Transcript: 32. The Backpacker Murders (Part 1) - Ivan Milat | Australia

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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones. 


Three passengers were driving in the mid-day summer heat, down the Hume Highway, south of Sydney in Australia. The haze of the heat glared up from the tarmac and the humming sound of cicadas were deafening, nauseating.


They drove through hilly paddocks, all green and lush in the humid sub-tropical heat. Along the way they stopped at every town, small or big. Sandstone buildings with cafés, a police station and a post office on the main road – that’s the layout of the typical village in the rural New South Wales. But this was no sight-seeing trip. The passengers in the car were a middle aged couple and a young man. They did not know each other all that well before their trip from Germany to Australia, but tragedy had brought them together. 


They were the family members of Gabor Neugebauer and Anja Habschied, a young couple who had travelled to Australia on an outback adventure. On January 24th, 1992, when Manfred Neugebauer, Gabor’s father went to fetch them from the airport in Munich, they weren’t there. In fact, Manfred learnt that they had never boarded the flight that left Darwin two days before.


Both families reported the young couple’s disappearance to Australian police, but desperate for answers, they went the land down-under to try and look for Gabor and Anja themselves. They had no idea where to start. They tried to follow Gabor and Anja’s trail by reconstructing a possible route they could have taken. They asked about the missing couple at as many hostels and motels as they could find – but came up empty handed.


They travelled the vast landscape, all the way from the Northern Territory, through Queensland into New South Wales in the unbearable heat of high summer. People they met along the way were friendly and tried to help, but they had no information about the missing couple. Every green hill and bushy patch made them feel uneasy, suspicious. They scoured every area they could, wondered, aske around and quietly feared the worst.


With absolutely no trace of Gabor and Anja, their families had to make the difficult decision to return home with more questions than answers.  


Exactly a year before their road trip from hell, another German mother was desperately confused when her daughter did not show up at the airport in Melbourne to meet her. Erwinia Schmidl flew from Regensburg to spend some time in Australia with her daughter, Simone. There was no way of contacting Simone, so Erwinia went to the hotel for the first of many restless nights… Perhaps she had the dates mixed up, perhaps Simone was delayed somewhere… But Simone never showed up. Erwinia reported her daughter missing to Russel Street Police in Melbourne on January 25th 1991. It was easy to describe her, she had dreadlocks tied back with a scarf and she wore round, black-rimmed glasses. 


After a frustrating couple of weeks, like the families of Gabor Neugebauer and Anja Habschied, Erwenia had to return to Germany without knowing what had happened to her daughter. 


What they didn’t know at the time, was that there were more young backpackers reported missing on the east coast of Australia in the early 1990’s. It seemed they had disappeared into thin air. The families had to wait until 1994 before they learnt the truth… And the truth was more horrific than any of them could ever have imagined. 


All the while, their missing children had been murdered. They were all in close proximity to each other, waiting to be discovered in the desolate Belanglo State Forest South of Sydney. They were all brutalised and killed by the devil himself: a violent and evil man, called Ivan Milat.


>>Intro Music


Ivan Robert Marko Milat was born in Sydney in 1944. He was the fifth of 14 children born to Steven and Margaret Milat. Patriarch of the Milat-clan, Steven, grew up in Croatia and also came from a large family of 22 children. Of all his siblings, Steven was one of only four who survived into adulthood. 


As a young man, he moved to Australia and worked as a laborer, sometimes in mines when he had the opportunity. When he was 32, Steven met a girl called Margaret. At 14 she was more than half his age, but their age gap was not an issue and the couple married. Being a devoted Catholic, Margaret wanted a large family and the children came in quick succession: all up there were 10 boys and 4 girls. They lived in and around Sydney, moving around frequently. 


Steven drank a lot and was a quiet, but violent man. He did not have much patience with his sprawling family and often used physical violence to punish his children. Margaret was quick to intervene and defended the kids as much as she could. In her eyes, her children could do nothing wrong and their mischief amused her.


The family bought a house on a piece of land, at Moorebank, southwest of Sydney. The children shared small rooms and slept on triple-tiered bunks. Steven bought the property to plant and sell tomatoes to the markets. All the children were expected to work the land and in the home. One of the brothers recalled that there were always guns in the house. He said:


“Having guns in the house was like having a spare pair of boots.”


