As serial killer Ivan Milat’s family plan his farewell barbecue, they will be discussing the final niceties for a man they consider “innocent”, niceties denied to the murderer’s victims.
After farewelling his tearful family when they gathered around his deathbed last Friday, Milat handed them a letter with final instructions for his aftermath.
While his cremated remains cannot be stowed in a public place, it’s likely they would be vandalised and desecrated, he at least had a peaceful passing.
And after a coronial inquest, mandatory for any inmate who dies in custody, he will enjoy a respectful laying to rest of his remains.
Perhaps he might “live” on the mantelpiece of his beloved sister-in-law Caroline, who said on Sunday she cried over his hospital bed “because it’s hard to say goodbye to a friend”.
At least Ivan made it to 74 years old.
The eldest of his seven Belanglo Forest victims made it to just 22 years old, with all of them dying violently between that age and just 19.
They didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone, and instead of a kind final word had only merciless cruelty.
They all met appalling deaths by stabbing, shooting or beheading after terrifying hours of abduction, rape and torture.
And after their bodies were discarded, gagged and bound under mounds of leaf litter, they were left to the food chain of forest animals.
Then months of parental grief and wondering later, their discovery in the forest confirmed their worst fears and opened a new chapter of horror.
In February 1992, the best the families could do was hold a service in the place where their children spent their final ordeal.
A memorial would later be erected to honour the seven slain young people.
The families laid flowers in the forest.
It was still three months before Milat’s arrest, and publicly no suspect had been named.
Eventually they would be able to take their beloved children’s remains and finally lay them to rest.
Milat’s death marks almost 30 years since the first of his backpacker victims vanished, Deborah Everist and James Gibson, on December 29, 1989.
Patricia Everist, whose husband died soon after her daughter’s disappearance, forged a friendship in grief with Peggy Gibson, the mother of James.
This Thursday is the 26th anniversary since the last of his victims to be found, Simone Schmidl’s remains were uncovered in the forest.
Herbert and Erwine Schmidl, the parents of 21-year-old Simone, learnt of the discovery just days after Herbert had placed an urn in a cemetery to mark the fact Simone was not returning.
She had vanished almost three years prior. Bus driver Herbert found out when he drew up to end his shift and saw his wife waiting, with a look on her face, that told him all he needed to know without her saying a word.
Afterwards Mr Schmidl remained “a broken man”, even after seeing Milat convicted and imprisoned for seven life sentences.
So what happened to the seven backpackers and the three other murder victims that detectives think were likely to be Milat’s other victims?
Who knows when his reign of terror really began, but almost 50 years ago a young woman vanished and was found murdered in circumstances eerily similar to his future victims who were then just babies.
KEREN ROWLAND, February 26, 1971
An attractive 20-year-old, Keren and her sister were in separate cars en route to meet friends and family at a hotel in on the night of the 1971 Royal Canberra Show.
Along Parkes Way, a road which passes by Lake Burley Griffin, Keren’s white Mini Morris 850 sedan dropped from sight in the rear vision mirror of her sister’s vehicle.
Keren failed to arrive at the gathering and her sister assumed she must have decided to go home.
That night, Keren’s car was located on Parkes Way with no petrol in the tank.
Now a major road, Parkes Way in the 1970s passed through areas of rugged country in the then undeveloped outskirts of the nation’s capital.
Around this time, it was later alleged, Milat was said to have boasted to work mates he had killed a man and buried the body in the bush.
On May 13, Keren’s father Geoffrey received the phone call he had been dreading.
His daughter’s remains had been found 15 metres off a track near the National Air Disaster Memorial, located at the site of a major 1940 plane crash.
The site in the Fairburn Pine Plantation east of Canberra is 10km from where Ms Rowland appeared to have run out of petrol.
A trail of clothing led from the track to the site where Ms Rowland’s body lay.
She was lying on her back with her legs straight out and her arms encircling her head.
Her clothing had been pulled down, indicating sexual assault.
