Convicted backpacker murderer Ivan Milat.
Convicted backpacker murderer Ivan Milat.

Milat’s brother unwittingly exposed him

IN1992, Ivan Milat's brother Alex went to Bowral police station with a horrifying claim. What he told police would start the manhunt that led to his own brother's arrest and conviction as Australia's worst serial killer.

But Alex was just trying to be a good citizen.

Alex Milat claimed he and a friend from the rifle range had seen two vehicles entering the Belanglo State Forest, containing roughly seven men, and two women who were bound, gagged and frightened. He believed the two women he saw could have been Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, two British backpackers who disappeared from Kings Cross around the same time he saw them.

Upon the discovery in September that year of the bodies of Clarke and Walters in the forest, Milat's statement was looked at more seriously. The level of detail he provided was truly amazing, details that had previously led police to dismiss it as fanciful, considering he was in a moving vehicle, as were they.

"I saw that the male passenger in the rear seat, next to the female, appeared to be aged in his mid-20s, a caucasian, fair complexion with brownish colour hair which was neatly groomed and cut to the ears and neatly trimmed around the sides to the rear," the statement read. "He was clean shaven and appeared to be well dressed.

"From memory he was wearing an off-white colour, collar-style, long sleeve shirt. As I became closer and almost level to this person, he raised his left hand and placed it beside his face so it blocked my view of him. At this time, I noticed his hands were not rough as if he was an office worker as opposed to a labourer and his hands were clean."

 

Ivan Milat at the home of brother Alex.
Ivan Milat at the home of brother Alex.

 

Ivan Milat had police attention drawn to him, inadvertently, by his brother three times.
Ivan Milat had police attention drawn to him, inadvertently, by his brother three times.

 

He claimed to have written the number plate on a piece of cardboard, but had since misplaced it, yet was able to recall it was ALD 537 or ALO or DAL or ACL. Later, at the behest of detectives, hypnotists would unsuccessfully attempt to coax further details of the plates from his subconscious.

"At the time I was of the opinion that it was just some young blokes taking some girls into the forest to have a good time and I didn't give much thought to it being anything more than that," Milat explained of his initial delay in reporting the sighting.

"I didn't wish to get involved, so I didn't contact the police and inform them what I had seen. From my knowledge and experiences in that area I am aware of countless times when young men and women are observed driving around the forest looking like they're lost or looking for somewhere they can have a good time and I didn't think that this instant was any different."

He claimed to have seen the same model of Falcon in the area twice before, once with five men, four of whom had a rifle. His recall for the makes of rifle they carried was, again, startling given the vehicle was passing. Then again, he was an expert on firearms, with the entire Milat clan being keen shooters who all started using guns in their youth.

Head of the Bowral detective office Detective Sergeant Kevin Hammond was suspicious of the level of detail in the statement, telling Clive Small, who headed up the task force that was hunting the killer, that he believed Alex Milat was "putting up a smokescreen". At any rate, the story was not believed, as the abnormal level of detail he provided didn't match his hesitation in going to police with this information. What this suspicious report did, however, was to focus attention on the Milat family.

 

Ivan Milat and his seven victims. Picture: Rick Rycroft/AAP
Ivan Milat and his seven victims. Picture: Rick Rycroft/AAP

 

At first they were just focused on a family in general, as a serial killer profiler had suggested the murders were likely the work of more than one killer. As the Milat family name kept coming up, more pieces began to fit.

Each Milat brother's whereabouts on the various days the backpackers disappeared was checked - only Ivan didn't have a solid alibi for any of the occasions. He sold a Nissan four-wheel drive shortly after the first bodies were found, but in his haste left a bullet for a .22 under the front seat. He also lived near the forest.

A Four Corners report on the search for the murderer inadvertently gave away a major clue, almost blowing the investigation. An interview with Mr Small, filmed in his office, accidentally showed a whiteboard in the background that contained the word "Milat". Up until this point, Ivan Milat was a chief suspect, but police didn't have enough on him for a search warrant. They were, however, tracking his movements and tapping his telephone.

If Ivan Milat was to find out he was under such surveillance, the consequences would be dire - he could simply disappear into thin air, or begin to act in the unnatural way one does when they are certain they are being monitored.

Neither ABC nor Mr Small was aware of the clue that went out to a national audience, until the police received a panicked call from Alex Milat. He had watched the program, having an obvious vested interest, and was shocked to read his own name on the board.

Convinced the word "Milat" referred to his police statement made earlier, he now felt in danger of being branded a snitch and feared for his life. The ABC quickly removed the offending scene from any further broadcasts, and Ivan was none the wiser he was a major suspect. Small and his team had dodged a major bullet, and Alex had helped them continue to monitor his brother.

 

Alex Milat said he wished he had discarded his family name.
Alex Milat said he wished he had discarded his family name.

 

Ivan Milat was eventually convicted of the murders.
Ivan Milat was eventually convicted of the murders.

 

As the case against Ivan continued to mount, Alex Milat was questioned again, and his wife mentioned a backpack Ivan had given them as a gift. Shocked, the investigators found the pack belonged to Simone Schmidl, one of the murder victims. This was the third time Alex had, inadvertently or not, put Ivan in the crosshairs.

This discovery was all police needed to get a search warrant. In the morning of May 22, 1992, police stormed Milat's home, as well as the properties of five of his brothers and his mother, and secured enough evidence to put him away for life.

On June 6, 2017, Alex Milat's lifeless body was found on the footpath outside Palmwood Post Office, where he lived. Blood was pooling around his head, and it appeared he had been lying there for a while.

The 76-year-old had died of a heart attack

Two years earlier, the Sunshine Coast Daily, his local paper had asked him whether he regretted keeping the Milat name after his brother's convicted. "I do , I f**king do," he said.

"The first day I should've changed my name, it would definitely have been a better life. It'd amaze you the problems I've had with having this name."

He was convinced of his brother's innocence, claiming his guilty verdict was "more than likely for political reasons". Just two weeks before his death, he had agreed to provide new evidence to his nephew, who is campaigning to clear Ivan's name, but took those secrets to his grave.

"I don't even worry about it," he told the paper in 2015, somewhat unconvincingly. "I just try to live my life and enjoy it."


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