Map of Belanglo
Nine bodies have been discovered in Belanglo Forest since the 1990s.
The first seven bodies to be discovered were young backpackers murdered by serial killer Ivan Milat. The seven backpackers (aged from 19 - 22) were five international visitors to Australia (three German, two British), and two young Australians traveling north from Melbourne, capital city of Victoria.
The eighth body is that of an unidentified young woman dubbed "Angel" by police. She died wearing a t-shirt with a logo that said "Angelic".
The last body to be found was a male teenage Australian who was killed by two people. One of the killers was Matthew Milat, great-nephew of Ivan.
Belanglo is 3.8 hectares of planted and natural forest 15 kilometres south of Berrima in the Southern Highlands, not far from the main highway (the Hume) between Canberra and Sydney.
Owned by the New South Wales government, Belanglo has some of the oldest plantation pine in NSW. Belanglo is one of the closest legal places to Sydney to ride trail bikes - one of the main recreational activities in the forest. It is a also very popular spot for riding mountain bikes, picnics and bush-walks among other activities. In fact trail bike riders have discovered human remains in Belanglo.
The combination of plantation pine, natural bush, rocky outcrops, flat stretches and cliffs make Belanglo a spectacular place of natural heritage for locals and visitors alike.
The location south of Sydney means that Belanglo escapes the incredible humidity and heat of more northern natural landscapes. In short, Belanglo is an ideal outdoor recreational resource, as well as being a sanctuary for wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies and even the odd dingo.
For a glimpse of the beauty of Belanglo, watch the video below.
Aerial views of Belanglo
The Backpacker Murders - the first bodies
People who were orienteering in Belanglo discovered the first murdered backpacker remains on 20 September 1992. On the next day, police (Roger Gough and Suzanne Roberts) discovered a second body 30 about metres from the first one.
These bodies were identified as Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, missing since April 1992, last seen in Kings Cross, Sydney.
Montage of Murdered Backpackers
Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters
Caroline Clarke was English and and Joanne Walters was Welsh. They were 22 years old.
Autopsy results revealed that Ms Walters had been stabbed 21 times in her back and 14 times in her chest. Her spine was severed resulting in paralysis from one of the blows. Her body was placed under a rock and covered in branches. Ms Clarke was murdered 10 metres away from the site where Ms Walters' remains were located. She had been shot 10 times to her head. She was blindfolded with her own sloppy-joe. She had also been stabbed once in her chest.
Belanglo State Forest Murders - more bodies
After the discoveries of the remains of Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, the trail went cold, with Police embarrassingly announcing that there were no more bodies.
However, Bruce Pryor, a local, discovered a human skull and thigh bone in a particularly remote section of the forest in October 1993. Bruce showed police to the site. Shortly afterwards two more bodies were found (Deborah Everist and James Gibson). Police were puzzled by the presence of James Gibson's body in Belanglo because his backpack and camera were found by the side of the road at Galston Gorge, in the northern Sydney suburbs almost 100 kilometres north of Belanglo, a place Ivan Milat was later found to have worked at.
Ivan Milat - The Detective who caught him
Deborah Everist and James Gibson
James Gibson and his girlfriend Deborah Everist, both 19, were from Melbourne. Deborah Everist, was a teenage student "who loved her home comforts", according to her Mum. She disappeared on December 30, 1989. Ms Everist was traveling with young James Gibson to Confest, a music festival near Albury. "Debs had never hitchhiked before," her Mum said, "She'd never been away from home before."
Both young people had suffered multiple stab wounds to their upper torsos. Deborah had also been stabbed in her back and head.
Simone "Simi" Schmidl, Anja Habschied and Gabor Neugebauer
After finding the bodies of the two young Australian travelers, Police became determined to complete a detailed search of the forest. Within 10 days they found the remaining three victims.
Police sergeant Jeff Trichter discovered a skull in a clearing in the forest on 1 November 1993.
Later identification showed the remains to be those of Simone "Simi" Schmidl, 20, from Germany. Ms Schmidl was last seen on 20 January, 1991, hitch hiking. However, the clothing found at the scene was not Ms Schmidl's. Instead it matched up with a description of what another missing backpacker, Anja Habschied, 20, also from Germany, had been wearing. Autopsy revealed that Simone Schmidl died from multiple stab wounds to her upper torso.