A beer bottle was nearby on the ground.
Due to the level of decomposition, Keren’s cause of death was not established.
But Clive Small, the commander of the Task Force Air which locked up Milat for the backpacker murders, believed she was possibly his victim.
At the time of Keren’s murder, Ivan was 26 years old.
PETER LETCHER, November 13, 1987
Unemployed sawmiller Peter Letcher was flat broke in November 1987 when he decided to travel to Sydney and propose to 15-year-old Leeann Caldwell.
She was his former girlfriend, but she had written him a letter saying she loved him and “we have a lot to talk about”.
After losing his job at a timber mill in 1985, he lost touch with his family and became somewhat of a lost soul for two years.
During that time he had lived with Leeann’s family in Bathurst, before they moved to Sydney.
He turned up at the Caldwell family home in the southwestern Sydney suburb of Busby with no money, having spent it on debts and a train ticket.
He stayed a week, borrowing funds, and then left, planning to swim in the public pool at Liverpool on the way and take a train back home to Bathurst.
He never made it, and it was unclear until later that he decided to hitchhike for the journey home to save money.
At the time, Ivan Milat was working on the Jenolan Caves Road.
Just over two months later, on January 21, 1988, two bushwalkers came across Mr Letcher’s remains.
They were 15m off a forest trail in a clear-felled section of forest, about 20km from the Jenolan Caves.
The body was lying face down in a shallow ditch, covered in branches and leaf litter.
Letcher was wearing only jeans, football socks and running shoes. Nearby lay his shirt and jumper, riddled with bullet holes, and an empty whisky bottle.
His body was badly decomposed; only after forensic tests would police discover the bullet wounds to his head.
Investigating detectives will later conclude Mr Letcher was bound and blindfolded, stabbed multiple times in the back and shot five times in the head with a .22 calibre weapon.
Initially, the murder was linked to a assassination-style drug death.
Ballistics would later suggest the rounds fired into Peter’s head were from the same model Ruger rifle used in two backpackers murders, of Caroline Clarke and Gabor Neugebauer.
Peter Letchers’s ashes were scattered at the Orange Crematorium.
But, as The Australian reported in May, the NSW Forensic and Analytical Science Service still had some of his remains in storage.
Peter’s father Brian Letcher, planned to inter them at Bathurst cemetery, where Letcher’s late mother, Ann, was laid to rest.
DEBORAH PHYLLIS EVERIST and JAMES HAROLD GIBSON, December 29, 1989
From late 1989, Ivan Milat was working for the NSW Department of Main Roads, on both ends of the Mittagong bypass in the Southern Highlands.
The Belanglo Forest is about 20km away.
On December 30, 1989, Deborah Everist and James Gibson, both 19, and from the Melbourne suburb of Frankston, decide to attend a festival at Albury.
Ms Everist, a student, had never travelled away before and told her mother she would happily stay at home.
Her father had been ill and she loved the comforts of the family house.
“Debs had never hitchhiked before,” Patricia later told Nine Newspapers.
Patricia Everist convinced her daughter to go.
“The worst mistake I have ever made in my life.”
Deborah said, “James has asked me to go to Confest, but I don’t think I’ll bother”, but Patricia replied, “Go and have a break. It will do you good.”.
“I wish I had never said those words,” Mrs Everist said, years later.
The young couple travelled from Melbourne to Sydney to meet up with people they would then go with on to Albury.
But when they arrived, the friends had already left for the festival.
Deborah phoned her mother, who told her not to bother sending a postcard because she’d be home in two days.
A day later, a bushwalker found a Ricoh camera by the road at Galston Gorge, in northern Sydney, and took it home.
Nine weeks later along the same road, on March 13, 1990, motorist Wendy Dellsperger found a backpack.
The name on the outside had been cut off, but inside was written the name Gibson and a phone number.
She reported it to police, who were unconcerned, so Ms Dellsperger rang James’ mother Peggy.
The find was reported in the press which prompted the man who found the Ricoh camera to tell the police.
