebauer, 21, were found lifeless nearby. Habschied had been decapitated, her skull has never been found while Neugebauer had been shot five times in the head with the same gun that was used to kill Waters.
Even after a thorough investigation into the murders, police were dumbfounded and had only been able to narrow it down to a few suspects. But the investigation was seemingly stalled until the discovery of another victim provided a crucial piece of evidence that would change everything.
Hunting a Killer
Besides the similar way all the victims had disappeared and been discarded, their causes of death somewhat differed. Police were not yet confidant enough to link all the murders to a single perpetrator. Each stabbed victim shared a common injury: a severed spinal cord, an injury that would have caused paralysis rendering the victims helpless. There was evidence that some of the victims had been gaged and sexually assaulted and once murdered, each victim was buried face down in a shallow grave with their hands behind their back in an eerie and ritualistic way.
There was plenty of evidence but none could be linked to the killer.
That is until 1993 when British hitchhiker, Paul Onions came forward identifying Milat as the person who had attacked him near the state forest after picking him up on the side of the road three years before.
Onions claimed that Milat pulled over to pick up the hitchhiker in 1990. While in the car, Onions noticed a gun and instantly knew that his life was in danger. He managed to escape the vehicle and ran along the Hume Highway with Milat not far behind him, it was later discovered this was the same highway where Milat picked up all of his victims. Onions evaded Milat and flagged down a motorist who drove him straight to the nearest police station where he filled out a report on the attack. But for whatever reason, police just handed him some money for his journey back to British High Commission in Sydney and the report collected dust in the police station for years.
When Onions was back home in the UK and happened upon a media report on the discovery of the bodies in Belanglo forest, je immediately called Australian Federal Police and gave his report a second time. Thankfully, police took his attack seriously this time and flew him back to Australia where an investigation on Ivan Milat commenced.
In 1994, Milat’s house was raided, investigators discovered personal possessions belonging to the victims in his home as well as multiple guns that matched the murder weapons.
With such damning evidence, Milat was charged with assault and seven counts of murder. He pleaded not guilty and attempted to put the blame on his own family, but the jury was not buying it. After an 18-week trial, he was found guilty on all counts and received seven consecutive life sentences.
In 2019 Milat died in prison from terminal oesophagus and stomach cancer.
Genetic Predisposition to Murder
Seven years after Ivan Milat killed his final victim, his nephew Matthew Milat, 18, returned to the scene of his uncle’s crimes in Belanglo Forest to kill his friend with an axe. Matthew lured his friend, David Auchterlonie, 17, into the woods with the help of Cohen Klein. In this case, murder runs in the family.