All the children knew how to shoot and the story goes that, when neighbourhood kids played cops and robbers, the Milat-kids brought real firearms and knives. Not that there was all that much time to play, as their father often roped them in to help him with the tomatoes.


But the tomato farm wasn’t quite the ticket to support the large family, so the Milat boys were forced to leave school at the age of 15, in order to take jobs as manual laborers and bring their wages home. Ivan too, left school when he was 15 and found work on building sites in the area. 


As teenagers, the Milat siblings were in and out of prison. Ivan was arrested for theft at the age of 17. It was only to be the beginning of a lifetime of short stints in and out of prison. The problem was, the whole family was sporadically in trouble with the law. They were thick as thieves with a rough reputation. Their loyalty to each other and the family was unbreakable, and they would always cover for each other. If one Milat was ever caught, he would take the rap for the others. The sheer number of Milats sometimes confused investigators and the young men used it to their advantage, swapping names and pretending to be one another at times.


The Milat-clan saw themselves as separate to the rest of society. The parents, Steven and Margaret were never in trouble with the law: they were hard-working and kept to themselves. Matriarch Margaret would do anything to protect her children, even if it meant hiding them from police. Once, police knocked at the door as they suspected Ivan was involved in a robbery. She said that he wasn’t home, but officers disregarded her and found him hiding under his bed.


In 1969, when all the Milat tomatoes were stolen, dad Steven went back to his trade, working as a stonemason. The family moved back to the Western suburbs of Sydney and bought a house in Guildford. Margaret lived in the very same house until her death in 2001.


Moorebank police sent a card to Lidcombe police warning them to expect the worst. The postcard was signed with true Australian sarcastic humour: 


“Our loss is your gain.”


Shortly after the family relocated, Ivan’s younger sister, Margaret, was killed in a head-on collision near the home. Brother Wally Milat was driving the car and Ivan was the first of the family to arrive at the scene. His sister’s death would have a profound effect on Ivan and many people close to him claimed that he was never the same after that night.


Of all the brothers, Ivan was known to be one of the more responsible ones. He didn’t drink or smoke and worked hard, no matter what job he had. He usually managed to hold down a job for a significant period of time and he always had time for his family. 


There was one in particular that he liked spending time with, his older brother Boris’ wife, Marilyn. They were drawn to each other and before long, they became more than friends. They had a steamy affair and Marilyn fell pregnant. She was still married to Boris and decided to stay with him. When Ivan and Marilyn’s daughter was born, Boris raised her as his own. But everyone in the Milat family had their suspicions about who Lenise’s real father was.


Although Ivan had a regular job at the time, working for the Department of Main Roads he was committing robberies with his brothers and friends. He was caught and sent to prison, but his mother was able to post bail, so he was paroled. 


While on parole, as he was driving around the Southern Highlands, he abducted two women in the Bowral-area. He drove into a wooded area and stopped the car. He explained to them that he was of the intention of raping both of them. Which he then did. One of the victims described that she was on the backseat of the car while he was raping her friend. He shouted at her, ordering her to look away. 


Both women managed to escape and reported the incident. Police investigated the case and the Milat clan knew the 27 year old Ivan was involved. Boris forced Marilyn to report the rapes to police. The Milat code of loyalty was about to be broken, which was something that nobody in the family took lightly. 


It was so serious, that patriarch Steven Milat intervened. He confronted Boris, angry that he would ever dream of reporting his brother to police. But when Boris told him about Ivan and Marilyn, his father took a minute, then said: 


“You should kill him, he deserves to die. But he’s my son, so I don’t want you to do it.” 


Boris ignored the latter part of his father’s statement and took matters into his own hands. On a day that he knew his family was having lunch together at Steven and Margaret’s Guildford home, he entered the property from the back and stood in the garden. He was only a couple of yards away from the outside table on the veranda where everyone was sitting. Boris lifted a 9mm pistol and pointed it at Ivan. Ivan looked up, without flinching. The men’s mother, Margaret simply walked in between the two feuding brothers, pretending to clear the table, or dish up another helping for one of her grown children. Every time Boris took aim, Margaret would get up. All the while, Ivan simply sat and stared Boris down. In the end, Boris gave up, he couldn’t shoot his own brother, no matter how much he hated him.


