by ALEC SMART
Ivan Milat, aka inmate 240140, Australia’s most notorious, and perhaps most prolific, serial killer, died on Sunday 27 October 2019, aged 74. The unrepentant murderer succumbed to terminal oesophageal and stomach cancer in the medical wing of Long Bay Jail in Malabar, where he was being treated.
Milat, convicted in 1996 of the ‘Backpacker Murders’ – seven killings of young backpackers whom he picked up and drove to Belanglo State Forest near Mittagong where he tortured and killed them – took his secrets to the grave, as expected. Detectives reportedly visited him eight times before his death, but failed to extract any confession.
Milat had previously been serving his sentence in Goulburn Jail’s Supermax secure unit, where he’d been incarcerated since September 2001 with several of Australia’s most dangerous inmates.
On 13 May 2019, Milat was taken from Goulburn Jail to the Prince of Wales (PoW) Hospital in Randwick, where he received radiation treatment to malignant tumours in his oesophagus and stomach.
On 28 May he was transferred, handcuffed and shackled on a wheelchair, in a white SUV to the Aged and Frail medical unit, aka ‘Hospital 1’ in Long Bay Jail in Malabar, escorted by a police helicopter. There he lived another five months until the cancer overwhelmed him.
The Hospital 1 unit in Long Bay penitentiary is where Michael Murphy, one of three brothers in a gang of five men who abducted, raped and murdered nurse and beauty pageant winner Anita Cobby in February 1986, spent his last days before he died of cancer on 22 February this year.
This was Milat’s first time outside Goulburn Jail since 26 January 2009. On that occasion he cut off his little finger with a plastic serrated knife and placed it in an envelope addressed to the High Court of Australia, demanding a retrial.
However, according to jail administrators, he then felt ‘traumatised’ and sought help from prison guards, who rushed him to Goulburn Base Hospital, where medical staff were unable to reattach the severed finger.
Milat was arrested in 1994 at his home on Cinnabar Street, Eagle Vale, NSW, 87 km north of the Belanglo State Forest, near Mittagong, where the bodies of his known victims were discovered.
Two years later the former roadworker, employed to resurface the highways he drove seeking victims, was convicted and given seven consecutive life sentences. He was found guilty of murdering Caroline Clarke, 21, Joanne Walters, 22, James Gibson, 19, Deborah Everest, 19, Simone Schmidl, 21, Gabor Neugebauer, 21, and Anja Habschield, 20.
He was also convicted of the attempted murder, false imprisonment and robbery of Paul Onions, a British hitch-hiker who managed to escape the gun-wielding Milat by leaping out of his vehicle and flagging down another. Onions later identified him to police.
Milat’s young victims were repeatedly stabbed and shot, and one, Anja Habschied, was gruesomely beheaded (her head was never found).
Milat, whose seven known victims were abducted, tortured and killed between 1989 and 1992, is believed responsible for many additional unsolved murders from as early as 1971 – at least 14 (possibly up to 25), over a 25-year period. Several of those were brutally mutilated and slain in circumstances similar to Milat’s known victims.
They also disappeared in regions where he was known to have lurked, around Newcastle, across to the Blue Mountains, and south to Melbourne, where much of that time he worked for the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA, now the RMS) undertaking highway repairs.
Milat never made any admission of guilt, steadfastly maintaining his innocence from the time of his arrest in 1994, despite hundreds of pieces of evidence linking him to the crimes, including backpacks and personal possessions he souvenired from his victims.
Former detective Clive Small, who led the NSW Police investigation into the backpacker killings, wasn’t surprised Milat remained defiant and close-lipped until the end, because the brutal psychopath needed to retain control.
“Ivan, having information that he knew others didn’t have, he saw himself as being the boss or in control of the situation,” Small told 2GB Radio. “I think he believed that once he gave that information up he no longer had the power.”
Will of Ivan
The day after Milat’s death, the contents of a letter he wrote his brother Bill on 24 October, which doubled as a will, were made public. In it, Ivan declared his wish to leave all of his possessions and money to his beloved brother as his sole beneficiary.
Controversially, in the letter Milat stipulated the taxpayer pay the bill for his funeral expenses.
“Please don’t pay for any funeral service or contribute in any way. Corrective Services NSW to fund it all, a pauper burial or whatever is suitable.”
Milat then signed the letter: “I am innocent of the crimes convicted of,” adding a small drawing of a figure with a halo.
Despite Milat’s wishes for a funeral, his brother Bill told Ten News that the Milat family wanted a private cremation of their wayward son, who forever tarnished their name.
“If we have a funeral, every kook in the country will be there. If he was buried, they’ll desecrate the grave and make a mess of it. So we’re having none of that.”
Bill Milat also demanded the public purse should cover the expense.
