Milat crimes an indelible stain on Australia

Backpacker murderer Ivan Milat.
Backpacker murderer Ivan Milat.

IVAN Milat and the Belanglo State Forest.

An evil man and a pine plantation inextricably linked and etched into the darkest pages of Australia’s modern history.

Milat murdered seven young backpackers and dumped their bodies in the 3800-hectare forest south of Sydney between 1989 and 1992.

He died early on Sunday in Long Bay jail’s hospital from oesophageal and stomach cancer.

While cancer took the elderly prisoner’s life, his victims were slaughtered in the prime of youth.

A supplied undated image shows backpacker murderer Ivan Milat. Picture: Supplied via AAP

“These seven young persons were at the threshold of their lives, with everything to look forward to – travel, career, happiness, love, family, and even old age,” said Justice David Hunt who jailed Milat for life in 1996.

“It is clear that they were subjected to behaviour which, for callous indifference to suffering and complete disregard of humanity, is almost beyond belief.

“They would obviously have been absolutely terrified, and death is unlikely to have been swiftly applied.”

Milat was born two days after Christmas 1944, one of 14 children of Australian-born Margaret and Yugoslavian-born Steven Milat who lived in Sydney’s west.

He left school at 15, had minor dealings with the police and worked on the roads for years, around Sydney and country NSW.

The self-confessed gun enthusiast was regarded as a conscientious employee, with one boss saying he was “the best worker we ever had”.

His former wife Karen, who left him in 1987 after four years of marriage, described him as “gun crazy”, recalling him killing kangaroos on a visit to Belanglo State Forest.

“Ivan pulled out a rifle, shot the first kangaroo, shot the second kangaroo, slit its throat and kicked it to make sure it was dead,” she said.

NSW Police search the area where human bones were found in the Belanglo State Forest. Picture: AAP Image/Peter Rae

The outing could be seen as a gruesome preview of his frenzied attacks on the seven hitchhikers – Melbourne couple Deborah Everist, 19, and James Gibson, 19; German traveller Simone Schmidl, 21; German couple Anja Habschied, 20, and Gabor Neugebauer, 21; and British friends Joanne Walters, 22, and Caroline Clarke, 21.

Their bodies were found covered with branches and leaf litter in the forest between between September 1992 and November 1993.

One victim was decapitated, another shot 10 times in the head. Many were stabbed so savagely their bones were chipped, some had been gagged or bound, and some were suspected of having been sexually assaulted.

Milat also was found guilty of kidnapping British backpacker Paul Onions who escaped his clutches in January 1990, near the turn-off to the forest.

Mr Onions said he was so scared he bolted into oncoming traffic after Milat pointed a gun at him and reached for some rope.

The crimes made headlines around the world, shattering Australia’s reputation as a safe haven for budget-conscious young travellers.

Over the years, Milat has been linked to the disappearance of other young men and women in areas where he worked with a road gang.

But while maintaining his innocence in the murders, Milat apparently made no deathbed confession to any other crimes or implicated any of his brothers in the forest slayings.

Justice Hunt had commented it was “inevitable” Milat was not alone in committing the murders.

In 1974, he was cleared of raping one of two young hitchhikers he picked up three years earlier near the same highway where the seven murdered backpackers were picked up.

Milat had denied one woman’s evidence he produced two knives, threatened to kill them if they did not have sex with him, and had two lengths of pink nylon cords.

“He said he made a habit of picking up hitchhikers and was always prepared with the knives,” she testified.

The prison van used to transport Ivan Milat to court. Picture: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

He told them he was going to kill them, saying: “You won’t scream when I cut your throats, will you?”

But Milat told the jury that her 18-year-old friend agreed to have sex with him in the front seat of his car on a dirt road.

“It was a friendly trek down there and afterwards when I run them back to the shops, she was real friendly, she was okay, and everything seemed to be alright.”

Milat gave evidence at his 1996 trial, coming across as cool as a cucumber, as he denied the overwhelming evidence against him.

Hundreds of pieces of information linked him to the murders including property of the victims: a jersey worn by Ms Clarke resembled one Milat gave his girlfriend.

The prosecutor accused him of “incredible arrogance and unbelievable self-confidence”.

He’d tuck a pistol into one of his well-polished boots when he went to the movies, kept a pistol under his car seat and a “friendly machete” in his vehicle.

Karen Milat said her “very fit” ex-husband made a leather holster for a revolver and “ran around like a cowboy and called himself Tex”.

He even posed in his lounge room as an armed cowboy wearing a sheriff’s badge, telling the jury “I was trying to make up some cowboy pictures just to put in my album”.

Ivan Milat’s house. Picture: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

Milat watched cricket, had a cat called Gizmo, had a beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle and used to paint model trucks and planes in camouflage colours.

Behind bars, Milat remained in the headlines.

A decade ago, he ended a hunger strike days after cutting off his little finger and handing it to prison officers inside an envelope padded with newspaper.

He severed the finger with a serrated plastic knife and addressed the envelope to the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

In early 2001, Milat swallowed razor blades, paper staples and a tiny metal chain, and then later that year he swallowed part of the flushing mechanism from the toilet in his cell.

Shockingly, his terrible legacy continued in 2010 when his great-nephew, Matthew Milat, lured his 17-year-old friend into Belanglo and murdered him with an axe.

The next day, he boasted: “You know me, you know my family. You know the last name Milat. I did what they do.”

— AAP