Ivan was apprehended and charged with the sexual assault in 1971. Unfortunately he wasn’t convicted as his defence claimed the sex was consensual. 


That could not be farther from the truth. The victims were actually gay, but in the early 70s, that was not something the courts felt comfortable with. They dismissed the victims pleas, begging for justice. The jury also didn’t budge. The late John Marsden, Ivan Milat’s defence lawyer, eventually conceded in a book he wrote that defending Ivan in this particular case was the worst thing he ever did in all his years of legal practice. He had a tremendous amount of remorse and guilt, as he was gay himself. He had let the two women down and could not undo it.


Ivan was a free man. After his affair with Marilyn ended, he had a brief fling with another brother’s wife. When that didn’t work out, he set his sights on a much younger option. His cousin Mark had a 17-year-old girlfriend, called Karen Duck. She was pregnant with Mark’s child at the time, but Ivan usually got what he wanted, and he wanted her. Karen left Mark and married Ivan in 1984.


During his marriage, Ivan was an absolute control freak. Like his father, he was obsessed with cleanliness and order. Karen had a hard life as Ivan’s wife. He had become violent towards her and she felt that he was obsessed with guns. She realised she could not be with him anymore. She didn’t feel safe and she had to think about her child.


In 1987, while Ivan was at work, Karen’s mother helped her pack up her belongings and leave the house she shared with Ivan. Their divorce was final two years later on the 13th of July 1989. 


As Karen and Ivan’s love ended, a young love blossomed in Melbourne, over 500 miles (or 877 kilometres) from Sydney. Deborah Everist and James Gibson met at a music concert and immediately hit it off. They were both 19 years old and passionately campaigned for the protection of the environment. Deborah was a pro-active anti-logging protester. Today you’d call them greenies.


In December 1989, the young couple went on holiday together, visiting friends of James in Surry Hills, a city suburb in Sydney. From there, they decided to hitch hike back to Melbourne. On the way they planned to attend ConFest – an alternative bush campout conservation festival. The festival was held in Walwa on the NSW/Victoria border. 


James’s mother did not like the idea of them hitch hiking. But they put her at ease by saying that they felt safe as they were together. They planned to take a train to Liverpool on the outskirts of Sydney and hitch a ride from there. They left Sydney on Saturday the 30th of December, 1989. They were never seen alive again.


When Deborah and James did not arrive back home when they said they would, their parents knew something wasn’t right. The young couple was reported missing by their parents at the Frankston police station in Victoria. The families travelled to Sydney to try and retrace their steps, but with no luck. They had vanished and nobody had any information.


A gruelling three months later, on March 30th 1990, James Gibson’s backpack was found Galsten Gorge, near Hornsby north of Sydney. It was the first sign of him or Deborah and for a brief moment, there was hope. Police launched an extensive land-search of the area. Police divers also searched the river at the bottom of the gorge. But they couldn’t find anything. James’ family was present, but nothing else belonging to James or Deborah was found. It would be another four years before their families would find out what had happened to them.


Meanwhile, divorcé Ivan Milat’s life carried on. He rekindled his relationship with his brother’s wife, Marilyn, for a while. But when she forced him to marry her, he broke it off. He started a new job at Boral, where his brother Richard worked. Ivan used another brother’s name at work, in an effort to avoid paying maintenance to his ex-wife, Karen. At Boral, Ivan was known as Bill.


Young Brit, Paul Onions, from Birmingham also planned to hitch hike to Melbourne from Newcastle north of Sydney. He had made his way to Casula in the southwest of the city, where he waited outside a newsagency when a man offered him a ride. At first he thought the man looked like a typical Australian cricket player. Strong and suntanned with a horseshoe moustache. Or, as Australians would call it, a ‘Merv Hughes’ moustache, named after a cricketer known for his impressive mo.


The man introduced himself as Bill and told Paul to get into his 4x4. Paul was eager to accept the offer as he was about to call it a day and look for a place to stay the night.


