Ivan Milat, Australia’s most infamous serial killer, dies

Ivan Milat

Ivan Milat, Australia's most notorious serial killer, who brutally murdered seven young backpackers, has died in a Sydney prison. He was 74.

He had been in custody since 1994 and was diagnosed with terminal esophageal and stomach cancer in May. He died still claiming innocence while being linked to a number of other missing person cases.

Milat was serving seven life sentences for the grisly murder of three German, two British and two Australian backpackers he picked up between 1989 and 1992 as they travelled south of Sydney on the Hume Highway.

Their bodies were eventually found in the Belanglo State Forest southwest of Sydney over 14 months in 1992 and 1993. Two of the victims had been shot in the head and others stabbed and their bodies mutilated. Many of the victims showed signs of sexual assault.

The victims were Deborah Everist and James Gibson, both 19, from Australia, Simone Schmidl, 21, Anja Habschied, 20, and Gabor Neugebauer, 21, from Germany, and Caroline Clarke, 21, and Joanne Walters, 22, from Britain.

The case sent shockwaves through Australia as police established task force to find the killer and issued a $500,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. The widespread media coverage led to a British man named Paul Onions contacting police.

He had been backpacking in Australia in 1990 when he was picked up by a man named "Bill." He described to police how Bill stopped the car and pulled out a gun near Belanglo State Forest.

Onions was able to escape as Milat shot at him and was rescued by a passing car and taken to a police station. The police failed to properly follow up the incident.

Onions' information ultimately allowed police to identify Milat from a list of suspects and he was arrested on May 22, 1994 after two months of surveillance.

In his home, police found guns matching the crime, a knife and belongings of the backpackers.

When his trial ended in 1996, Milat was found guilty of seven murders and sentenced to serve seven consecutive life sentences. He was also convicted of a number of charges including the attempted murder of Onions.

Milat always maintained his innocence and while in prison sought to appeal his conviction. In 2009, he cut off his little finger with a plastic knife with the intention of sending it to the high court in a bid to get an appeal. Previously, in 2001 he swallowed razor blades, ball-bearings and paper staples.

Investigators believed Milat may have been responsible for other unsolved missing person cases, including that of three women in the Newcastle area in the late 1970s. He had worked for the Roads and Traffic Authority for nearly 20 years.

Milat was one of 14 children of a Croatian father and Australian mother.

From an early age he had encounters with the law for various theft and robbery offences.

In 1971, he was accused of abducting two 18-year-old female hitchhikers and raping one of them. Both the women escaped and a case was brought against Milat, but he was miraculously acquitted.

He was briefly married in the 1980s but divorced over domestic violence.