Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ivan Milat: The Last Ride

Closing In

The painstaking search for supportive evidence continued through to March 1994. The "Milat" team obtained records of all premises and vehicles that the Milats had owned in the past. They found that three of the Milat brothers owned a small property on the "Wombeyan Caves" road, twenty five miles from Belangalo. In addition, one vehicle found was a silver "Nissan Patrol" four-wheel-drive that had been owned by Ivan Milat.

The new owner was interviewed and showed police a bullet that he had found under the driver's seat. It was .22 caliber and was later analyzed and found to be consistent with the empty boxes found in "Area A" and cartridge cases found at the Clarke and Walters gravesites. Milat had sold the vehicle two months after the bodies of the two English girls had been discovered.

Detective Gordon and his team were uncovering numerous pieces of evidence but still needed something to tie it all together. Additional evidence that would put Ivan Milat and his vehicle in the area at the time of the offences. They tried using the "new" computer database in the hope of finding the match that they were looking for, but after entering keywords such as "silver four-wheel-drive," "Liverpool," and "hitchhiker," no matches were found. The system was better than the previous one but was still not capable of providing the information that was required.

They began the unenviable task of sorting through the boxes of reports by hand, some still not entered into the database. The job took weeks. Finally on 13th April, Gordon found the note regarding Paul Onions' call to the hotline five months earlier. He read the report describing the events of January 1990 and as he read he realized that if this man was a credible witness, his testimony could give them the link that they were looking for. Onions' statement described the vehicle, the area where the attack was committed, and the driver. Gordon took his newfound evidence directly to Superintendent Small.

Small was furious, how had such an important piece of evidence been overlooked? He immediately called for the original report from Bowral police but it was missing from their files. Fortunately, Constable Nicholson had taken a full report in her notebook, which provided more details than the original statement. Knowing that Richard and Ivan Milat were similar in appearance, police checked the two mens work records and confirmed with their employers that Richard had been working on the day of the attack but Ivan had not.

In addition, while checking Ivans work records they found that he had been working in the "Galston Gorge" area at the time when James Gibson's pack had been found. Several of Ivans work mates were interviewed and told of his interest in guns. One friend of Ivans, Tony Sara, told police that Milat had owned a motorcycle and a four-wheel-drive Nissan and kept an "arsenal" of guns at his house. He told them the story of the time he and Ivan were on the way to a job and drove past the Belangalo Forest.

"You wouldnt believe whats in there," Ivan had said, but when Sara pressed him for details, Ivan just smiled and said nothing more.

At the end of April, Paul Onions received an important telephone call from Australia. Detective Stuart Wilkins told him that he was an important witness in the "backpacker" case and could he fly to Sydney as soon as possible? He was totally confused. From the beginning he had felt that the Australian police had no real interest in him or his story. Now all of a sudden, he was their "star witness." What had taken them so long?

A week later, he was being driven out of Sydney towards Liverpool by police who wanted him to "get his bearings," before they interviewed him further. As they drove through Liverpool, he pointed out the small shop where he had met "Bill." The shop, a newsagency, was called Lombardos.

After they had driven further south on the expressway, Onions told them, "This is wrong. We went through a town."

"You must be mistaken," they answered. "Theres no towns on this road."

Police later discovered that at the time of the attack on Onions, January 1990, the expressway had not been completed and the Hume Highway had originally gone through the centre of Mittagong.

As they approached the attack site Onions began to feel uneasy. He detailed the conversation, his voice trembling as he spoke about the tapes, the gun and the rope. He pointed out approximately where he had escaped. It was less than a mile from the entrance to the forest.

The next day he was shown a video "line up" of a group of suspects. For purposes of identification, each image was individually numbered one to thirteen. Onions was left alone to view the images as many times as he liked. He was told to take his time. He felt strange. Four years had passed since the attack and here he was looking for the man who did it. He looked through the tape again and again. Two images seemed to stand out, numbers four and seven. He kept looking.

A short time later, he called the detectives and pointed to the single image on the screen, "Thats him, number four."

"Are you sure?"

He was spooked by their question. "I better take another look."

He ran through the tape several times more and finally declared, "Yes Im sure. The man who attacked me is number four."

Paul Onions had positively identified Ivan Milat.

Small was immediately informed and, after consultation with Lynch, he made his decision. They now had sufficient evidence to arrest Ivan Milat for the assault on Paul Onions. As well as the arrest warrant, they applied for search warrants of Ivan Milat's home in Eaglevale, a suburb just off the Hume highway and a few short miles from Liverpool. On the premise that Ivan hadnt acted alone, police also applied for search warrants to search the houses of Ivans mother and his brothers, Richard, Walter and Bill. The property near the forest was also to be searched, as was the home of Alex Milat, who had moved to a town called Woombye, which was located several hours drive north near Brisbane, Queensland.

All warrants were granted.

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