About two hours into the long drive, Bill asked Paul about his plans. He wanted to know if he had any family in Australia. Paul said no. Bill also asked what he did for a living: he was an aircon installer and had done his military service. Bill wanted more details about his military background, in hindsight, probably to gauge how much resistance Paul would give if attacked. Bill didn’t tell Paul too much about himself. He only said that he worked for the roads. 


Not long after they drove through the town of Mittagong, Paul saw a road sign that indicated the turn-off to the Belanglo State Forest. Bill kept looking in his rear view mirror, which made Paul very uncomfortable. About 400 yards from the turn-off to the forest, Bill pulled the car over on the side of the road. He said he wanted to get some cassettes out of the back so they could listen to music. Paul felt something was up, as there were cassettes in the front console of the car. Before he could say anything, the man who called himself Bill returned to the driver’s side with a firearm and said that it was a robbery.


Paul jumped out of the vehicle, leaving his backpack behind. He had to get away, this guy was going to kill him. Bill fired a couple of shots as Paul ran into the road and flagged down a passing motorist. Luckily Joanne Berry stopped and picked him up, saving his life. She took Paul to Bowral police station where he reported the incident. A statement that would sadly get lost and nobody followed up on it.


Happy to be alive, Paul returned to Sydney, where he managed to replace his passport. In line at the British Consulate, a lady gave him $20 after hearing what had happened to him. Having left all his things in Bill’s car, Paul was very appreciative of the woman’s kindness. He eventually returned to the UK, but never forgot the strange encounter near the Belanglo State Forest.


In October 1990, German backpacker, Simone Schmidl arrived in Australia. She was born in 1969 in Regensburg. The travel bug bit after her first trip to Yugoslavia. Two years later she went to Canada and Alaska.


Simone was an outgoing and sporty 22 year-old who made friends easily. She made the most of her time in Australia, travelling up and down the east coast with a friend. With New Zealand just a short flight away, she decided to check it out too. When Simone arrived back in Sydney in January 1991, she was looking forward to seeing her mom who decided to join her from Germany for a couple of weeks. They had arranged to meet at Melbourne airport


Simone had hitch hiked to Melbourne once before and all was good. But this time would be different. She took a bus from the city to Liverpool, from where she would start hitch hiking to Melbourne. She was last seen, waiting for a ride before she was picked up, alone. Simone was never seen alive again.


Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke

Joanne Walters was born in South Wales in 1970. At the age of 20, she travelled to the Mediterranean, working as she moved from one place to the next. The following year, in June 1991, she left for Australia, where she continued to work and travel. 


In Sydney, she worked as a nanny who looked after kids in the wealthy harbourside suburb of Kirribilli and was well liked by everyone who met her. When her contract ran out, she decided to use the time left on her working holiday visa to do odd jobs as she travelled, so she could see more of Australia.


Joanne met another backpacker, Caroline Clarke at a backpackers lodge in Sydney and they decided to explore the country together. Caroline was the same age as Joanne and grew up in Surrey, England. She first travelled to Europe and then continued on to Australia. In Sydney, she stayed at a backpackers in King’s Cross, where she met Joanne. They secured a job at Mildura in Victoria where they worked on a farm, picking grapes. After a couple of weeks, they returned to Sydney, for a short while before they decided to return to Mildura in April 1992. Their plan was to hitch a ride. This was the last time anyone ever heard from them.


At the beginning of June 1992, the 22-year-old Caroline Clarke was reported missing via Interpol after her parents reported her missing in England. When she did not call to check in on her father, Ian Clarke’s birthday, they were deeply concerned.


When Joanne’s parents hadn’t heard from her in over a month, they reached out to Joanne’s friends in Australia, but nobody had seen her or heard from her. Joanne’s parents were concerned, as she was good at keeping in touch. She had never gone longer than two weeks without contacting them. Her parents asked her former employer in Sydney to report her missing. When the 26th of May rolled around and they still hadn’t heard from Joanne, her parents knew something was wrong, as her visa to Australia expired on that day.  


Like the other parents of missing young adults, Joanne’s parents travelled to Sydney to look for her. Ray and Gill Walters remembered that Joanne mentioned she would be travelling with Caroline Clarke and managed to track down Caroline’s parents, Ian and Jacqueline. Their concern grew deeper when they learnt that Caroline was also missing.


