Avant garde art & food critic extraordinaire
Lastly, not only is this an extremely unusual set of murders they are also some of Australia's most famous and as such deserve a more detailed account.
I don't claim that this account is complete or well written, it is, nonetheless, more informative than the post already up.
I'm sorry there are no pictures at this point in time and shall probably rectify this.
In January 1999, Jodie Elliott was admitted to an Adelaide psychiatric ward suffering a nervous breakdown. Elliott, who had low intelligence and lived in the city's grim northern suburbs, was besotted with John Bunting, a man in his early 30s.
Elliott spent her days rocking back and forth, cradling a porcelain doll she had named "Jodie Bunting". She said she was engaged to marry Bunting and he was out organising a special Valentine's Day tea. By then, Bunting had killed her sister and her son.
Behind her back Bunting called her "the village idiot" but strung her along so she would help him steal money from the bank account of another victim by impersonating her to claim Centrelink benefits. In what is known as the Snowtown murders, also, the bodies in barrels case, lines between victim and player blurred.
Bunting, 37, was convicted of one of Australia's worst serial killings. His toll was four more than that of Ivan Milat, who shot seven backpackers in NSW in the early 1990s, and worse than in South Australia's Truro murders, where seven young women were hunted down and killed.
After 11 months of sometimes shocking evidence in South Australia's longest and most complex criminal trial, the jury left the SA Supreme Court taking seven days to return a guilty verdict against two men. The jury found Bunting, a former abattoir worker and possible psychopath, killed 11 people while his accomplice, Robert Wagner, 31, a muscleman whose height and strength lent itself to cutting and killing, murdered seven. Wagner had already pleaded guilty to three murders.
The convictions proved what South Australians first gathered four years ago: that a group of sadistic killers had operated unchecked in their midst for most of the previous decade.
The legal process began with the discovery in May 1999 of the putrefying remains of eight people in six barrels inside the Snowtown bank. (Another four bodies, two buried in Bunting's former backyard, were later linked to the same killers.) For the people of South Australia the focus so far has been on bringing the killers to justice. The South Australian judiciary has never been more active in suppressing material that could later be used by the accused to challenge judicial impartiality. The suppression orders alone reached 228 and included the faces of the accused, the names and occupations of some witnesses and the relationships between them.
All the victims were from the same socially isolated, culturally deprived and often sexually abused group who lived in Adelaide's north.
Police said from the outset that this was a circle that preyed on itself, and the killers did not hunt far from home. One victim, convicted pedophile Barry Lane, stood with the killers on one occasion, helping to bury a body. Later, the killers turned on him.
Each of the victims was known to at least one of the accused, sometimes because they lived nearby or were members of the same family. Four of the victims were living with one or other of the accused at the time they vanished. One man, Marcus Johnson, discovered that his son, David Johnson, was killed by his stepson, James Vlassakis.
The demeanour of some the witnesses showed how vulnerable they were to exploitation. Bunting's former wife, Veronika Tripp, answered questions in court slowly, sometimes petulantly, while hugging a teddy bear. The jury was told she did not have the mental capacity of an ordinary person her age. Tripp, who knew about one of the deaths, was told by Bunting not to tell police. Until he was arrested she never did.
Over the course of the killings it became clear that the primary motive was a mix of power and pleasure. The seven years of slaughter was not primarily about credit card fraud, although $95,000 was stolen from eight victims, or about killing to cover their tracks. It was a circle of power that fed on itself.
Bunting and Wagner bragged openly about killing, and Bunting called it "playing".
Their enjoyment became overt and was ritualised through the use of a song, Selling the Drama from Live's Throwing Copper CD. They played it when a killing began. The lyric included the line And to love: a god / And to fear: a flame. And later, tellingly, Hey, now we won't be raped / Hey, now we won't be scarred like that.
Much of the murderous activity centred on the personality of Bunting. He was driven by hatred, particularly of pedophiles, and grew to relish his work. His first murder, that of a young homosexual, Clinton Trezise, was a relatively simple hit on the head with a blunt instrument, probably a spade or hammer. The body then was buried in a shallow grave.
As the killings continued they became more gruesome and sadistic. There was horrifying evidence of dismemberment, corpse play, the deliberate removal of arms and legs, defleshing and torture. Three of the original 15 jurors dropped out along the way, and some journalists and jurors received counselling.
