Feuding brothers, affairs and a fake story: the unravelling of killer Ivan Milat

NSW police taking away Ivan Milat from his Eaglevale home after an early morning raid in 1994. Photo: Rick Stevens
NSW police taking away Ivan Milat from his Eaglevale home after an early morning raid in 1994. Photo: Rick Stevens

It was his brothers' talking that got him caught.

If Ivan Milat's oldest brother, Alex, hadn't made up some cock-and-bull about seeing two women being driven blindfolded into Belanglo State Forest, and if one of his younger brothers, Richard, hadn't boasted "I know who killed those Germans", the serial killer would probably never have been fingered.

The same thing had happened in 1974. Milat was wanted for raping a hitchhiker near Goulburn in 1971 and had been on the run for two-and-half years after skipping bail and faking suicide at The Gap.

But when he came to visit his ailing mother at Prince Alfred Hospital, another brother, Boris, dobbed him in to the cops and the long-suffering Margaret Milat soon found her hospital bed surrounded by men in brown suits pointing guns.

In a family of 14 kids, it is perhaps inevitable that enmities develop. Boris hated his brother because Ivan had a long-running affair with Boris' wife, Marilyn, and everybody knew Boris' daughter was actually Ivan's.

Boris claimed to have picked up a gun on two occasions and gone looking to kill Ivan, only to pull back at the last minute.

Rescue workers remove the body of a female British backpacker after it was discovered in the Belanglo State forest in 1992. Photo: Les Smith

Rescue workers remove the body of a female British backpacker after it was discovered in the Belanglo State forest in 1992. Photo: Les Smith

Such feuds need not last forever, as evidenced by Ivan's affair with another of his sister's-in-law, Maureen. His next youngest brother, Wally, also picked up a gun and went looking for Ivan over that. But Maureen got word to Ivan and he scarpered. Afterwards, it was like it never happened.

Wally and Ivan continued to be great mates. So much so, that when, in 1994, the police started taking an interest in Ivan over the murder of seven hitchhikers, Wally agreed to stash some gear that Ivan had accumulated over the years - backpacks, gun parts - in the alcove under his bathroom.

When Milat eventually stood trial for the murder of seven hitchhikers between 1989 and 1992, his defence was that it wasn't him, but that "Blind Freddy" could see the murders were committed by someone in, or close to, his family.

The finger got pointed at Wally and another brother, Richard. Ivan had been using the name of another brother, Bill, since the 70s. He bought his car in that name, worked under that name at times, and attacked the diminutive English backpacker Paul Onions - the one that got away - using that name.

Milat's victims, pictured clockwise from top-left: Deborah Everest of Australia, Anja Habschied of Germany, Simone Schmidl of Germany, James Gibson of Australia, Caroline Clarke of the UK, Gabor Neugebauer of Germany and Joanne Walters of the UK.

Milat's victims, pictured clockwise from top-left: Deborah Everest of Australia, Anja Habschied of Germany, Simone Schmidl of Germany, James Gibson of Australia, Caroline Clarke of the UK, Gabor Neugebauer of Germany and Joanne Walters of the UK.

People who lived near the Milats in Moorebank in the 1950s and 1960s, then Chester Hill in the 1970s and 1980s, would recall the brothers as an almost amorphous blob. Not quite distinguishable from each other. And you couldn't take one on without taking them all on.

But Ivan wasn't like his brothers. Those sisters-in-law who fell for him would recall a guy who was kinder, better mannered, neater and just generally more together than his siblings. He opened doors for women. He didn't drink, didn't smoke. He looked after himself. He could do the work of two men and worked hard enough on the roads - did so much overtime - that he'd accumulated a Harley-Davidson, a house and was in the process of buying a new Land Rover Discovery when he was arrested for the seven murders.

But those women had never lived with him. They didn't see what his wife Karen endured. She later told police that when she first met him, she was going out with his cousin whose baby she was carrying. Ivan raped her and somehow took possession of her.

For a decade Karen Milat lived a life of physical and psychological oppression. She couldn't leave the house without permission and had to show him receipts for the groceries. A leaf littering the front yard was cause for trouble.

The backpacker murderer in the early 1990s.

The backpacker murderer in the early 1990s.

One night, she served him a meal he didn't like. He smashed his plate down so hard that the glass coffee table shattered. He took photos of it and ordered her not to touch it. He went home to his mum, showed her the pictures of his wife's failure and got a decent feed. The shards were to remain in situ for days.

When Karen eventually left him while he was on an away job, he burnt down her parents' garage.

Ivan Milat did not appear to cope well with rejection. In 1971, after his sister-in-law Marilyn had broken off their affair, he went out and raped the hitchhiker he picked up at Liverpool. Marilyn couldn't help wondering if the break-up had triggered his change.

After Karen left him in 1987, he resumed his relationship with Marilyn who was long-since divorced from Boris. But Marilyn could never get him to commit to something more serious so after a year or so, she broke it off again.

And that's when he resumed picking up hitchhikers at Liverpool. The first to disappear were the Melbourne couple Deborah Everist and James Gibson on December 30, 1989. Their bones would later reveal that both died similar deaths. A large knife was wielded upon them with such fury that it cut clean through ribs and spine - not breaking them, cutting them - over and over, focussed around the back. Their clothing indicated a sexual nature to both attacks. James's fly was undone for example, but his trousers' top button was done up.

Weeks later, on the Australia Day long weekend, Milat attempted to abduct Paul Onions. That failure appears to have caused him to pause. It was an entire year before he abducted the lone German, Simone Schmidl, whose bones would reveal a rage identical to that which the Australians suffered.

Eleven months later, on Boxing Day, 1991, the German couple Anja Habschied and Gabor Neugebauer disappeared. Neugebauer was tall and pumped weights, leading to speculation that Milat might have needed an accomplice to subdue him. He was the first victim to be shot - six times in the head, but had no knife wounds. His fly was also down. Habschied appears to have been tied in a makeshift bondage device left some hundreds of metres from where her body was found. She was decapitated, probably while still conscious. Her head was never found.

Milat's victims, pictured clockwise from top-left: Deborah Everest of Australia, Anja Habschied of Germany, Simone Schmidl of Germany, James Gibson of Australia, Caroline Clarke of the UK, Gabor Neugebauer of Germany and Joanne Walters of the UK.

Barely three months later, Easter 1992, the British pair of Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke were the last to disappear and the first to be found. While Walters' body revealed the characteristic knife-born fury, Clarke's murder posed a problem.

She was shot 10 times in the head by someone methodically using her for target practice from about 10 metres; someone who smoked six Longbeach cigarettes while they were at it. Ivan Milat had never smoked. The forensic psychiatrist Dr Rod Milton who visited the scene the day after her body was found believed that the cold distance displayed in this murder indicated there were two people involved. Certainly two personalities.

The jury didn't buy his defence that it was must have been one of his brothers who committed the murders, and Milat was sentenced to die in jail. He continued to maintain his innocence to the end.

This story Feuding brothers, affairs and a fake story: the unravelling of killer Ivan Milat first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.