Ivan Milat was lucky.
He was lucky when another man confessed to the 1962 shooting of taxi driver Neville Knight.
According to Milat’s brother Boris, a 17-year-old Ivan allegedly shot Knight through the spine, paralysing him, while sitting in the back seat of his cab. Knight sat there screaming “I’m ruined”, aware life as he knew it was over.
But police had fingered another man for the crime, and when Alan Dillon realised his younger brother was the man they had in their sights, he confessed to protect him.
If Milat was lucky then, he was even luckier in 1974 when on trial for the abduction of two women, and the rape of one of them, in the Belanglo area.
His lawyer had a chance encounter with the two alleged victims — in a gay bar — the night before they were due to be cross-examined. Using tactics that would have never been allowed now, Milat’s lawyer John Marsden shamed the alleged victims and cast significant doubt in the mind of the jury.
“I suggested that her sexuality may have had something to do with what had occurred with Ivan Milat,” Marsden wrote in his book I Am What I Am.
“Juries in those days were extremely prejudiced against gays and lesbians.”
And so a not guilty verdict was returned, an Milat was free to begin a reign of terror that lasted 20 years and cost at least seven lives before, in 1994, his luck finally ran out.
That was when the task force headed by former NSW assistant police commissioner Clive Small finally placed him under arrest on charges that would stick.
The ‘backpacker murders’ continue to haunt Australians, proliferated with films such as Wolf Creek. There is still a macabre fascination with Milat to this day.
Mr Small says Milat grew more brazen with each murder. Many of the victims had stab wounds around their spines, suggesting Milat intended to paralyse them.
“If you look at the crime scenes, and look at them in chronological order, what you notice is that the victim and the offender were spending increasingly more time at the crime scene on each occasion,” Mr Small told The New Daily.
“What it seems was happening … he would kill them, he’d carry out a number of other activities and when he was finished he would say ‘gee, that was good – but I can make it better next time’.
“At one crime scene, there was a girl who was allowed to smoke a pack of cigarettes … it would be a significant period of time.”
Mr Small says that despite rumours to the contrary, Milat had no accomplice.
“Milat committed all the murders by himself – he was a loner that didn’t trust anyone else,” he said.
“He was a person who didn’t think anyone could catch him. I believe that he thought that to the end.”
In 2005, Milat had already been in jail for a decade, but he was angered by reports his sister was somehow involved in the murders.
During a meeting in prison, Mr Small assured Milat he knew he worked alone, to which he replied: “Yes, so why are you telling them she was involved?”
Mr Small said the moment was as close to a confession as he ever got, and the killer instantly recognised his mistake.
“It was the first moment I’d heard him say anything that even gave a hint of an admission,” he said.
“The expression on his face showed you that he realised what he said. He was sort of pulled up by it for a second or two.”