Ivan Milat, the road worker accused of killing two British women and five other young hitch-hikers in the backpacker murder case, killed for "psychological gratification", the jury heard as his trial opened yesterday.
The description came from Mark Tedeschi QC, as he outlined the prosecution case in the crowded Supreme Court in Sydney at the start of what is expected to be a six-month trial. Mr Milat, 51, has pleaded not guilty to seven charges of murdering the British women, Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, both 22; two Australian teenagers; and three Germans in their early twenties who all disappeared while hitch-hiking south of Sydney between December 1989 and April 1992.
Their decomposed bodies were found in the Belanglo State Forest near the Hume Highway, the main road linking Sydney and Melbourne. Ms Walters had been stabbed 14 times and Ms Clarke had been shot 10 times in the head. Most of the other backpackers had been stabbed, and one of the Germans had been shot.
Mr Tedeschi said that the prosecution was unable to state for certain whether Mr Milat was the sole perpetrator of the backpacker murders. "Either the accused acted alone or with others, but either way the accused would be held legally responsible."
He also gave the most concrete description so far of Mr Milat's alleged motives when he outlined the evidence of Paul Onions, a British engineer who is expected to be a star witness. In January 1990, Mr Onions, then 24, began hitch-hiking along the Hume Highway towards Melbourne. The prosecution alleges that he accepted a lift from Mr Milat, and that Mr Milat then tried to rob and murder him near the turn-off to the Belanglo forest. Mr Onions allegedly escaped, fled down the highway towards oncoming cars and jumped into a van whose driver took him to a police station. Mr Milat has pleaded not guilty to a charge of detaining Mr Onions "for advantage".
Towards the end of a lengthy, and sometimes grisly, description of the last known sightings of all seven victims, and of how their bodies were discovered, Mr Tedeschi said: "The post-mortem evidence was that these were killings for killing's sake. The backpackers were killed with more ferocious force than was needed for killing. They were disposed of in a way which ensured their speedy disintegration."
After Mr Onions returned to Britain reports of the disappearances of the backpackers prompted him to contact the New South Wales police with his own story. He went back to Australia in 1994, before Mr Milat's arrest, where he showed police the spot on the highway where he was picked up and looked at police video images of 13 people. "He picked out the image of the accused as the person who attempted to abduct him in 1990," Mr Tedeschi said.
After Milat's arrest in May 1994, police searched his house and those of two of his brothers in Sydney's south-western suburbs. Mr Tedeschi told the jury that they found a bolt, trigger mechanism, spring and two magazines from a Ruger rifle in a wall cavity at Ivan Milat's house. The bolt, ballistic experts said, was the same one that fired the 10 cartridge cases found near Caroline Clarke's body.
The trial continues.