Australia's 'bodies in barrels' trial opens

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When, 18 months ago, police raided a disused bank vault in a country town - Snowtown, 90 miles north of Adelaide, South Australia - they were confronted with a macabre sight: six plastic barrels containing the dismembered remains of eight people who had gone missing in previous years.

When, 18 months ago, police raided a disused bank vault in a country town - Snowtown, 90 miles north of Adelaide, South Australia - they were confronted with a macabre sight: six plastic barrels containing the dismembered remains of eight people who had gone missing in previous years.

Yesterday, committal proceedings began in Australia's worst serial murder case when four men were arraigned in Adelaide, the state capital. John Bunting, 34, Mark Haydon, 42, Robert Wagner, 29, and James Vlassakis, 20, pleaded not guilty to a total of 10 murders; two more bodies were found buried in the back garden of a house in Adelaide's northern suburbs.

The victims, all friends and relatives of the foursome, were allegedly murdered for social security benefits. After the deaths, the defendants are said to have impersonated them and used their cashcards to draw money from their banks.

The case eclipses that of Ivan Milat, who killed seven backpackers, including two Britons, between 1989 and 1992.

Adelaide magistrates' court was given graphic evidence of the manner in which the eight men and two women died. Several were dismembered. The committal is expected to last several months; any trial could take much longer.

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