In the late 1980s and early 1990s, authorities in Australia were worried. Backpackers, both foreign and native, had been disappearing. When, in September 1992, two bodies were discovered in the Belanglo State Forest south of Sydney, authorities realized they had found two of the missing backpackers: Brits Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, who had disappeared five months earlier from the King’s Cross section of Sydney. Upon examining their bodies, authorities determined that the two had been murdered – brutally stabbed and shot. Police searched Belanglo Forest extensively for 5 days, but turned up no more bodies. They were certain there were no more corpses in the forest.
Just over a year later, in October 1993, a man found a skull and a thigh bone in Belanglo. He brought police to the site, where they found two more dead bodies. This time, the victims were a young Australian couple who had been missing since 1989. The couple had been viciously stabbed, just like the British women discovered the year before.
The following month, three more bodies were found in the forest: German backpackers, this time, two women and one man. Like the others, the victims had been brutally stabbed and shot, and one of the women had been decapitated. At this point, Australian authorities realized they had a serial killer on their hands. Police prioritized the case and investigated every lead, but they kept coming up with dead ends.
Then, on November 13, 1993, a British man named Paul Onions called police in New South Wales. Onions told authorities about a terrifying encounter he had survived on January 25, 1990. Onions was backpacking around Australia at the time, and he hitched a ride out of Sydney from a man who called himself ‘Bill.’ Bill seemed like a normal, friendly guy helping someone out with a lift. But, about an hour into their ride, Bill turned into a monster. He stopped the car near the entrance of Belanglo State Forest and pulled a gun on Onions. Keeping Onions in his sights, Bill then produced a length of rope. Onions acted quickly, bolting away from the man with the gun and running toward traffic. Bill fired as he chased Onions down, wrestling him to the ground.
Onions struggled and managed to get away from his assailant. He jumped in front of an oncoming car, forcing the vehicle to stop, and got into the back seat. Onions told the driver, Joanne Berry, to drive away because the man chasing him had a gun. Onions reported in his call to police that he believed the man might have something to do with the spate of killings around Belanglo Forest. Unfortunately, Onions’ account went unnoticed until April 1994, when a detective found a note about Paul Onions’ phone call. Joanne Berry, the driver, was contacted, and police began investigating possible suspects.
The suspect police zeroed in on was 49-year-old Ivan Milat, an ex-con who in 1971 had been acquitted of the rape of two female hitchhikers. To assist police with the investigation, Paul Onions flew from England to Australia in May 1994. On his arrival, Onions identified Ivan Milat as the man who had attempted to kill him 4 years earlier. Milat was arrested and his home raided by police on May 22, 1994. In Milat’s home, police found weapons matching the kind used in the murders, as well as camping equipment and cameras belonging to the victims.
Ivan Milat was tried and found guilty of 7 murders on July 27, 1996, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In an odd twist, Milat’s great-nephew, Matthew Milat, murdered a 17-year-old boy in 2010 in Belanglo State Forest. Matthew Milat was given a 43-year sentence for the murder.
Today, the 72-year-old Milat rots away in prison, infamously known as one of Australia’s worst serial killers. The 2005 film Wolf Creek is a fictionalized version of Milat’s “backpacker murders.”
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