The camera was identified as belonging to James, but police find nothing in the gorge to give any clue to his and Deborah’s whereabouts.
More than three years later, on October 5, 1993, Deborah and James would become the third and fourth Belanglo victims found in the forest.
Mr Gibson was found in a foetal position, with eight stab wounds including one which would have severed his upper spine causing paralysis.
He had also been stabbed in his heart, liver and lungs.
Ms Everist had been savagely beaten with her skull fractured twice, jaw broken and stabbed once in the back.
Sixteen days earlier, two orienteering competitors had found the bodies of Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke, the first to be found and the last to have gone missing.
SIMONE LORETTA SCHMIDL, January 20, 1991.
Simone Schmidl’s parents Erwine and Herbert were worried about their daughter travelling to the other side of the world, but she brushed it away, saying she’d done it before.
When Herbert farewelled her at Regensburg train station in Bavaria, the 21-year-old tells him: “Dad, Take care, I’ll be home safely. I’ve been around the world, and nothing has ever happened to me … I’ll be back home in six months.”
In Australia, Simone stayed with an Australian woman she had met while travelling.
On January 20, 1991, she set off excitedly to travel to Melbourne where she was meeting her mother Erwine for a six week camping holiday together.
Simone’s friend Janette Müller warned her not to hitchhike, because although she had done so beforehand, this time she would be travelling alone.
Simone laughed off the advice, producing a tourist book which declared it safe to do so because Australians were friendly.
With her distinctively large, round glasses and dreadlocks hair tied up in a scarf, she was last seen at a train station preparing to leave for western Sydney where she could get a ride south on the Hume Highway.
She had plenty of time.
When Mrs Schmidl arrived in Melbourne from Germany five days later, her daughter was not at the airport as planned.
She stayed in Australia for six weeks hoping Simone would show up, then returned to Regensburg, heartbroken and devastated.
It would be almost three years, on November 1, 1993, that Simone’s body was found in the Belanglo Forest, the fifth victim to be located.
On November 3, 1993, they heard via a media report that Simone was the latest of several young murder victims discovered in a forest graveyard.
But the Schmidls had already accepted that she was never coming home.
Forensic examiners found she had been stabbed at least eight times.
Two blows had severed her spine and others punctured her heart and lungs.
Clothing found at the scene was not Ms Schmidl’s, but would later be identified as matching that worn by another German backpacker vanished almost a year after Simone, Anja Habschied.
DIANNE PENNACCHIO, September 6, 1991
Dianne Pennacchio was a 30-year-old, warm-hearted mother of a toddler who was dedicated to caring for her son and husband.
On September 6, 1991, a Friday, Dianne’s husband Carmen had agreed to look after Jack and give his wife “a break, a night off” with friends and family.
The then Queanbeyan meatworker, Carmen appreciated that Dianne cared full-time for two-and-a-half-year-old Jack and wished her a happy night as she headed out.
The couple had met when Carmen, who had emigrated as a boy from Italy, worked in a butcher’s shop. he first saw Dianne in the tavern where she worked part-time and “we just hit it off”.
Dianne rang her husband from Queanbeyan’s Kangaroo Club and told him she was going to the Lake George Hotel in nearby Bungendore, which was run by her brother.
When she got there, she rang her husband to say she had arrived and would be home later.
Friends last saw Dianne leaving the hotel for home.
Carmen said if Dianne had hitchhiked, it would have been for the first time, but “if someone walked up and needed a hand, she wouldn’t think twice”.
The next morning, Carmen tried to ring Dianne’s brother, expecting she had stayed at his place. The he rang police.
Dianne was listed as a missing person, but Carmen knew she would have never just left.
“Her son was her life and mine too,” he said. “It was out of character … I was out of my mind.”
Weeks stretched to months, and then on November 13, 1991, a pair of forestry workers entered the Tallaganda State Forest south of Bungendore.
Around 200m off a track, they found the body of a woman lying face down next to a fallen tree trunk, covered in pine branches.