Two days later on 3 November 1993 the shallow graves of Anja Habschied and her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer, 21, were discovered by police. Gabor Neugebauer's neck was broken. His spine was severed. Anja Habschied had been decapitated.
The Backpacker Murders Story
There were similar aspects to all the murders. All of the bodies had been posed face-down, hands behind their backs. The bodies were all covered by a pyramidal frame of sticks and ferns. Each body suffered stab wounds to the torso. Milat had also evidently spent long periods of time with the victims during and after the murders.
However, there were some differences in the manner of the victim's ultimate demise. Joanne Walters and Simone Schmidl had been stabbed to death, Caroline Clarke had been the victim of multiple gunshots to her head and then stabbed after she had died. Anja Habschied was decapitated.
Many thought that Ivam Milat did not murder the victims alone. Ivan Milat's sworn statement had suggested anywhere up to seven people were involved.
To date, no one else has been convicted of being an accomplice.
How Police Identified Ivan Milat
A major key to unraveling the identity of the killer was the evidence of Mr Paul Onions from Britain. Mr Onions had been through a harrowing episode in 1990. As a backpacker visiting New South Wales, he accepted a lift from Ivan Milat. During the drive Mr Onions became increasingly nervous as Milat (who called himself "Bill") started to display increasingly creepy behaviours.
Things culminated when "Bill" pulled over, saying he wanted to get some cassettes from the back of his 4WD. Mr Onions, extremely uneasy, saw a number of cassettes already inside the cabin and wisely got out of the vehicle. Milat pulled a gun from the back of the 4WD and told Mr Onions to get back in the car. Mr Onions ran into traffic in terror and was rescued by a passing motorist who had her four children in the car with her. She had misgivings about letting a strange man enter her car but when she saw the terror on his face she let him in and did a U-turn to take him to the nearest police station. He gave a statement to police which was detailed and comprehensive. Police lost the statement.
Years later in 1993, Mr Onions telephoned NSW Police from Britain, having heard about the murders. He thought that his statement must have been of no assistance but he was willing to try again. A note was taken and not looked at until April 1994 when Detective Gordon found it and immediately began the search for Mr Onion's lost statement. It was never found, but the Constable who took Mr Onions' statement had kept a comprehensive notebook report. Police were able to use the notebook statement to match details provided by Joanne Berry, the motorist who had rescued Mr Onions. The information was the first positive evidence they had connecting the Milat family to the murders.
Police conducted simultaneous raids on all of the Milat brother's homes and the home of their mother, Margaret Milat. While evidence was found in many of the homes, the most damning evidence was found at Ivan Milat's residence where Police found many of the murdered backpackers belongings as well as the weapons used in the murders.
The Backpacker Murders Investigation
Ivan Milat - Arrest and Imprisonment
Ivan Milat had a history that raised police suspicions well before they arrested him. Milat had served prison time and in 1971 was charged with the abduction of two women and the rape of one of them. The charges did not stand in court. Ivan Milat and his brother Richard worked together on road gangs all along the highway near Belanglo. Milat owned a property near Belanglo, and used to own a Nissan 4WD (he sold it after Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters remains were found). Milat was obsessed with weapons.
When police finally made the connection between Mr Onions and the Belanglo murders, Mr Onions was flown to Australia in May 1994 and positively identified Ivan Milat as the man who had tried to abduct him.
Milat was arrested on 22 May 1994 at his home.
Milat's trial went for fifteen weeks. Milat's barrister tried to convince a jury that Richard Milat or one of the other Milat brothers was to blame, despite the overwhelming evidence against Ivan. The jury found him guilty and the judge sentenced him to six years for the offenses against Mr Onions and consecutive life sentences for each of the seven backpackers he had murdered, without the possibility of parole.
Milat has tried to escape prison, tried to appeal, and even cut off his little finger and tried to mail it to the High Court in protest. He went on a hunger strike in 2011 in order to blackmail the prison authorities to give him a Sony Playstation. All he succeeded in doing was losing a lot of weight.
