Australia's worst serial killer, Milat was convicted of murdering seven hitch-hikers plucked from the highway stretching from Sydney to Melbourne. Like convicted Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen, Ivan enjoyed hunting down his victims like animals, giving them a head start before stalking them through the New South Wales bush.
Ivan MILAT, 51, a road worker, avid hunter and the son of a Croat immigrant, was a non-smoking teetotaler, whose pleasures in life were a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a penchant for killing strangers. He was arrested in 1994 in his home in the outskirts of Sydney where police found gun parts, ammunition and knives used in the killings, as well as camping equipment said to have belonged to some of the murdered hitch-hikers.
From 1989 to 1992, Milat was known as the "Backpack Murderer". The brutality of his attacks both captivated and horrified the Australian public. Some of the victims were shot, others stabbed, and one was decapitated with a sword found in Ivan's mother's apartment. He then equipped his rifle with a silencer and used the victim's head for "target practice". Of the seven killed, five were European tourists in their 20s lured to Australia by its reputation as a safe haven for budget travelers. The other two victims were teen-agers from the Australian state of Victoria. Two of the dead were young British women whose disappearance led to the grim discovery of Milat's handiwork.
After the discovery of seven bodies, police launched the biggest manhunt in Australian history which eventually led to Milat's arrest. The star witness for the prosecution was another British tourist who escaped from the madman's car to avoid certain death after Milat pulled a gun on him. The kind authorities of New South Wales offered free accommodations and financial assistance to the relatives of the victims who wished to attend the trial.
On July 27, 1996 , after a four-month trial and three and a half days of deliberation, a jury of seven men and four women convicted the former road worker of murdering the seven backpackers. Ivan's lawyer tried to pin the murders on, first, Ivan's brother Richard, then, his other brother, Walter. Although his divisionary tactics were not successful, Justice David Hunt, the judge presiding the over the case, said: "In my view, it is inevitable that the prisoner was not alone in that criminal enterprise". Police said there were more than a dozen young hitchhikers - Australians, Japanese and Europeans - who have disappeared in the same region over the past 15 years.
On May 17, 1997, Milat was placed under guard in Sydney's high security Long Bay prison after calling off a "meticulously planned" breakout attempt he planned with his cellmate, George Savvas, and two other inmates. Through phone taps, intelligence within the jail and deciphering a code used by the prisoners, prison officials uncovered the escape plan that involved overpowering prison guards, scaling a perimeter wall using rope ladders and meeting armed associates outside waiting in cars.
The morning after being interviewed about the escape by prison officials Savvas, 46, was found dead hanging from a bed sheet in his high security cell at Maitland prison. Although prison officials did not detect any suicidal tendencies in Savvas in their last hours with him, they acknowledged the prisoner must have been affected by the failed escape and the prospect of life under even tighter security.
Police are investigating whether friends or family members of Milat helped plan the escape. When members of the Milat family were asked about the escape they said they knew nothing of the plan. "Did he try to escape or is it just the authorities saying that he did?" Milat's brother Walter said. Walter, who had recently visited his brother, said Ivan was distressed by the way his appeal was moving, and angry he had missed out on getting legal aid.