The case of

Caroline Clare (21), Joanne Walters (22), Deborah Everist (19), James Gibson (19), Simone Schmidl (21),  Gabor Neugebauer (21) and Anja Habschied (20)

Victim

Caroline Clare (21), Joanne Walters (22), Deborah Everist (19), James Gibson (19), Simone Schmidl (21),  Gabor Neugebauer (21) and Anja Habschied (20)

Victim Race
Victim Date of Birth
Victim Age
Date Reported
Date of Death

1989-1994

Case Status

Closed

Incident Location

Belanglo State Forest, New South Wales, Australia 

Body Location
Date of Conviction

May 22, 1994

Body Discovered Date
Murderer

Ivan Robert Marko Milat

Who Was Ivan Milat?

Ivan Robert Marko Milat was born on December 27, 1944. Like many serial killers, Ivan had a dysfunctional family life. He was born to a poor family of Croatian immigrants in Guildford, Australia. His mother, Margaret Elizabeth Piddleston, was often pregnant, and his father, Stjepan Marko “Steven” Milat was known to be violent. Ivan was the fifth of fourteen children.

Ivan and his large family grew up in an overcrowded shack house in Moorebank, Sydney, Australia. Along with his siblings, they attended a catholic school but would get into mischief after class. They spent their afternoons shooting targets in their parent’s backyard.

By the age of 17, Ivan was sent to a juvenile detention center for theft, and by 19, he broke into a local store.

An Innocent Man Serves Five Years

Ivan’s older brother Boris is the only family member to publicly speak about him. Borris said that Ivan showed concerning behavior from a young age. Boris also said that Ivan confessed to him that when he was 17, he accidentally shot a taxi driver during a stick-up gone awry. The taxi driver, Neville Knight was left paralyzed from the waist down. However, Ivan Milat was never caught. So innocent man was subsequently convicted and spent five years in prison for this crime.

Ivan Milat is Charged But Not Convicted, Twice

In 1971 at the age of 26, Ivan was charged with raping two 18-year-old female backpackers. However, due to the sloppiness of the prosecutor’s evidence, Ivan was freed on a not guilty verdict. In 1977 he attempted to rape and murder two more women, a crime he was never charged with.

Ivan Milat Gets Married

In 1984 Ivan married a woman 15 years younger than him. However, the marriage fell apart quickly and as a result, Ivan burned down his ex-wife’s parent home in Newcastle. During a trial, his now ex-wife testified that he was obsessed with guns and known to be violent.

The Belanglo State Forest Backpacker Murders

In the early 1990s seven gruesome killings occurred in the Belanglo State Forest. The killings known as the Belanglo State Forest backpacker murders, still today, are one of Australia’s worst string of homicides. Several backpackers had been reported missing since 1989.

The first of Ivan Milat’s victims was found on September 19, 1992 when two runners discovered a concealed corpse whilst orienteering in the forest. The corpse was face down, with their hands tied behind its back. The following morning police discovered a second body only 30 meters from the first. Through the use of dental records, the victims were identified as British backpackers 21-year-old Caroline Clare and 22-year-old Joanne Walters. The British victims were last seen months before in April, on their way to Victoria to go fruit picking.

An autopsy revealed that the young females had been brutally murdered. Caroline had been blindfolded and marched into the bush. She was then shot 10 times in the head. Joanne had been stabbed 14 times. Four in the chest, one in the neck, and nine times in the back, severing her spine.

Expecting to find more bodies in the forest, investigators conducted a search, but they came up empty-handed.

Then in October 1993, Another Victim Was Found

In October 1993, a local man was searching a remote part of the Belanglo State Forest for firewood when he discovered human bones. After showing police the area, the police quickly discovered two bodies which were later identified as 19-year-old Deborah Everist and 19-year-old James Gibson.

The teenage couple had gone missing in 1989. The couple’s belongings had been discovered in December 1989, 75 miles north of the forest. James was in the fetal position with stab wounds so deep his lungs had been punctured and his spine severed. Deborah had been beaten, her head was fractured, her jaw broken, and was stabbed once in the back.