Joanne’s parents went to the vineyard in Mildura where the girls had worked before, but nobody had any information. They were desperate for answers, police felt that both Joanne and Caroline were no longer alive, but before they had proof, Joanne’s parents were not going anywhere. 


At the end of 1991, after Joanne and Caroline disappeared without a trace, a young German couple decided to hitch hike south from Sydney to Adelaide. Anja Habschied and Gabor Neugebauer spent Christmas of 1991 in Sydney and wanted to see more of the country.


Gabor was born in 1970 near Stuttgart, Germany. Growing up, he moved around a lot, as his father was in the West German Airforce. Eventually the family settled near Bonn. When he met Anja, he immediately knew she was a kindred spirit. She was only one year younger than him and the couple loved travelling together through Europe. Their biggest adventure was to head to Indonesia in 1991. On the spur of the moment, they decided to include Australia to their itinerary. In December, they flew to the northernmost city of Darwin, from where they hitch hiked their way down the east coast to Sydney. The plan was to go all the way south to Adelaide, before making their way back to Darwin from where they would return home via Munich.


Gabor called home at Christmas and complained that the sweltering heat of high summer in Sydney was not pleasant. It can get very hot, 90 degrees and up (or if you’re thinking in Celcius, 30 degrees and up). The sun is also unforgiving and for someone from a milder climate like Germany, the heat can be unbearable.


Anja’s last letter home said:


“It will be a little difficult after Christmas because we will need to travel the 4,100km to Darwin uninterrupted. The bad luck in Australia is that all you want to see lies so far from each other and if you want to see something you must spend a lot of money.”


Anja and Gabor stayed at a backpackers hostel in King’s Cross before leaving Sydney on Boxing Day, December 26th. Somewhere after leaving the hostel and boarding the flight home in Darwin, they disappeared. 


When the couple failed to arrive in Munich on the 24th of January 1992, Gabor’s father was confused. He contacted family and friends, but nobody had any news about changed plans. In fact, none of their inner circle had heard from either Gabor or Anja since Christmas. Gabor’s father notified German police, who contacted the German Embassy in Australia, who then informed Australian Federal Police. 


Desperate for answers, Gabor’s parents and Anja’s brother travelled to Australia to retrace their steps. But nothing turned up, there was no sign of Gabor or Anja and the concerned search party had to make their way back to Germany without Gabor and Anja.


Police tried to track the last movements of all the missing backpackers, but with no success. Australia is vast and the distances between cities are far. Because most of the missing young travellers hitch hiked, there was no definitive route investigators could follow. They asked families for dental records of their sons and daughters and hoped they would be able to match it to unsolved murders, but that also did not yield any results. Police were also not certain that all the missing persons cases were related. They had to keep an open mind and consider all possibilities. 


Discovery

The break the case so desperately needed, came in September 1992. Two runners discovered human remains while orienteering in the Belanglo State Forest in the Southern Highlands, about two hours south of Sydney. Ironically, the area in the forest where the body was found, was called “Executioner’s Drop”.


The Belanglo State Forest is located just shy of two miles (about three kilometres) from the Hume Highway. It has some dirt roads weaving through pine trees and native bush plants. The deeper you drive into the forest, the more dense it gets. There are anthills the size of a small human rising out of the undergrowth and if you’re lucky, you’d see a kangaroo or an emu, perhaps even a couple of deer. There is a labyrinth of firebreak roads and 4x4 tracks, and it’s pretty hard to navigate one’s way through.


The forest is owned by the NSW government and anyone can simply drive into the forest if they’d like to go on a 4x4 track a mountain bike ride. There are some clearings where camping is allowed, but there aren’t great facilities: some running water, a toilet… Tourists are spoilt for choice when visiting the Southern Highlands as there are many other beautiful townships and holiday accommodation options. So vacationing in Belanglo would probably not be on top of most travellers bucket lists.


The two runners who discovered human remains in September 1992, only saw one boot, some clothing and something that looked like a human bone. They called police from a town nearby called Bowral. When investigators arrived at the forest, they realised they had walked onto a murder scene. They contacted technicians from the larger town of Goulbourn for support, as they had more resources. 


