Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ivan Milat: The Last Ride

The Task Force

Superintendent Clive Small
Superintendent Clive Small

Superintendent Clive Small was deputized by Comissioner of Police Tony Lauer to take over control of the investigation. His first task was to combine the individual groups of detectives involved in the investigation into one cohesive unit. Small was an experienced detective with a reputation for being thorough, and, more importantly, objective. He was well respected in the department and the courts for his dedication, his ability to separate the facts from the bulk of erroneous information and to present those facts in a meticulously detailed fashion.

The investigation was officially named "Task Force Air." The name was intended to be "Eyre," named after a salt lake in the centre of Australia, in keeping with the departments tradition of using geographical place names. The name had been subsequently misspelled in a press release as "air" and quickly became the official title.

Small appointed as his second in charge the equally talented and meticulous, Detective Inspector Rod Lynch. Lynchs job was to set up and coordinate the Sydney headquarters of the investigation while Small, based near the forest in Bowral, would oversee the onsite investigation.

Lynch was faced with a challenge almost from the beginning. The building that was allocated as his headquarters was a converted factory that had once been the home of Sydneys Criminal Investigation Branch. Having lain idle since the C.I.B. had relocated to larger premises, it was in a bad state of repair. It had no phones, air conditioning, computers, furniture and the plumbing was substandard.

After solving these and other logistical problems, he began recruiting detectives for the task of following up on the many thousands of pieces of information that had already been received. The next task was to set up a public hot-line in cooperation with the media, which would appeal to the general public for any information regarding the events in the forest. From his broad experience in major investigations, Lynch knew that this would increase his teams workload dramatically but would be the most valuable resource of "real evidence," as opposed to the "circumstantial evidence" that had already been collected.

Small called off the examination of the forest for several days to enable him to view maps and surveys of the area and plan a more expansive search of the general area. Chief Inspector Bob May from the Tactical Support Unit was put in charge of the search team. He divided a map of the main forest area into grids, every inch representing 750 square feet. Forty officers walked each grid side by side, examining every inch of the forest floor. If anything of interest was found, they would shout "find" and scientific police would come forward, take photographs, mark the position on the map and bag any evidence found.

The search was further enhanced by teams of dogs that had been specially trained to detect the presence of phosphorous and nitrogen in the soil. A decaying body will emit traces of these chemicals long after death. The dogs had been used extensively in the United States to "sniff out" old Civil War graves.

Meanwhile another search was under way. The bullets and shell casings taken from the scene, having been positively identified as being from a "Ruger" repeating rifle, were the only positive leads that could link the killer to the scene. From their inquiries, police learned that over 50,000 such rifles had been imported into Australia between 1964 and 1982. The manufacturers provided a list of their distributors in Australia, who in turn provided a list of the gun shops who had purchased them. While gun shops were required by law to keep a record of each firearm sold, there was no such legal requirement for any subsequent "private" sales of the firearms. Police were faced with a "needle in the haystack" scenario.

A list of all such weapons owned by residents in the areas surrounding the forest was drawn up with the intention of impounding the rifles for test firings in an attempt to find a match. The plan was leaked to the press, which infuriated investigators, as they believed that the killer, upon hearing the news, would dump the murder weapon.

Members of the local gun club were contacted and their weapons examined. One of the members told the detectives that a friend of his had witnessed something suspicious in the forest the previous year. Police later contacted the man who gave them an incredibly accurate description of two vehicles, one a Ford sedan and the other a four-wheel drive that he saw driving down one of the trails into the forest.

He told them that as the first vehicle passed him, he looked in and saw a man driving and in the back seat were two other men. Between them was a female with a cloth tied around her head like a gag. In the second vehicle were two men, one driving and the other sitting in the back next to another female who was also bound. He gave police detailed descriptions of all the occupants including clothing, coloring and approximate ages. He stated that at the time, he had written down the details of the numberplate of the second vehicle on a scrap of cardboard but had since lost it. Police typed out an official statement and asked him to read it and, if he agreed with the details, sign it. He signed his name "Alex Milat."

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