The Horrendous Backpack Killings -Was One Man Responsible or Was the Whole Family
Ivan Milat the man who murdered backpackers
Ivan Milat, better known as The Backpack Killer, was seventy-four when he died in prison from cancer. He was arrested in 1996 and was convicted of murdering seven foreign travellers between 1982 and 1992. His death has left many unsolved cases and mysteries unsolved. Milat maintained his innocence to the day he died. However, it could be possible that Milat is guilty of twenty murders in twenty years. There are also questions about whether Milat acted alone or as part of a murdering family.
Ivan Robert Marko Milat was born on 27th December 1944 to Croatian immigrants. The family lived in Moreland, Sydney. He was one of fourteen children, Ivan being the fifth born. His father was a violent man; his mother always pregnant. At thirteen, Ivan was first in trouble with the police and established a delinquent’s reputation. Seven of the ten brothers have had run-ins with the law, and the Milat family became well known to police. In addition, the Milat family were used to handling knives and firearms.
At seventeen, Ivan was sent to juvenile detention for the robbery of a local store. At nineteen, he was convicted again of theft. One of the only family members to speak out about his crimes was his brother Boris stated that he showed early signs of psychopathy. It is thought he may have killed at the age of seventeen.
He was going to kill somebody from the age of 10. It was built into him… I knew he was on a one-way trip. I knew that it was just a matter of how long — Boris Milat
At twenty-six, Ivan was charged with two counts of rape but was acquitted due to a sloppy prosecutor. It may have been this experience that made him think he was invincible to punishment. Then again, in 1977, he attempted to rape and murder two women but never faced any charge.
In 1984, Ivan married an older woman, the marriage did not last long. This started to evolve his violence, but no one could have imagined to what degree.
The Backpack Murders
In 1989, authorities became concerned by the rise in missing foreign backpackers. Many had been due to meet people or start a seasonal job and never reached their destination. All had travelled close or near to the Belanglo Forest.
Then on 19th September 1992, a body was discovered by two runners. The corpse had been concealed, was lying face down in the dirt with their hands tied behind their back. The following morning a second corpse was found close by. These were the bodies of English backpacker Caroline Clarke (22) and her friend Joanne Walters (22). They had last been seen in April on their way to do some fruit picking. The pair had been brutally slaughtered. Clarke had been shot ten times and Walters stabbed fourteen times. Despite searching the area, investigators uncovered nothing more.
In October 1993, bones were discovered; the police uncovered two more bodies in the forest. They belonged to a young couple who had gone missing in 1989. This case confused the police initially as the couples’ belongings had been discovered seventy-five miles north of the bodies. They once again had been brutally slaughtered.
A year later, in November, a skeleton was found in a clearing along a fire trail during a police sweep. This was the body of a German backpacker who had been stabbed so hard his spine had been severed. On a nearby trail, another two victims were discovered who had been missing for two years. One had been shot six times and the other decapitated, the head never being recovered. The authorities quickly solved this crime as they had a serial killer in their midst.
The police surmised that the killer acted every twelve months; this had been the pattern between 1989 and 1992. The perpetrator would target young backpackers, both men and women, who seemed to have no one checking upon them. The Milat brothers, who lived close to the Belanglo Forest, were known to police for various firearm offences. However, this was not enough evidence to obtain a search warrant for any properties.
This was when the investigation team had a breakthrough. After hearing about the cases, a British man called Paul Onions contacted them. Onions was an ex-navy officer who had been travelling in Australia himself. He told the police about a man who had tried to murder him one night near Belanglo Forest, who he believed was the killer.
He told the horrific story of being picked up by a man named Bill. During the drive, the man started asking him questions about whether he was travelling alone or was he meeting anyone. Onions became suspicious. So when he pulled off, the road and Bill produced a gun and rope, Onions flung the door open and ran. He states that Bill shot at him, but he made it to the road flagging down a driver to help him. He reported the incident to the police, who had stated they were not hopeful of finding the perpetrator. However, the Australian authorities were convinced this was the same man, they flew Onions back to Australia. Here he identified the face of Ivan Milat as his attacker out of thirteen other photos.
Two women attacked in 1977 also came forward and identified both Ivan and his brother Richard as their attackers. This added to Ivan’s rape charge in 1971 was enough to obtain a search warrant for Ivan’s home, which he shared with his sister Shirley Soire. Many people believed that Shirley had been involved in the killing; her brother George had stated that she knew what Ivan was doing. In addition, many rumours occurred that the brother and sister had been in a romantic relationship in the 50s.
On 22nd May 1994, armed police surrounded Ivan’s home. Ivan reportedly laughed at them when they took him into custody. However, as the police searched the house, they found a range of incriminating evidence.
The first discovery was of a postcard that referred to Ivan as Bill. They then discovered firearms cartridges and electrical tape, which matched that found at the crime scene. Ivan possessed some Indonesian currency, a country he had never travelled to, but one of the backpackers had. However, the most significant find was a range of camping equipment and backpacks belonging to the victims. Inside the house and within the walls was a treasure chest of equipment belonging to the victims.
The evidence was too much; the police had what they needed to convict. At the trial, Ivan was convicted of seven life sentences for every death and six years for the abduction and attempted murder of Onions. He was told that he would never be granted parole and would die in prison for his crimes. Ivan, for his part, maintained his innocence throughout.
Life in prison
This was not the end of Ivan’s story; in 1997, he attempted an escape from prison alongside a known drug dealer. The escape failed, and his accomplice hung himself in his cell the next day. Ivan was transferred to a high-security prison.
During his time in solitary confinement at Goulburn, he went on several hunger strikes and sometimes swallowed sharp objects if guards did not meet his demands. When he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, many felt he might confess his crimes before death. It was not to be; he died at the age of seventy-four, still proclaiming his innocence. Several questions remain regarding his case that now will never be answered.
Are there more victims lying in the forest? Unfortunately, there are many more missing person reports from the 1979s who could have been victims of Ivan Milat.
Did he act alone? Many people state that it would have needed two to have subdued and murdered two healthy young people. Many surmise that he may have worked with his brother Richard with the killings; however, no proof has ever been found to link another Milat to the crime. In his sentencing remarks, Justice David Hunt said it was clear that two people had been involved in at least two of the killings. The family remain divided, with some speaking out about his crimes and others believing his innocence. His mother, who it is thought he confessed to, still insists on his innocence.
It seems likely that the answers to these questions will not be found with his death.
The Legacy of Ivan Milat
Milat and the cold brutality of his crimes have held an enduring grip on the Australian psyche, and Belanglo has become a byword for horror.
The film Wolf Creek was made which was based on the crimes of Ivan Milat. The killer within the film is based on the backpacker murders and the killing of Peter Falconia in 2005.
However, the most shocking legacy that Ivan left was his killing psyche. In 2012, his great-nephew, Michael Milat, lured a friend to Belanglo Forest and murdered him with an axe. He was sentenced to forty-three years for the murder. It appears that there is more than one murderer in the Milat family, which might add some weight to the fact that Ivan did not act alone.