Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ivan Milat: The Last Ride

The Sole Survivor

Paul Onions
Paul Onions

Paul Onions had arrived in Australia eager to see the country about which hed heard so much. He stayed at a modest backpacker hostel in Sydneys Kings Cross, spending his time seeing the sights and generally having a good time partying with friends. As his money dwindled, his thoughts turned to part time work. His visa was good for six months but his money looked like it was running out before that time expired. He asked around the city but found casual work hard to come by.

One of his friends suggested fruit picking. After making further inquiries, he learned that most of the work on offer was in the Riverina district, several hundred miles to the south. He decided to save the cost of the fare by taking the train to Liverpool, south west of Sydney and hitchhiking from there. On 25th January 1990, he set out early for the station and was soon standing on the side of the Hume highway in Liverpool waiting for a ride.

The heat was searing as he stood trying to flag down a suitable southbound vehicle. His only possessions were a small pack containing a Sony Walkman, a camera and several items of clothing. He walked south trying desperately to thumb a ride. Stopping at a small shopping centre, he bought a drink and was seriously contemplating returning to the hostel when a fit, well-muscled man approached him and asked, in a distinctive Australian accent, "You need a lift?"

Paul told him his destination and accepted his offer of a ride gladly. The two men climbed into the stranger's four-wheel-drive vehicle and headed south. The first thing Paul noticed about the man, apart from his muscular build, was his long "Zapata" styled moustache. They talked for a while and Paul introduced himself and the man told him his name was "Bill."

Pauls new found friend was full of questions:

"Where you from?"

"When are you due back?"

"Who knows youre here?"

"Whats your occupation?"

So many questions but "Bill" seemed friendly enough so Paul answered them. "Bill" told Paul that he worked on the roads, was from a Yugoslavian family, lived near Liverpool and was divorced. They drove for an hour and "Bill's" demeanor began to change. His language became more aggressive and critical. He became agitated and launched into a racist tirade about "gooks" and "pommies" and shortly after became morose and refused to talk.

By mid afternoon after leaving the southern town of Mittagong, Paul noticed that "Bill" was acting strangely, varying his speed and looking in the rear view mirror every few seconds. Paul, feeling tired and drained from the trip, began to feel uneasy. "Bill" leaned forward adjusting the radio and said, "I think Ill pull over and get some tapes from the back." As they pulled up on the side of the freeway, Paul looked down and noticed a tray full of tape cassettes in the front console between the seats.

As "Bill" got out, Paul decided to get out as well. "Get back in the car," "Bill" told him, his voice full of menace. Not wanting to alarm him any further, Paul complied. As soon as they got back in the car "Bill" reached under the driver's seat, pulled out a large black revolver and pointed it at Paul.

"This is a robbery," he said. Again he reached under the seat and produced a coil of rope. Paul, highly alarmed, tried to reason with "Bill."

"Whats going on? What are you doing?" he asked.

He was told in a firm but controlled manner, "Shut up and put your seat belt back on." Paul, scared out of his wits, started to obey but instead grabbed for the door handle and leapt to the ground. Paul ran away from the car hearing the words, "Stop or Ill shoot," from behind him.

Panicking, he ran into the oncoming traffic causing cars to swerve alarmingly trying to avoid this "madman" on the road. Briefly he looked back expecting to see "Bill" chasing him. Instead, he saw him standing casually by his vehicle grinning. "Get back here, you," he called. Paul managed to flag down a van. As it slowed, he ran to the grass dividing strip in the middle of the highway. "Bill" lunged at him from behind, tackling him to the ground. Paul managed to break free and ran to the van and threw himself in front of it. The driver, Joanne Berry, a local resident, slammed on the brakes and before she could protest Paul leapt inside the van screaming, "Hes got a gun, help me!"

Joanne, against her better judgement, drove away. In the car were her sister and four children. She feared for their safety and was about to ask him to get out. She looked into his face and seeing his look of terror, decided to take him to the nearest police station which was in the opposite direction. As she turned the van around, she noticed the other man running back to his car. He looked like he was carrying something. Anxious to put some distance between them, she accelerated rapidly.

When they reached Mittagong police station, it was closed. They drove on to the next town, Bowral. Paul related his story to Constable Janet Nicholson at the front desk, describing his attacker, the vehicle and the pack he had left behind. He detailed its contents including his passport and return ticket to England. After filling out a detailed report, Constable Nicholson circulated the mans description and the details of his vehicle via radio and advised Paul to return to the hostel. He explained his financial predicament and was given twenty dollars. She explained to him that without a registration number they had very little chance of locating the suspect vehicle. He went to the British High Commission when he returned to Sydney, to replace his passport and to borrow additional funds. He got the passport, but no cash. A woman waiting behind him felt sorry for him and gave him twenty dollars. He was amazed at her generosity.

Weeks later, after deciding to stay in Australia, he found a well paying job. His girlfriend arrived from England shortly after and they traveled around the north of Australia for a few weeks, then left for home. After arriving home, Paul attempted to settle back into a normal life but over the next year had trouble sleeping and developed a string of mysterious illnesses.

Several years later, Paul learned of the discovery of the bodies near where he was attacked. The thought chilled him to the bone as he relived the incident in his mind.

Back in Australia, the investigation was still dragging on. Over two hundred police still searched the forest. At the task force headquarters, thousands of calls regarding the events in Belangalo poured in every week. Two such calls in particular were interesting. One was from a woman who claimed her boyfriend worked with a man who she thought should be checked out. He owned a property near the forest, drove a four-wheel-drive and owned a lot of guns. His name was Ivan Milat.

The second call was from Joanne Berry who described the time that she had picked up Paul Onions after his attack. These, like the other calls, had to be recorded and entered onto an extensive computer database, which was becoming increasingly overloaded. In short, they were buried under the weight of the many crank calls and alleged sightings.

Paul Onions called the Australian High Commission and was given the hotline number of the task force. On 13th November 1993, he told the officer who answered the telephone the details of his attack in 1990 and was asked why he hadnt reported it then. When he replied that he had, he expected the officer to ask him where and when and the name of the officer he spoke to. Instead he was thanked for the information and the call was terminated. When he didnt hear any word weeks later he decided that his report was of no value and did his best to clear his mind of it.

The official search of the forest was suspended on the 17th November 1993.

No more bodies or additional evidence had been found.

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