Sitting alone in his cell at Goulburn's Supermax prison, Ivan Milat is serving seven consecutive life sentences for the abduction and brutal murders of seven backpackers whose bodies were found in the Belanglo State Forest between 1989 and 1993.
He was convicted in 1996 and has been in prison ever since, but there are some people who still believe Milat is innocent. One woman claims the father of her two children— the now deceased German-born Wynn Kaaspercheck—was really the one responsible for the crimes and has spoken of her support for Milat to have a retrial.
"I didn't come up with the idea in the first place," she reveals, "I found out [my] children were assaulted by their father. They went to counselling and [once] back home started to say things about him picking up women while he was dressed as a woman in the car."
The Wollongong mum—who can't be identified in order to protect her children—explains that after reporting the assaults to the police, her children opened up to their separate counsellors about more sinister crimes they claim they had witnessed their father committing. “He would pick up hitchhikers—take them somewhere for dinner and be nice to them and then he would take them to a forest somewhere—and he would murder them," she says. "They were actually able to describe what the women looked like and some of them had backpacks that were distinctive and they were able to describe those, and jewellery that they were wearing."
The details her children recalled were horrific—including claims that there were several other people present when the killings took place. The young children recounted “five or six [murders] but probably more—they told dreadful stories.”
What the children were saying they saw—including that they were able to help bury bodies—sounded eerily familiar to their counsellors. "At that time, police had discovered bodies at Belanglo State Forest and it was all in the newspapers that they were looking for a serial killer,” the woman tells WHO. “The manager of Centacare said to me that she believed that Wynn Kaaspercheck was the serial killer they were looking for based on what the children had said.”
The claim was shocking, but in Kaaspercheck’s ex-partner’s eyes, not impossible. He had a violent history, which resulted in the end of their 18-month relationship. “As the months went by he got more and more violent and ended up putting his hands around my neck and trying to choke me a few times,” she claims, “that’s a sign that [someone is] capable of murder.”
She picked up her children, by then aged 5 and 6, from school and took them straight to the police station. “I wasn’t showing them horror movies, there's no way they could've even known about murder," she tells WHO, "they both said separately that they were forced to participate in mutilating the victims—the counsellors were very convinced it was true."
The woman claims police interviewed her children about what they'd seen. "After my daughter was interviewed, one of the policewomen came out into the waiting room and vomited,” she reveals, “She said, ‘I’m sorry I just couldn’t handle what she said, it was so shocking.’ ”
During the investigation, police then allegedly “tested some fluid in the back of the car [Kaaspercheck] had used, and they said it was human blood.”
On May 22, 1994, Kaaspercheck was arrested—but not for the killings his children had witnessed. “I was completely shocked because the police—especially [Detective Sergeant] Gae Crea, who was in charge of our investigation—had told me that Wynn was the chief suspect in the backpacker murders and they would probably be arresting him soon,” she claims, “But instead, they arrested this person I’d never heard of [Ivan Milat, 49] on the exact same day.”
Milat was arrested on firearms charges and charged with the murders on May 30. As for the investigation into Kaaspercheck’s potential involvement in the Belanglo murders, the woman claims the police never followed up. “It didn’t fit their theory as far as framing Ivan Milat—so they left him right out of it,” she says, “I think they couldn’t link him and Ivan in any way or try to prove that he or Ivan was an accessory.”
Following a 15-week trial, on July 27, 1996, a jury found Milat guilty of murdering seven backpackers—British friends Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, German couple Gabor Neugebauer and Anja Habschied, German traveller Simone Schmidl and Victorian couple Deborah Everist and James Gibson— between 1989 and 1993.
Milat had been identified by British backpacker Paul Onions, who reported to police that he had escaped Milat after accepting a ride from him on Jan. 25, 1990.
Despite this, Milat has maintained his innocence to this day and has a fan page dedicated to trying to prove
someone else was responsible. His nephew, Alistair Shipsey, runs the currently banned pro-Milat Facebook page called “The Milat Letters” and regularly tries to challenge the police evidence. “I have proof of a Kombi that was connected to the backpack murders,” Shipsey tells WHO. “It was found full of human blood and they never had it in Ivan’s trial.”
Shipsey has been pushing for his uncle’s case to be reopened, even though Milat’s appeals to the High Court and Supreme Court have both been rejected.
Kaaspercheck’s ex-partner adds, “I’ve been associated with justice action for a long time and I’m very concerned about the number of people who I think have been wrongfully convicted, particularly by the prosecutor that did Ivan’s case—Mark Tedeschi."
She maintains that after all these years, she believes Kaaspercheck was the one who committed the crimes that Milat is serving seven life sentences for, saying, "I've spoken to Ivan about it and been down to see him a couple of times because I really wanted to be sure if he genuinely did it, or if he was innocent.”
But in 2014, Kaaspercheck suffered a stroke in his home and died—never having to pay for the alleged trauma he inflicted on his children and potential numerous other victims. “My kids have had a lot of problems—they had years and years of counselling,” the woman says. “My son gets occasional flashbacks but doesn’t want to talk about it— my daughter knows that her father murdered people and that she had to watch but she doesn’t remember the details anymore.”
Gae Crea worked on the task force that convicted Milat of the murders and spoke to WHO about the woman’s claims. “Anything she’s saying is not correct,” Crea says. “We’ve got, like, 400 pieces of physical evidence against Milat, so to even remotely think that anyone else has possibly done it is just craziness.”
In July, forensic evidence confirmed that Milat, 73, did not have an accomplice in his crimes and that he acted alone. Former detective Clive Small told True Crime Australia, “There are no longer any outstanding matters in this case.”
But Shipsey refuted these findings, saying, “They went on at [Milat’s] trial for days about the group. They said there was no way Ivan could have done it on his own.”
Kaaspercheck’s ex-partner maintains he was part of that ‘group’. “He would take my children to a forest and he would murder [the backpackers] and there were other people present at the same time when these murders happened,” she claims. “They described how horrified they looked and how frightened their eyes were when they died—when they were stabbed and shot.”