Detective McCoy recalls: "The stench was unbearable. It was the stench of what I would say was rotting flesh, rotting bodies, human bodies. It was putrid. It permeated your hair, your clothing, everything you had on the stench got into. It was horrific." Detective McCoy had discovered the dismembered limbs and body parts of six people, each carefully placed into a black plastic barrel.
The story of Australia's worst serial killings revolves around John Justin Bunting, aged 37. A small, unassuming looking man who wears glasses, his exterior belies a man of revenge, determination and hatred. On Tuesday, 9th August 2003 Bunting was found guilty at the Supreme Court of South Australia of 11 murders. Along with his accomplices, Robert Joe Wagner, Mark Ray Haydon and James Vlassakis they murdered and dismembered Clinton Tezise, 22, Ray Davies, 26, Michael Gardiner, 19, Barry Lane, 42, Thomas Tevilyan, 18, Gavin Porter, 29, Troy Youde, 21, Fred Brooks, 18, Gary O'Dwyer, 29, Elizabeth Haydon, 37, and David Johnson, 24 (the jury was unable to decide whether they had murdered Suzanne Allen, 47). Each time they killed their victims - with the exception of Thomas Trevilyan and Suzanne Allen, they would cut up the bodies and place them in a barrel of hydrochloric acid, which they stored at the abandoned Snowtown State Bank, towards the centre of town.
History of Events in the Snowtown Serial Killings
Justin Bunting, himself an abused child, had a pathological hatred of homosexuals and paedophiles. Bunting had arrived in Snowtown in the early 80s intending to move on to Perth, but his car broke down and he never moved on. Soon, through his lover Suzanne Allen, Bunting was to discover the existence of a known paedophile and transvestite by the name of Barry Lane. Buntings revulsion of Lane ate away at him, and he started plotting and calculating his murder. Bunting kept a "spider wall" - a diagram with Lane in the centre and woolen string stretched out to other figures who Bunting had targetted as paedophiles.
Through Lane, Bunting became friends with Robert Wagner, a young man who had been picked up at the age of 14 by Lane. Wagner had been sexually abused while he was a young child by a family friend and had run away from home. When Lane took in Wagner he forced him into a homosexual relationship for four years as they travelled the country, eventually completing their journey in Snowtown. Bunting befriended Wagner and got him away from Lane. Under his influence Wagner became more aggressive and angry about the way he'd been treated.
Bunting's first killing started with Clinton Trezise, a young gay man who was the lover of Barry Lane. In 1992 both Robert Wagner and Justin Buntings lured him to Salisbury North and then murdered him, burying him in a shallow grave in north Adelaide.
In the meantime, Bunting was in a relationship with a woman by the name of Elizabeth Harvey. Elizabeth had two sons, Troy Youde and James Vlassakis. Vlassakis had been abused when he was young by his half-brother and when Bunting found him he befriended him also, again mentoring him in the hatred that he had fueled in Wagner. Bunting was also lovers with a local woman, Suzanne Allen. In 1995 Allen rented a caravan to a Mr. Ray Davies who Allen's daughter alleges sexually abused her children. Justin Bunting and Elizabeth Harvey killed Ray Davies and buried him in Buntings backyard.
(Suzanne Allen disappeared in 1996. According to Bunting, she was found by himself and Wagner dead in her home. They dismembered the dead body and buried her in 11 garbage bags in the same backyard they buried Ray Davies.)
Eventually, in 1997, Bunting and Wagner decide to act on their plans to kill Lane. Along with an ex-lover of Lane's, Thomas Trevilyan, they kidnapped Lane and after torturing him strangled and killed him. Not happy with just one murder, however, Bunting and Wagner decided to kill Michael Gardiner. He was known by them through Bunting's de factos' cousin's neighbour - he was hated by them because he was known as "the biggest homo". Somehow, and it's not clear how this happened, one of Vlassakis's friends, Gavin Porter, got caught up and also got killed by the duo.
(Thomas Trevilyan moved in with Wagner and his de facto Vicki Mills. In 1997 he was told to move out and was later found hanging from a tree near Kerbrook.)
Vlassakis arrived on the scene and discovered his friend, Lane and Gardiner being stuffed into barrels. Vlassakis now felt involved and is goaded into killing his half-brother Youde.
The trio's killing spree continued as they tortured and killed those who they decided was a paedophile or whom they didn't like. They killed Fred Brooks in 1998, after horrifically torturing him, because Bunting didn't like him. In the same year they murdered Elizabeth Haydon, the sister of Jodie Elliot (who Bunting was engaged to at the time) because she expressed her love for Bunting though she was a married woman. They horrifically tortured and killed Gary O'Dwyer because Bunting told Vlassakis that he looked like his half-brother.
The last person they killed before they were caught by the police was David Johnson, Vlassakis's 21-year old step-brother. They basically killed him for his money - extracting his PIN number through beatings.
Motives Behind the Killings
So why did they do it? The primary motive was Justin Bunting overwhelming hatred of homosexuals and paedophiles. Bunting surrounded himself by weak and easily manipulated people who also shared the same hatred. He fanned their hatred and bloodlust to let them become willing partners in his murders. Yet this is not the only motive, for at the end they callously tortured Vlassakis's step-brother for his PIN and tried to get the money out of his bank account. They also tortured and recorded the voice of Gary O'dwyer and attempted to play it over the phone to give the impression that he was still alive. They attempted to cash in several of the victims welfare cheques, and of course they killed David Johnson to get his PIN and access his bank account.
In preparing this story, I was struck by the intricate set of relationships and series of events that conspired to start off the sensational chain of killings that occurred in Snowtown. All people, even the murderers, were known to each other and were emotionally or physically damaged over the course of their lives. Truly, this will be recorded in history as Australia's worst and most hideous serial killings.