One of the men responsible for the notorious Snowtown “bodies-in-the-barrels” serial killings has started court action to secure a non-parole date, which could enable him to be released from prison.
Robert Joe Wagner was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 2003 for his role in the killings, which were committed during the 1990s.
The remains of eight victims were found in acid-filled barrels in a disused bank vault in the small town of Snowtown, north-west of Adelaide, in May 1999.
South Australia’s Courts Administration Authority has confirmed that Wagner has launched a Supreme Court application to have a non-parole period set, which could pave the way for his eventual release.
Under South Australian law, a prisoner without a parole period can apply to the sentencing court to set one, but the court can decline to do so if it believes it would be inappropriate for reasons including the gravity of the offence.
Between 1992 and 1999, Wagner, John Justin Bunting and James Vlassakis murdered 11 people.
Prosecutors had alleged there was a 12th victim, but that charge was dropped.
Bunting was the ringleader and is also serving multiple life sentences without parole.
It was revealed in 2017 that Mark Ray Haydon – who was not convicted of murder but was convicted of seven counts of assisting the other three men to dispose of the bodies – was seeking parole.
The Snowtown trial was one of the biggest and longest in South Australian legal history, running for 11 months, hearing from 227 witnesses and costing about $15 million.
Wagner was convicted of 10 of the murders, and the trial heard gruesome detail about his crimes, including that he and Bunting had cooked the flesh of one of the victims.
The smell from inside the Snowtown vault was so bad that police needed breathing gear.
Other remains were found in a backyard in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.
Some of the men’s victims were killed because they knew too much about the crimes.
Some were tortured and made to grovel before being killed.
Others were dismembered afterwards.
Wagner and Bunting benefited financially from their crimes by claiming the social security benefits of some of their victims.
They forced some of their victims to record phrases on tape before they were killed.
Those recordings were played over the telephone to concerned relatives and friends in an attempt to convince them the person was still alive.
Bunting and Wagner often boasted and laughed about what they had done, and kept their victim’s belongings and paperwork in their homes and cars.