Backpacker murders: Ivan Milat accomplice mystery finally solved

He was found guilty of the murders in 1996. Source: YouTube/Studio 10.

It has been more than 20 years since Ivan Milat was handed seven life sentences after he was found guilty of murdering seven backpackers in New South Wales, making him one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers.

However, despite Milat serving life behind bars for the brutal crimes, there have repeatedly been claims the murderer did not act alone. These claims were backed up by the fact that one of his victims, British tourist Joanne Walters, was found clutching several strands of hair when she was killed in 1992.

Original forensic testing showed that the hair did not match Milat, nor did it match Walters’ own hair, however modern testing has finally revealed the truth, proving once and for all whether Milat acted alone during his killing spree between 1989 and 1993.

Former detective Clive Small, who headed the Task Force Air police team that made the Milat conviction, told True Crime Australia there are no longer any “outstanding matters” in the case.

“Our forensics originally said it was difficult to profile but appeared to be from a bloke however, we have subsequently had (it) tested at two laboratories and the retesting has found it was Walters’ hair, it was her own hair,” he said.

“Forensic services retested the hair in Joanne’s right hand, which forensic medicine at Glebe had originally concluded belonged to a man, but the DNA testing showed it consistent to Joanne and that was subsequently corroborated again after being sent to another mob for testing.”

Small speculated the 22-year-old victim may have brought her hands to her face and head during the attack, causing the strands of her own hair to become clamped in her hands, disproving the argument the strands could have belonged to an alleged accomplice. 

Small said the main forensics were performed in Australia, but samples were also sent to the UK so as to DNA compare and match absolutely to Joanne’s relatives overseas.

A jury found Milat guilty on July 27, 1996, and he was handed seven consecutive life sentences for the murders of Caroline Clarke, Joanne Walters, Simone Schmidl, Anja Habschied, Gabor Neugebauer, James Gibson and Deborah Everist, without the possibility of parole. He was also convicted of the attempted murder, false imprisonment and robbery of Paul Onions.

Onions, from the UK, had been backpacking in NSW in 1990 when the driver of a hitched ride, later identified as Milat, attempted to kidnap him at gunpoint. He managed to escape, before flagging down a passing car and reporting the incident to police.

Later, in 1993, Onions made a call to Task Force Air officers after seeing an international news report about the discovery of the bodies at Belanglo State Forest, setting the case in motion.

Do you remember when this case made headlines in the ’90s? 

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