Belanglo State Forest Murders - the eighth body - "Angel"
"Angel" was discovered on 29 August 2010, more than a decade after the arrest of Ivan Milat. At first there was speculation that despite their extensive search, police had missed another of Ivan Milat's victims.
However, based on timing and forensics police have said that "Angel" could not have been killed by Milat. Apparently she was killed while Milat was imprisoned. She was aged 13-25 at the time of her death. Other than knowing who did not kill "Angel", there are few leads. Her case was featured on the first episode of TV True Crime series 'Wanted', featuring Dr Xanthe Mallett, Forensic Anthropologist, in the hope that more clues would be found from any viewers who are able to help.
In another effort to aid the stalled investigation, a facial/head reconstruction was undertaken by Dr Susan Hayes from the University of Western Sydney. The image of what "Angel" probably looked like has been distributed so far without results.
There are some thoughts that she could be a missing German backpacker, last seen in Western Australia but this is speculation at this stage.
Matthew Milat Gaoled
The Ninth Murder - by Matthew Milat
David Auchterlonie was a childhood friend of Matthew Milat. Matthew Milat is the great-nephew of Ivan Milat. David was only a teenager when he was slain with a medieval style axe in Belanglo State Forest in 2010. Milat and his friend Cohen Klein, aged 17 and 18, lured David into the forest. Milat murdered him while Klein recorded the slaying with his mobile telephone.
In 2012, Milat and Klein (both aged 19 at the time of sentencing) received sentences of 43 years and 32 years in prison respectively.
Milat is said to have boasted about the slaying saying 'You know me, you know my family. You know the last name Milat. I'm doing what my family does.'
Belanglo State Forest Quiz
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- How many bodies have been found in Belanglo State Forest since the 1990s?
- What sort of recreational activites to do people do in Belanglo?
- Trail bike riding
- Mountain biking
- All of the above
- Is Belanglo just natural bush or is a pine plantation too?
- Bush only
- Bush and Pine
- Have police identified all of the bodies found in Belanglo?
- Eight people to date have been murdered by members of the Milat family?
- All of the above
- Bush and Pine
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on June 26, 2017:
This was a comprehensive and well written account of the Backpacker Murders. Great job.
Suzie from Carson City on June 01, 2015:
I am overwhelmed with the horror. A "family" of sick, twisted murderers? This is quite a shocking story of senseless savagery, impossible for a normal human being to conceive.
You have done an impressive job of reporting this nightmarish tale. I commend your research and professional objectivity.
The videos are a valuable addition. Despite the gruesome nature, it is necessary for the public to be informed of the dangers and insanity that can exist at any moment, at any place.
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 31, 2015:
Great hub and well researched Mel. I just recently watched the tv mini series "Finding Milat"...great stuff. What was freaky was his great-nephew Matthew killing a friend in the same forest. I wrote a poetry hub "Body in the Forest" using the Milat killings as inspiration too. Voted up.
Mel Jay (author) from Australia on July 15, 2013:
Thank you for your very charming comment Mel :) - and yes I am certainly a proud Aussie! I think the movie you saw could be Wolf Creek which is set in Western Australia about a different killer, supposedly Bradley John Murdock who killed Peter Falconio, however, the movie character was only loosely based on Murdoch, the producers threw a fair bit of Ivan Milat into the mix too. I think this could be why the hub reminds you of the movie. There are a lot of cultural similarities between Australia and the USA - the language, the whole frontier scenario - you have the old west - we have the outback - the sheer distances in involved in our geography, the breathtaking natural beauty of our landscapes, the destruction of the indigenous peoples and their cultures, well developed film industries and an obsession with food and reality TV to name a few things...and I guess, serial killers. With such a small population we don't have many, but the ones we have had are truly monstrous. Cheers, Mel
Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 14, 2013:
As usual a very interesting hub and tediously researched. I saw a movie on Netflix that occurred I think in the Perth-Fremantle area about some famous murders. Looks like this particular incident you are writing about would make a good made for TV movie. I guess us Yanks up here don't have a monopoly on this sort of gruesome thing. I look upon you now as the Aussie Ann Rule. I hope it is not an offense to call you an Aussie, that's how we refer to you folks up here, with all due respect, of course. Keep it up! Great hub!