Dental records confirmed that the body was that of Joanne Walters. She had 14 stab-wounds to her chest, neck and back. Specific stab-wounds to her spine would have paralysed her. It wasn’t clear how long she was alive and unable to move before she perished. The top button on her jeans was fastened, but the zipper was undone, as if she was hastily dressed. Because of her bad state of decomposition, it was not possible to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted or not. 


The search ran well into the night, but with limited light they called it off until the next morning. This is when crime scene technicians found a second body, that of Caroline Clarke, about 40 yards away from Joanne’s body. Caroline was shot multiple times in the head and had several stab wounds. Shots were fired from all sides: back, front, left and right. 10 yards from her body, a heap of spent .22 calibre cartridges were found. It was also evident that her head was moved a couple of times. It seemed bizarre, until technicians figured out what had most likely happened: The killer shot at her after she was already dead. Caroline was used for target practice. 


Both victims were clothed, but there were no other belongings anywhere near them. At the site was a brick firepit. In the firepit, the forensic team found a couple of cigarette butts. The brand was Long Beach, the brand that Caroline Clarke smoked. It was believed that Caroline was the only one smoking at the scene. And with the amount of cigarette butts present, she must have spent a significant amount time at the scene before she was murdered. The killer was in no rush, he had no fear as he was callously torturing his victims.


Joanne’s parents were still in Sydney when police told them the news that no parent ever wants to hear. Police had no idea who could have committed the crime. What they did not know at the time, was that they were on the trail of one of Australia’s most prolific serial killers. They asked the victims’ parents to appeal to the public for information at a press conference. Joanne’s mom said:


“These people who have done this to these girls are proper animals and they are to be shot.”


Meanwhile, in 1992, Ivan Milat started a new relationship with a woman called Chalinder Hughes. It was an unlikely union: Chalinder was an Indian-born English educated professional, who worked for the Federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. Milat was known to make racist and xenophobic remarks, even in his short conversation to Paul Onions on the day Paul got away with his life. But Ivan was committed to Chalinder and the rest of the Milat clan took her in as one of their own.


NSW Police were at a loss as to the brutal murders of Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke. They had almost nothing to go on. Their victims were foreign and moved around as they worked an travelled. They had no significant ties to Australia. The isolation of the crime scene also meant there were probably no eye witnesses. The five months between when they went missing until they were found, meant vital evidence was lost at the crime scene. 


Investigators approached Forensic Psychiatrist, Dr Rod Milton, to examine the crime scene, in order to provide a profile of the murderer. Dr Milton found that, looking at the environment, the perpetrator must have been a macho-type male. The rough shrubbery and rugged landscape was not very welcoming, scary even. He felt that the killer was someone who had been there before. He must have known how isolated it was. He was possibly a hunter who knew how safe it was to take his time and have his way with the victims. It is so isolated, even the most gut-wrenching scream would go unheard.


Because the Joanne was stabbed and Caroline stabbed and shot, Dr Milton thought that there could possibly have been two perpetrators. Stabbing and shooting are two very different methods committing murder. The knife-killer liked violence, to be in the thick of it; whereas the gunman preferred violence from a distance.


The instigator of the two killers loved to have the upper-hand, to be in control. He liked violence in a very measured and sadistic way. He was likely employed, and owned a fast car, which he took a lot of pride in. He had a previous criminal record. 


Next police had to look at physical evidence at the crime scene. The best starting point was to look at ballistics. They found 10 bullets in Caroline’s skull and in the soil around her body. 10 Winchester cartridge cases were found a few metres from her body – where the gunman must have been standing. There was also an empty cardboard box of bullets at the scene. The spent cartridges had a specific defect, a manufacturer’s fault in Rugers made between 1964 and 1982 – long before the first abduction occurred. It was also evident that a silencer was used.


So they had some evidence, but nothing to compare it against. They had to find the murder weapon: a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic action. But that would be like looking for a needle in a haystack as there were 55,000 of them in Australia at the time. 


Seeing as it was all they had, investigators set out to narrow down the search as much as possible. The batch number on the empty cardboard box of bullets lead police to 27 gun-shops in NSW. They were able to confirm that the batch of bullets was distributed between June 1988 and November 1988. They were looking into following up with dealers in the direct area to Belanglo, but it would be a time-consuming and laborious task. And even if they could link the sale of the bullets to a person, that would not mean that he was necessarily the killer. 