NSW Police Conducted a Sweep of The Forest

A month later, on November 1, 1993, a skeleton was found in the forest during the police sweep. The skeleton belonged to German backpacker 21-year-old Simone Schmidl. Like the previous discoveries, Simone had also been stabbed so deeply that her spine was severed.

Two more bodies were also uncovered on a nearby trail. These belonged to German travelers 21-year-old Gabor Neugebauer and 20-year-old Anja Habschied. The travelers had been missing for two years. Their murders were just as brutal. Anja had been decapitated, her skull was never found, and Gabor had been shot in the head six times.

Evidence from the remains showed that some of the victims had been tortured before being killed and that some did not die instantly from their injuries.

The Search For The Backpack Murderer

Investigators concluded that the killer acted every 12 months and that their target of choice was young travelers, both men, and women. After the discovery of the bodies, a huge media frenzy took off. As a result, police received several tips regarding the Milat family. The Milat family lived an hour away from the forest and were known to possess firearms. Ivan was still living at home with his family.

However, despite these tips, police didn’t have the evidence they needed to gain a search warrant of the Milat’s household.

But then a surviving victim came forward. The victim was a British man named Paul Onions. Paul was an ex-Navy member who had backpacked around Australia years prior. During his travels whilst backpacking along a highway, he was offered a lift by a man who introduced himself as Bill. During the travel, the man stopped the car in a secluded area miles away from the highway and pulled out a gun and rope.

Paul jumped out of the vehicle and began running. The driver of the vehicle fired at Paul, but Paul managed to flag a woman driver down and plead to her for help. The woman driver Joanne Berry helped Paul to escape. Paul Onions had previously reported this incident to police, but it was waved off and forgotten until the discovery of the backpacker murders.

Paul Onion was shown photos of 13 suspects. He identified the man who offered him a lift that day as suspect number 4, Ivan Milat.

Ivan Milat Was Arrested

This new evidence, along with his 1971 rape charge, led authorities to believe they had found their backpack murdered. Ivan was arrested on May 22, 1994, at his home for robbery and weapon charges. On May 31, he was also charged with the murder of seven backpackers.

After his arrest, NSW police were able to conduct a search of his home. During the search, they found backpacking items and camping equipment inside the house and inside the walls. The found items, including Simone Schmidl’s sleeping bag, belonged to several of the Belanglo forest victims.

On July 27, 1996, after a 15 week trial took place but eventually, backpacker killer Ivan Milat was found guilty and sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences. He received a life sentence for each of the victims found in the Belanglo forest plus an additional six years for the abduction of Paul Onions without the possibility of parole.

Ivan Milat’s Death

In May 2019, Ivan Milat was diagnosed with terminal cancer. NSW police tried to get him to confess to his murders as his illness progressed, but he maintained his innocence until his death. On October 27, 2019, at the age of 74, backpacker killer Ivan Milat passed away in a hospital wing at Long Bay Correctional Centre without confessing to any of the seven murders he was convicted for.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Who is Matthew Milat?

A. Matthew Milat kis Ivan Milat’s great nephew. Matthew following in Ivan’s footsteps was sentenced to 43 years in prison for the axe murder of his classmate David Auchterloine. Matthew along with his friend Cohen Klein lured David into the same forest that the backpacker killings occurred.

Q. Did Ivan Milat attempt to escape prison?

A. Yes, in 1997 Ivan along with a convicted drug dealer tried to escape prison. The pair failed and Ivan was transferred to the maximum-security super-prison in Goulburn, New South Wales and spent time in solitary confinement as a result.

Q. Was there a film made based off of Ivan Milat?

A. Yes the film Wolf Creek is based off of serial killers Ivan Milat and Bradley John Murdoch. Bradley Murdoch was charged with the murder of a British backpacker named Peter Falconio in 2005.

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