“Corrective Services had him all this time so they can foot the bill. (The taxpayer) can be outraged. It was the taxpayer that put him in there, so it’s the taxpayer that has to pay, and remember I’m one of them too.”
After a public outcry, Corrective Services announced they had no intention of financing the funeral. A Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman confirmed they would “under no circumstances be paying for this funeral.”
NSW Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts declared he was pleased the brutal murderer was dead.
“He can rot in hell. He showed no remorse. He was sentenced to remain in jail for life, that sentence was carried out and he died in jail.”
Roberts also told 2GB Radio’s Ray Hadley: “Hell will freeze over before Corrections NSW pays a cent for this man’s funeral. Ivan Milat’s body will remain on ice until the family stumps up cash or the family can tell police where the bodies are buried.”
Bill Milat insisted his brother was innocent but to the families of Ivan’s victims he said: “Awfully sorry that these people have lost their loved ones, you’ve got to feel for them, they’re kids and kids should be entitled to roam the country wherever without being hindered or picked up of molested. I just hope this doesn’t happen again.”
Bill’s wife Carol, also a staunch defender of Ivan’s innocence, told the Illawarra Mercury newspaper, “We opened the letter; we didn’t know what was going to be in the letter. He says he’s innocent and we still believe him.”
Bill and Ivan Milat were two of ten sons in a family of 14 siblings born to a Croatian father Stjepan, and an Australian mother, Margaret, 18 years his junior, whom Stjepan married when she was 16. Perhaps as a result of a financially constrained and reportedly violent upbringing, many of the Milat boys resorted to petty crime.
Ivan himself, the fifth-born child, served a stint in a residential school at age 13, was in a juvenile detention centre for theft at 17, involved in a shop burglary at 19, and in 1964, aged 20, was sentenced to 18 months prison for a break and enter. A month after his release he was arrested again for driving a stolen car and was sentenced to 2 years hard labour; then in September 1967, aged 23, he was sentenced to 3 years for theft.
In April 1971 Ivan Milat was charged with the abduction of two 18-year-old female hitchhikers and the rape of one of them. Despite Milat claiming the sex was consensual, this was an early indicator of his predatory pattern of capturing and bullying innocent travellers, which remained his modus operandi until he was permanently incarcerated in 1994.
Milat’s solicitor, John Marsden, a former President of the Law Society of NSW, who had a long association with the Milat family, successfully defended Ivan on the rape and abduction charges.
A secret homosexual during a time when such behaviour was illegal, Marsden visited a gay bar on the first night of Ivan’s trial, where he observed the two young women at the centre of the allegations. The following day he outed them in Court as lesbians, which played into public prejudices about their credibility, and the jury subsequently acquitted Milat.
Milat’s known victims, whose bodies were found in Belanglo State Forest, were all hitchhikers travelling along the Hume Highway south of Sydney and disappeared over a three-year period until 1992. Two of them had been shot multiple times in the head, as if used for target practice. Three had stab wounds that paralysed them before death, and two of those victims had their spinal cords completely severed. One was gruesomely decapitated, the head never found.
Court documents revealed that all but one of the victims had been subjected to “sexual interference, either before or after death”.
After Milat’s 1994 arrest, homes belonging to his mother and five of his brothers were searched by over 300 police, uncovering a total of 24 weapons, 250 kg of ammunition, plus items belonging to Ivan’s victims.
Milat’s brother Boris is the only member of the Milat family to speak out against Ivan. “I am definitely embarrassed to be a Milat,” Boris Milat told Nine Network. “To me, he died a long time ago … he’s nothing but an evil killer.”
Referring to his family’s continued support for Ivan, Boris said: “They’re denying that he killed anybody. They are saying that the police made it all up… these mongrels hate my guts because I’m the one guy that speaks out … I just want the truth out there.”
My Lift With Milat
In 1987 I hitch-hiked a ride with notorious serial murderer Ivan Milat. So, too, did three of my associates, on different occasions, ten years apart. All of us were intimidated by him and never forgot the ordeal. None of us believe he is innocent, as he claims, and we remain convinced there are other victims who didn’t survive their journeys with him.
As someone who was picked up hitch-hiking by Ivan Milat – on Monday 26 September 1987, to be precise – whilst returning from Melbourne to Sydney with two female friends, I remain convinced he is responsible for more killings, because of the way he treated us.
My recollection of this event over 32 years later is still sharp, because I told it to my brother upon my return to Sydney, then recorded the details not long afterwards.
Hitching with three people is always a challenge, motorists are reluctant to pick up more than a single traveller, a pair, perhaps, if they’re female. It was a warm spring day and we worked our way north slowly through a series of short lifts, still slightly hungover from the annual punk rock pub crawl that took place in Melbourne on Saturday, which coincides every year with the Aussie Rules’ grand final match.
Our most recent lift dropped us beside an abandoned quarry, somewhere between Broadford and Seymour in the Victorian countryside.