Dianne Pennacchio had been stabbed in a vertebrae, around the middle of the back.
The arrangement of the clothing suggested she had been sexually assaulted.
A beer bottle and can were at the scene. Dianne’s gold chain, her earrings and car keys were missing.
Carmen received the news about his wife’s horrific fate with grief and sorrow.
He would not tell Jack anything for years, but the discovery of Dianne’s body meant, no matter the awful reality, father and son could get on with their lives.
Carmen buried his wife and eventually moved in with Jack to live at his parents’ place. In September 1992, media blared the news that the bodies of two British women had been found in the Belanglo forest, 140km south of Sydney.
As more bodies were found, some killed in the same manner in which his wife had been, Carmen would eventually hear the name Ivan Milat.
He later learnt of the possibility of his wife being a victim of Milat’s.
Dianne had been picked up while hitchhiking, stabbed in the vertebrae and her body dumped in a forest near a track.
Some personal items had been removed, she was probably sexually assaulted and a bottle of beer was close to the crime scene.
And just as Task Force Air found Milat had days off from work when he picked up the Belanglo victims, on the day Dianne vanished Milat worked until 2.30pm.
GABOR KURT NEUGEBAUER and ANJA HABSCHIED, December 26, 1991
Gabor, 21, and Anja, 20, had been travelling the world together through South-East Asia and Australia, but in late 1991 had been heading home to Germany.
Gabor, a strapping tall and well-built young man, had been getting an uneasy feeling and was keen to leave.
They left Sydney on Boxing Day, 1991.
The couple was supposed to be making the 4000km trek to Darwin before returning to Munich a month later.
They never got on the plane.
On November 4, 1993, police were searching the Belanglo Forest just days after finding the remains of Simone Schmidl.
Lying under a light layer of forest brush, they found the remains of Gabor and nearby those of Anja.
Gabor had been shot six times in back of head, and possibly strangled.
Ms Habschied had been decapitated and despite further searches of the forest, her head was never found.
CAROLINE JANE CLARKE and JOANNE LESLEY WALTERS, April 24, 1992
Caroline Clarke, 21, from Derbyshire, England, and Joanne Walters, 22, from Maesteg in Wales, met at a backpackers’ hostel in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
The newly minted friends shared a flat and hitchhiked together a number of times out of Sydney to other parts of Australia.
On April 18, 1992 they left Kings Cross, after voicing vague plans to head south towards Victoria, and then perhaps off to Perth in Western Australia.
On 19 September 1992, two orienteering runners in the Belanglo State Forest discovered a concealed corpse.
It would later be identified as that of Joanne Walters.
She had been gagged, sexually assaulted and had 14 stab wounds, four in the chest, one in the neck and nine in the back, including cutting through her spinal cord to paralyse her.
The following morning, police discovered a second body, 30m from the first.
It would be confirmed via dental records to be that of Caroline Clarke.
Ms Clarke had been shot ten times in the head at the burial site, and police believe she had been used as target practice.
Police reinforcements were brought in to search other parts of the forest, but nothing was found and the existence of more bodies was ruled out.
The police would discover that had been an error.
As Ivan Milat’s life drew to a close last week, the father of Caroline Clarke, 21, said he and his wife Jacqueline has been thankful to be able to bury their daughter.
“It was in its way a form of closure, that we’d found her and we were able to lay her to rest properly,” he told Nine Newspapers.
But at the same time, he felt “desperately sorry” for families of Milat’s victims whose bodies were never found.
The letter Milat left for his family with instructions on how he wanted his death to be handled, is believed to have now been opened.
“Mac has made his request of us to follow in a letter. We will sit quietly to read it shortly,” his sister-in-law Carol told Nine Newspapers on Sunday.
Milat was convicted in 1996 of all seven backpacker murders, but continued to claim his innocence and refused to reveal to detectives any details of the other murders they believe he committed.
Originally published as Milat’s ’nice’ farewell he denied victims