Investigators went to all the local shooting clubs to talk to members and hear if there was anything suspicious to report. At the Belanglo Pistol Club, someone told investigators to speak to a man called Alex Milat. Alex agreed and they arranged for him to be interviewed at Bowral Police Station. 


Alex had a strange story to tell. He reported to police that, when he was a passenger in a friend’s car, driving home after a pistol club event in April, he saw two cars driving into the Belanglo State Forest. The first car was a brown Ford Falcon, the other was a dual cab pick-up, Nissan Navara or Holden Rodeo – two-tone, beige and brown. The driver was a Caucasian male in his late 20s. He described the man in great detail: he had ginger hair, a sharp nose and looked like he could be tall. Alex noticed that he had tattoos on his fingers.


The passenger was also described with the same detail, and Alex added that he had a firearm (a shotgun 4/10 model), with the barrel pointed up to the roof of the car. In the rear, there was a Caucasian woman in her 20s with mousy coloured hair. It looked like she was gagged as she was sitting in between two men, but Alex couldn’t describe the men. Alex thought that she was trying to get his attention, but didn’t do anything about it.


The second car, the pick-up, had two men in the front and one in the back, sitting next to a woman in her 20’s who was also gagged. She also looked frightened like the other young woman in the front car. She was Caucasian with a fair complexion and dark hair, slightly heavier build than the other woman. The man sitting next to her blocked his face as they drove past, but Alex could see that he was clean-cut and his hands looked soft, like he was someone who worked in an office, rather than a trade. Alex had written down the number plate of the pick-up but had since lost it. 


From a photo line-up, Alex identified Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters as the two women he saw in April. When asked why he hadn’t reported the incident, he said he didn’t think much of it at the time, thought it was a bunch of youngsters going into the forest to have a good time, nothing else. Which is somewhat contradictory, as he seemed to remember details vividly and wrote down the number plate. Alex also said he had seen the Ford Falcon in the forest before.


The driver of the car Alex claimed to be with in April, Bill Eyre, could not quite corroborate Alex’s testimony. He recalled seeing the two cars, but could not remember anything else.

The story was strange and police decided to look into Alex Milat’s background. Why would he come forward and make up such a bizarre story? Was he perhaps involved in any way? Was he toying with investigators? Some of the details were made public, like the fact that Joanne and Caroline disappeared in April, so he could have read it in a newspaper.


Police suggested hypnosis, hoping Alex would remember the license plate number he claimed he had written down, and Alex consented. But nothing came from it. 


They found it curious that Alex came from a large family with many brothers. The Milat brothers were known around the area and they have had many brushes with the law. But they were mostly involved in robberies or thefts, not violent crimes. Police had nothing to link the Milats to the murders, but around every corner, a Milat’s name would pop up. 


A local man called Paul Miller was reported to police. He worked at Boral, a building materials plant in the Southern Highlands, and his water cooler conversations gave his co-workers chills down their spines. Around Easter, months before the bodies were discovered, Paul said he knew who had killed the backpackers. After Joanne and Caroline’s bodies were found, Paul was quite vocal again, he said that there were more bodies in Belanglo. 


“There are two Germans out there they haven’t found yet.” …he said.


Then police found out something interesting about Paul Miller. Although he used the name Miller at work, he had another name: he was Richard Milat. He even had two driver’s licenses, one in each name. 


‘Miller’, being someone who perpetually smoked weed, was often high at work. That’s why his co-workers didn’t take his comments seriously at first. But he repeated the shocking statements and colleagues grew more and more weary of him – what did he know? They reported his strange conversations to police. When police followed up on this man with the two names, they found that he had a criminal record: mainly for theft and robbery.


Police questioned Richard Milat (aka Paul Miller), but he denied having had anything to do with the murders. He said he was only speculating and regurgitating information he had read in the newspapers. They could not charge him for anything and Richard was free to go.


Police were not a hundred percent convinced of Richard’s innocence, so looked into his family life. And digging up the world of Milat family, was like kicking the hornet’s nest.  


Thank you for listening to Part 1 of Ivan Milat: The Backpacker Murderer. Part two will drop next week, same time, same place.


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