I needed to urinate, so I wandered into the quarry looking for discrete cover, and during the few minutes I was absent, a northbound utility vehicle (ie, a ‘ute’) pulled over, driven by a slender man with brown hair and a distinctive handlebar moustache – the sort then popular with heavy metal singers, rugged men in Solo Lemon soda drink and Marlboro cigarette adverts, and gay cowboys.
The driver helped the women, Pam and Rae, load our backpacks into his ute, and when they revealed they were waiting for a third passenger, he apparently became edgy. When I emerged from the quarry, Pam was already wary enough of the man to whisper to me, “You sit next to him, he’s a bit weird.”
The driver, whose name we never learned, challenged me, “Were you hiding behind the trees?” to which I replied no, I’d been having a pee.
I slid in next to him on the ute’s bench seat, Pam sat alongside me in the middle, Rae beside the passenger door. He cracked a bottle of beer shortly after we set off and inquired where we were heading. I had a few sips, my two friends declined.
We exchanged some more banter and I laughed at his jokes. He opened a second bottle of beer.
He appeared to decide the lass on my left, Pam, was my girlfriend (she wasn’t), so he concentrated on chatting-up Rae, nearest the left door.
He leaned over me several times with his beer bottle, holding it beneath Rae’s mouth like a microphone, saying each time, “And now a word from our sponsor!”
Perhaps ten more minutes of this joviality elapsed.
He then announced he wanted us to go camping with him, so, he explained, he could teach us how to hunt, kill and prepare kangaroo meat and learn survival skills.
I humoured him and said it sounded interesting, but Pam gently elbowed me in the ribs and announced, “No, we can’t, remember, people are expecting to meet us further along the road.”
This statement, along with my laughing at his jokes and keeping the atmosphere convivial and calm, was probably what saved us.
Shortly after that the driver became sinister and intense, declaring he wouldn’t take no for an answer to his request. Then, suddenly, he tired of being friendly and floored the accelerator and the ute lurched forward at breakneck speed.
My two companions, realising something sinister was taking place, began shouting, “Let us out!” while I politely asked him to drop us off at the next opportunity.
He turned to me and said menacingly, “Shut the fuck up!”
I remained calm, even though I could see in his dark eyes his mood was now psychotic and he meant us harm, and replied evenly, “Come on mate, there’s no need for that.”
After another few kilometres of him racing as fast as he could, with the women demanding, “Let us out!”, he suddenly screeched to a halt on the hard shoulder and said, “Get the fuck out!”
The women got out quickly but I moved slowly, maintaining eye contact and telling him, “Thanks mate, we really appreciate the lift.” However, I was watching the women out the corner of my eye through the back window to see if they’d collected our backpacks from the ute compartment. I didn’t want him driving off with our belongings.
Once I saw they’d retrieved our bags I exited his vehicle too, mindful he might drive off with me alone, although he was probably keener on capturing the other two, because I had no doubt I was dealing with a rapist.
The whole episode was relatively short, perhaps 20 minutes, and he’d only driven us about 50km from the abandoned quarry 100km or so north of Melbourne from where he’d found us.
He – and I’m adamant it was Ivan Milat – seemed hell-bent on taking us somewhere, which leads me to suspect he had other kill sites apart from Belanglo Forest in NSW (another 500km north) where his known victims were found.
Another Intimidated Passenger
Five years earlier, just after Easter 1982, Amanda Sinn, a 23-year-old PE teacher at Gloucester High School, NSW, 120km north of Newcastle, was hitch-hiking with her German boyfriend south to Stroud.
Ms Sinn recalled the disturbing episode to me: “A Holden panel van stopped, offering us a lift. There were three men seated on the bench seat at the front, I now believe these three men to be members of the Milat family. One of these men got out of the panel van to physically give me a leg up over the back tailgate of the car. When he did this he put his hands directly up the back of the army shorts I was wearing. Both my friend and I knew we were in immediate danger from this moment on.”
They discovered the panel van was full of hunting and camping equipment, including rifles, sleeping bags, tents and gas bottles.
“The driver and the man in the middle were very quiet. They rarely said anything, only occasionally sniggering and sneering. The man next to the front passenger door was the man I believe to have possibly been Ivan Milat. The two men next to him were definitely his brothers as this was repeatedly mentioned over the course of the next half an hour.”
The hitch-hikers were told the men were returning from a hunting trip near Barrington Tops, although there were no animal corpses in the van.
“The conversation soon turned to their agreeing to want to take us out to a property just out of Newcastle (Maitland way),” she continued. “The driver occasionally joined in on this, but the one in the middle, the smallest and stockiest was mainly silent. ‘Ivan’ insisted that I be taken out there ‘to learn how to ride’. At this they all laughed and stated that, ‘you don’t need to know how to ride to ride, if you know what we mean’.”