In his summing up to the jury, Justice Brian Martin said that at one point "Mr Wagner pulled his hands from behind his back and showed a surgical glove containing red flesh drawn tightly over it." As the father of the victim, Marcus Johnson, sat apparently unmoved at the back of the court, Justice Martin said there was a probable attempt to cut off his son's leg.
The most vivid account of the deranged behaviour of Bunting and Wagner, came from James Vlassakis.
Vlassakis, 23, confessed in 2001 to four murders including that of his stepbrother, David Johnson. Johnson was unlucky enough to come to Bunting's attention because his former stepmother, who was also the mother of Vlassakis, had moved in with Bunting.
Vlassakis became a key witness for the Crown and the detail he provided, supported by other evidence, helped put away Bunting and Wagner. Vlassakis, who had degenerated into heroin addiction by the time he helped murder Johnson, was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years and is held in isolation in an unidentified SA prison. There are fears for his life and he has contact only with his prison guards.
This sad and damaged youth wept in court and vomited while confessing to police. He had fallen under the thrall of Bunting, who is physically small but apparently has a powerful, manipulative personality, after his mother, Christine Harvey, moved in with Bunting and took Vlassakis with her. Vlassakis, 14 at the time and a victim of sexual abuse by a neighbour, worshipped him.
Vlassakis had no idea what Bunting had done. Bunting moved into a house in Salisbury North in December 1991 with his then wife, Veronika Tripp. Almost immediately he met a very odd couple, Barry Lane and his then lover, Wagner.
Although Wagner disputed it, he had a homosexual relationship with Lane, whom he later killed. They would call each other "love". Wagner introduced Lane as his fiance, they held hands and talked of getting married, the court heard.
Bunting befriended Wagner and Lane and used information from them to build his infamous "spider wall": a woven web of pink and blue wool on which he stuck notes with the names of suspected pedophiles, and the word "guilty" in the middle.
Vlassakis met Lane and Wagner in early 1994 when he came home from school and found them talking to his mother about the neighbour who was abusing him. Within days, Bunting had ridden into his life on a motorbike, a father figure and hero. He told Vlassakis that he, too, had been abused, and Vlassakis asked him to be his father.
In 1996 Vlassakis heard about the death of the group's second victim, Ray Davies, but he was heavily involved with drugs and did not know what to believe. He moved to Murray Bridge, 80 kilometres north of Adelaide, with a friend, Gavin Porter. In April 1998, after Porter had disappeared, he was taken to a shed and shown Porter's body. A few months later his half-brother, Troy Youde, who had been sexually abusing him, was murdered and Vlassakis was a participant.
Youde, 21, was handcuffed and put in the bath. He was forced to repeat various phrases that the killers recorded and used later in phone calls to give the impression he was still alive. Youde was strangled with a rope wound around a lever. His toes were crushed with pliers.
Another victim, Fred Brooks, 17, was intellectually disabled. Bunting, deemed he should die. By late 1998 the cycle reached crescendo, with murders only weeks apart.
The second-to-last victim, Elizabeth Haydon, was drawn in through her marriage to the fourth killer, Mark Haydon. When she vanished in December 1998 police interest intensified.
Professor Kevin Howells, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of South Australia who worked in the criminal psychiatric ward at Britain's Broadmoor Prison, said Bunting fitted the classic mould of the emotionally deficient psychopathic killer who lacked empathy with his victims and whose controlled behaviour allowed him to avoid police.
The way he forced victims to address him and Wagner as "Master" and "My Lord" revealed the fantasy element of power and dominance that seemed to pervade these killings, Howells said. The cutting of the bodies after death showed sexual sadism, even if this was not overtly expressed, he said.
The rented house where two bodies were dug up has been demolished and at Snowtown the new owner of the former bank has hopes of one day turning it into a bed and breakfast.
But no one suggests the lives of people such as Jodie Elliott or Veronika Tripp - who police say are lucky to be alive - has been much improved by the money spent on the trial.
A combined university and government study of Adelaide's poorest districts, more than half of which were in the north, found poverty, social breakdown, entrenched unemployment and lack of life chances continued unabated and were fuelling new cycles of crime.
The study's author, Dr Helen Cameron of the University of SA, said crimes like Snowtown sometimes happened because people had nothing better to do.
"You don't have any life chances, so crime becomes almost an entertainment," she said.
This is a pretty crap video with overly florid phraseology: