Once, not so long ago, Australia’s history as a penal colony was something of a point of shame for the country. Not so anymore.
It’s been almost 250 years since Britain decided to start sending many of its convicts Down Under. Now though, in the 21st century, Australians are beginning to embrace their heritage. More than 20% of the country’s population can claim lineage to the prisoners shipped 9,500 miles away and do so with some pride.
While Australia’s modern history has its roots deep in the earth on which penal colonies were built, it is - by any standard - a country with a very moderate crime rate. Its homicide rate is especially low.
However, despite Australia not being known for its murders, the country has seen plenty of vicious serial killers in its time.
John Wayne Glover - 6 victims
We start our grim list with a British expat. John Wayne Glover was a petty criminal born and raised in Wolverhampton. As a young man, he moved to Melbourne and then settled in Sydney. Gregarious, friendly and boisterous, Glover was a well-liked and popular man. That was until his macabre crimes were discovered.
Glover ritualistically strangled six elderly ladies over the course of a year with their own stockings and bashed them over the head with a claw hammer.
Their legs were spread apart, their skirts were pushed up over their heads and their shoes were arranged neatly next to their bodies. He later explained to police that the women represented the two most hated women in his life - his mother and mother-in-law.
He received six life sentences with absolutely no possibility of parole and earned the nickname ‘The Granny Killer’. It’s believed that Glover was responsible for three more murders, but they’ve never been officially pinned on him.
Ivan Milat - 7 victims
In May 1994, ‘The Backpack Killer’ was arrested for killing seven young people in New South Wales. Ivan Milat’s victims were all between 19 and 22 years of age. Five of them were European backpackers.
The truth is that Ivan Milat likely killed many, many more tourists in and around the Belanglo State Forest. 50+ backpackers had gone missing in the locale since 1971, the year Milat was released from prison for lesser offences. His own brother even claimed a kill count of seven to be painfully wide of the mark, saying that Ivan was responsible for ‘heaps more bodies’. On 27th July 1996, he received a sentence of seven consecutive life terms plus 18 years.
Does it all sound familiar? Ivan Milat’s crimes were dramatised in the popular and critically well-received Wolf Creek films and TV series.
James Miller and Christopher Worrell - 7 victims
The deadliest killer duo in Australian history, Christopher Robin Worrell and James William Miller operated very much as most serial killer twosomes do - within a highly dysfunctional dominant/submissive relationship.
Seven victims lost their lives to the pair's crimes, known as 'The Truro Murders', in 1978 and 1979. The remains of the victims, all women and girls between the ages of 15 and 26, were discovered strangled with nylon cords and dumped near the South Australian town of Truro. The final victim of the tandem murders may have been buried alive, according to rumours.
Worrell was killed in a car accident before he could be brought to justice, but Miller was caught after a tip-off from an ex-girlfriend. He was jailed for life. Many believe that had Worrell not lost his life, he and Miller would have gone on to claim many more lives and perhaps have become one of the world’s deadliest duos ever.
Eric Edgar Cooke - 8 victims
When he was executed by the state in 1964, serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke became the last man to be hanged in Western Australia. While the tide had turned on capital punishment by the mid-60s, few Australians were upset to see Cooke face the gallows.
A chaotic and disorganised serial killer, Eric Cooke was also a prolific burglar who eventually turned to murder. His modus operandi was unpredictable, to say the least. He would shoot, strangle or run over his victims and his victim profile was also inconsistent. Known as ‘The Night Caller’, Cooke killed eight men and women between 1959 and 1963.
The Snowtown Murderers - 12 victims
Infamous in Australia and known globally because of the 2011 film Snowtown, the ‘Bodies in Barrels Murders’ are truly shocking.
The Snowtown killings were a string of homicides carried out in and around Adelaide, between August 1992 and May 1999 by John Justin Bunting, Robert Joe Wagner and James Spyridon Vlassakis. Mark Haydon, a fourth defendant, was found guilty of aiding in the corpses' disposal.
The majority of victims were discovered in barrels in an abandoned bank vault in Snowtown, South Australia. The case became one of the longest and most widely covered trials in the country’s legal history.
Bunting, the mastermind behind the killings, attempted to justify his actions by saying that the victims were either paedophiles or weak. Some victims' deaths were preceded by acts of torture, with attempts made to steal their identities, social security benefits and bank accounts.
The Makins - 13 victims
Thankfully it’s unheard of now, but back in the 19th century, a certain type of ‘baby farming’ was a truly sickening way for evil folk to make a living. Sarah and John Makin were two of these such people.
For years leading up to their 1892 arrest, the Makins took on the newborns of ‘unfortunates’ who couldn’t care for their own children. Desperate mothers who, for a few shillings a week, would entrust their children to couples such as the Makins.
The trouble was, checks in the 19th century weren’t exactly thorough. In fact, there were none at all. After a deal was struck, the children would be handed over and that would be that.
The Makins were utterly ruthless and held nothing but contempt for the women, children and the very concept of life itself. As soon as they took in the baby, they suffocated them and disposed of the body. They did this at least 13 times until they were caught.
Both were arrested; John was hanged and Sarah was sentenced to life in prison. She was paroled 19 years after his death and died seven years later as a free woman.