Events took a sinister turn when ‘Ivan’ discovered Amanda’s boyfriend was a German national with limited English language. He took hold of his rifle and repeatedly pointed it the German, laughing as he did so.
“The last 10 minutes were terrifying,” she revealed. “I knew enough to try not to show my fear and continued to attempt to make conversation with “Ivan”. My eyes were betraying me as I knew my pupils had dilated with fear. He reacted to this within a second and became very excited. The gun was moving about a lot during this with him saying “Oh you’re afraid. You’re afraid are you? What are you afraid of?”
They’d travelled about 50km south to Stroud and the three men decided that they needed a drink, opting to purchase take-away beer from the Stroud Hotel.
“As we began to pull up at the Stroud Hotel where one of the brothers, I think the quieter one in the middle, was going in to buy alcohol, I asked him if I could go with him to go to the toilet… He came around and opened the back tailgate for me to get out. At this I grabbed my boyfriend with one hand and pulled him with me out onto the road. We tumbled out and ran for the safety of a milk bar (shop) on the opposite side of the road.
“The brothers screamed after us three times, ‘What the fuck are you doing? We’ll fucking kill you! If we see you on the road, we’ll fucking kill you!’ We collapsed in tears once in the shop and the owner locked the doors behind us. We stayed there for some time.”
There remain at least five unsolved cases of young women abducted and murdered in the Hunter Valley-Newcastle region between 1970 and 1986 when Milat either lived or worked in the area. Police Strike Force Fenwick was set up in 1998 by detective Clive Small, who oversaw the Milat investigation, to research the disappearances of roughly 20 young females from the Newcastle region over a two decade stretch.
One young woman went missing from The Star Hotel in Newcastle on 30 December 1978, during a period Milat was known to be staying at the hotel – he was working in the vicinity repairing roads.
Police hoped Milat would provide a ‘deathbed confession’ and allow relatives of the many missing victims to obtain some sort of peace with the knowledge of how their loved ones perished.
Anthony Roberts, Corrections Minister, said, “Milat, if you have one ounce of decency in your body, cooperate with the police and at least bring some closure to those families.”
NSW Police Minister David Elliott also demanded Milat “do one last honourable thing on his deathbed.”
NSW Corrections Commissioner Peter Severin said, “I personally would be very keen for Mr Milat to come forward with the information that he is still refusing to share with the people of NSW and the larger Australian community.”
Getting Milat to confess would have been physically more challenging than the public realised. Stricken with throat cancer and immobile with a feeding tube down his throat, his speaking ability was constricted. The fact that he was recorded as suffering from first stage dementia further hindered any concise revelations.
However, Milat’s nephew, Alistair Shipsey, told Ten News, “What’s he going to confess about? He didn’t do it! He’s not a monster, he’s got a heart of gold.”
Shipsey, like many of the Milat clan, some of whom were gifted with property belonging to the murdered backpackers, is a staunch defender of his uncle. In 2014 Shipsey self-published a book, The Milat Letters, featuring correspondence his uncle wrote him from prison.
Shipsey believes police pinned the killings on Milat because the government needed a culprit in order to wind up the manhunt for the killer of the seven Belanglo Forest victims, during their bid to secure host status for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“They had to assure the Olympic Committee that tourists wouldn’t be murdered,” Shipsey told Illawarra Mercury on 22 May 2019, the 25th anniversary of Milat’s arrest.
Shipsey claimed police planted evidence to convict his uncle, but former Assistant Police Commissioner Clive Small, who was the superintendent overseeing the manhunt that eventually caught Milat, has resolutely refuted this wild accusation.
On the Kyle & Jackie O radio show on KIIS 1065 on 25 May 2015, Small revealed that over 500 pieces of evidence linking Milat to the murders was presented to the jury during the trial. “I’m not sure how we would have got the 500 items past all the journalists that were there surrounding the properties.”
In 2005 Milat’s former solicitor, John Marsden, after falling ill with terminal stomach cancer and a year before his death, indicated his belief that Ivan utilised an accomplice who helped him with his string of backpacker murders.
After Milat’s arrest in 1994, brothers Walter and Richard Milat were tried in relation to drugs, weapons and stolen items found on their properties. Milat’s defence counsel attempted to shift the blame for the backpacker killings to other members of Ivan’s family, particularly Richard.
However, when Milat picked up British hitchhiker Paul Onions in January 1990 south of Casula (Onions managed to escape when a gun was drawn and later identified Milat to police), Ivan introduced himself as Bill. Police discovered Milat often used his brother’s identity documents for work or vehicle registrations.
Perhaps brother Bill, the sole recipient of Ivan’s will, is Ivan Milat’s unidentified assistant..
We may never know. Ivan Milat, the man who put innocent young hitchhikers in early graves, cowardly took his own gory secrets to the grave, after living a considerably longer life than his poor victims.