Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ivan Milat: The Last Ride

How Many More?

Twenty-six days had passed since Deborah Everists body had been found in the forest. The searchers were tired. They had covered most of the allotted search area and were now entering the final gridded section three miles east of the last grave. Confidence was running high to the point that the police public relations section were already compiling a press release expressing the opinion that no further bodies would be found in Belangalo Forest.

The search team leader, Sergeant Jeff Trichter, led the searchers into a small clearing.  A pair of pink womens jeans and a length of blue and yellow rope lay in plain view.  Next to them was an empty .22 bullet packet. The find was not unusual as a lot of strange items had been found that were seemingly unrelated. Moving deeper into the clearing they found more articles. Empty drink cans riddled with bullet holes, a length of wire bent into loops, cartridge cases and empty bottles. At the edge of the clearing, Sergeant Trichter saw something that fired warning signals into his brain. A primitive fireplace.

Knowing that the final part of the search was going to be intensive, Trichter decided to give his men a lunch break and spend the rest of the day in the area. No sooner had they resumed when one of the men called find.

The line stopped and Trichter walked to the edge of the rocky outcrop where Senior Constable Rullis stood with his arm raised. It was a bone and it looked human. Ten feet further on at the base of a pile of timber lay a skull. The sight was marked and the crime scene squad was summoned by radio.

Beyond the timber lay the, now familiar, pile of sticks and brush. Protruding from one end of it was a large bone inside a brown leather hiking boot. Searchers spread out and scoured the area around the grave but no further remains were found. John Goldie, the senior crime scene investigator, identified the remains as female. She appeared to be alone.

Simone Schmidl, victim
Simone Schmidl, victim

A distinctive purple headband was found on the skull. That and the clothing found near the body, after comparisons with missing persons reports, indicated that the skeleton was all that remained of missing German girl, Simone Schmidl. The other items mentioned in the report, a large backpack and other camping equipment, were not found. Dr Chris Griffiths, the forensic odontologist, was summoned to the scene and shortly after he arrived with his file of dental charts, the body was officially identified as Simone.

This young adventurous girl who her family and friends had called "Simi," had been last seen on January 20th, 1991, in Liverpool, west of Sydney, hitch-hiking south. The confident and seasoned traveler who had seen much of the world ended her days in a lonely forest thousands of miles away from the safety and security of her home.

In Germany, Simones parents heard the news in the worst possible way -- on the radio. They contacted German police for confirmation and, even though Australian authorities had advised them of the discovery, the German police department did not confirm the identification until more than two weeks after Simones remains had been flown home and buried.

The original press release was aborted and another sent out in its place.

It basically said that police now believed that there were more bodies in the forest. Speculation was rife that the next bodies found would be those of the two Germans, who were still unaccounted for.

Anja Habschied, victim
Anja Habschied, victim

Simones body was found still partially dressed with her shirt and underclothing pushed up around the neck. A pair of green shorts hung on the pelvis with the cord ties undone. Several items of jewelry and two coins were found next to the body. The pink jeans were not Simones, but matched the description of a pair worn by another German girl, Anja Habschied. She and her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer, had been missing since December 1991.

Two days later, as the search continued, the remains were transported to Sydney for the post mortem. Dr. Bradhurst examined the almost complete skeleton. He had no doubt that it was the work of the same killer.

There was no injury to the skull. The chest and back showed numerous stab wounds to the left and right sides, front and back, including the "tell-tale" knife thrusts to the spinal area, which had severed the spinal column completely. No sooner had he completed his grisly task than he was summoned back to the forest. The message was simple, "Weve found two more."

Dr. Bradhurst and Dr. Griffiths were conveyed to the scene by police helicopter and taken to the site of the new graves which lay 150 feet apart at the very edge of the prescribed search area denoted on the map as "Area A."

Gabor Neugebauer, victim
Gabor Neugebauer, victim

Dr. Griffiths had in his possession the dental charts for the boy, Gabor. The charts for his companion, Anja, had not arrived from Germany. Gabors remains were under a pile of brush partially covered by a large log. It took several burly police officers to lift it away from the grave.

Dr. Griffiths confirmed Gabors identity. His skeleton was complete with the remains of decayed clothing evident, including a pair of jeans with the zip opened and the top button fastened. The second body, although not officially confirmed as Anjas, was that of a young female. The upper clothing was bunched up around the shoulders and no lower clothing was found on or near the body. The pink jeans had been found some distance away. The female skeleton had one striking feature, the head and the first two vertebrae were missing. No other wounds were evident.

On closer examination Dr. Bradhurst deduced that the head had been severed from the body cleanly by a sharp instrument, possibly a machete or sword. The angle of the cut indicated that the victim had probably been in a kneeling position with her head down when the cut was made. It showed all the signs of some form of "ritual" decapitation.

The Task Force Commander, Clive Small, gave a short media interview near the gravesites. He told reporters that following the discovery of the new bodies that they were now looking for a "serial killer." It came as no surprise. The media had been reporting that opinion since the investigation began.

Back at the morgue, Dr. Bradhurst examined Gabors remains. The mouth contained two gags. One that had been tied across the mouth using a "reef" knot. The other had been placed in the mouth prior to the other being tied. Even though Bradhurst had performed all of the autopsies, he still retained the details of them all in his mind. One thing that didnt escape his attention was the fact that this gag was tied with a different knot. The last gag used, the one on Joanne Walters body, had been tied in a simple overhand, or "granny" knot.

The size of the cloth in the mouth cavity made strangulation very likely. Supportive to this theory was the fractured hyoid bone in the throat, which is usually an indication of manual strangulation. The jaw was fractured in several places. The skull showed six bullet entry wounds, three from the left rear and the others from the lower rear. One exit wound was found on the right side. Gerald Dutton the ballistics investigator on the case, was present when the examination of the skull took place. Four bullets were recovered from inside the skull. A fifth bullet was recovered from the bones of the upper body.

Dutton had found no fired cases near the body and the angle and alignment of the entry wounds versus the exit wounds indicated that seven bullets had been fired into the skull. When found, the skull had been laying on its side but, after searching the soil under the grave, no spent bullets were recovered. Gabor had not been killed at the gravesite. Later, several fired bullets and empty cartridge packets would be found near the new graves. Over ninety fired cases were found scattered around the area. After examination under a comparison microscope, the cases and bullets were positively identified as the same as those found at the Walters site.

The ballistic evidence showed conclusively that the same weapon that murdered Joanne Walters had been used only 200 feet from Anja and Gabors remains. Dr. Bradhurst completed the examination of Anjas skeleton and found no other evidence of additional wounds.

Most horrifying was the fact that the seven had died in various ways. They had been either beaten, strangled, shot, stabbed and decapitated and almost certainly sexually molested in some way, male and female alike. Given the extent of the injuries and the various methods used to inflict them, the investigation team deduced that the killer, or killers spent more time with each victim as the crimes progressed. This fact indicated that, apart from being cruel and sadistic, the perpetrator was a calculating and confident individual.

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