The most infamous crimes in Australian history are the backpacker murders. Forty-Nine year old Ivan Milat was convicted and found guilty of killing seven backpackers. Milat is Australia’s most notorious serial killer.In 1992, Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, who were British travellers, met in Australia and teamed together with the aim of touring around the south of the country. In April that year, they left a backpackers hotel in Sydney and headed for the southeast of New South Wales. In September their bodies were found buried in an area known as "Executioners drop".
In October 1993, two more bodies were discovered along the same stretch of the remote Belanglo Forest. The bodies were identified as those of 19 year old James Gibson and Deborah Everist, also 19. Both had been missing since 1989. It then became apparent that a serial killer had been responsible for all these murders.
On 1 November the same year, a fifth body was found. Dental records were the only resource able to identify the body. It was established that this body, was that of Simone Schmidl, who was a twenty-year-old German national who had vanished in January of 1991.
An intensive search of the area was conducted and two skeletons were found on November 4. These proved to be remains of 21-year-old Gabor Kurt Neugebauer and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Anja Susanne Habschied, who were German tourists that had vanished two years prior. Anja had been decapitated. At the same time police revealed that multiple stab wounds had killed all victims.
Progress continued to be made in the forensic examinations of evidence gathered at the scene - Cartridges from a .22 Ruger rifle had been found near the body of 22 year old Caroline Clarke and these were being tested against some cartridges that had been taken from a farmhouse outside Sydney.
It was not until the end of February 1994, that there was a breakthrough in the police investigation. Two British hitchhikers came forward, following accounts of the murders. A 20-year-old woman stated to police that while she had been backpacking in January 1990, in New South Wales, she was offered a lift, which she had accepted. While in the vehicle the driver had behaved strangely and because of this she had got out of the vehicle and ran into the Belanglo Forest. As she had done so, the driver fired shots at her, but they had missed.
The second British tourist was Paul Onion, who told police that in 1990 he had accepted a lift from a driver in the same area. The driver of the vehicle had produced a gun from the glove compartment of the vehicle. Paul ran away from the vehicle but the driver had fired shots at him. Paul was able to identify this man from police photographs and identify the vehicle that had been used in that incident.
In May 1994 police carried out seven dawn raids on properties and as a result three men were taken into custody. One of these men was 49 year old Ivan Milat, who was charged with armed robbery and discharging a firearm - he was later to be charged with the murders.
During the raids on Milat’s house police found, a bullet in one of the bedrooms, the sleeping bags of two of his victims and, a bag filled with the personal items of his victims. Police also found a 12-inch Bowie Knife and the .22 Ruger Rifle that had been used to fire shots at the victims. Milat refused to comment on the findings
Milat was taken from his home to Campbelltown police station where he was questioned. The entire interview was recorded on both video and audiotape. During the interview, Milat was evasive and uncooperative.
Ivan Robert Marko Milat was charged with the murders of the seven backpackers and was committed to stand trial in the Supreme Court. At a bail hearing, several weeks after the arrest, Ivan dismissed his lawyer after being advised by his counsel to plead guilty.
Milat’s trial was supposed to commence in June of 1995, however this was delayed while his lawyers argued with the state’s legal aid office over their rate.
Legal Aid is not free and relies on contributions. The amount to be paid is based on financial situation as well as the area of law.
The trial did not commence until this was resolved almost a year later.
The enormous weight of evidence and the long list of witnesses took weeks to present. Gradually, during cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses, the defence 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 defence was Ivan Milat. Milat’s lawyer led him through the accusations that had been made. His defence was simple: he denied everything. During cross-examination, the prosecution proved merciless.
The prosecution lawyer pursued Milat on every point. When asked how he came to be in possession of the property belonging to the victims he answered, "Someone's trying to make me look bad."
Justice Hunt took two days to summarise 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 Ivan's defence 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 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, "I'm not guilty of it. That's all I have to say."
The sentences were then handed down. For the attack on Paul Onions, Milat received six years' imprisonment. For the remaining seven counts of wilful murder, a life sentence for each. Ivan Milat was sentenced to prison "for the term of his natural life."
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 judge's attention and maybe get the process moving a little faster. However, Ivan's desperate ploy failed to work. In July 2001, Judge William Gummow refused Milat's appeal, stating that "there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the decision by the New South Wales Criminal Court of Appeal," the AP Worldstream reported.
Many, especially the victims' families, were relieved by the court's 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.
There are many factors that influence the criminal behaviour of a serial killer like Milat. Some of these are:
• A minimum of three to four victims, with a "cooling off" period in between;
• The killer is usually a stranger to the victim -- the murders appear unconnected or random;
• The murders reflect a need to sadistically dominate the victim;
• Killers often choose victims who are vulnerable (prostitutes, runaways, etc.)All of these factors apply to the behaviour shown by Ivan Milat. There were at least two to three years between the murders. Milat had no personal connection to his victims whatsoever. These murders outline Milat’s sadistic nature and his need to feel in control, or “dominate the victim”. Milat’s victims were all international tourists therefore they were vulnerable, making them an easy target for Milat.
Serial killers, in this case Ivan Milat, are sadists, seeking perverse pleasure in torturing the victim. They need to dominate, control, and "own" the person. Yet when the victim dies, they are abandoned again, left alone with their unfathomable rage and self-hatred. This hellish cycle continues until they are caught or killed.
Throughout the duration of the Milat trial the effectiveness of the law was called into question.
Firstly, Milat’s legal team prolonged the commencement of the case while they argued with the State’s Legal Aid office which pushed the case back by a year.
Secondly after being sentenced Milat was able to make appeal after appeal. Not only did this waste the time of the High Court of Sydney having to deny his requests over and over again, but also his appeals cost taxpayers money as he had previously applied for legal aid.