In 1999, police in Snowtown, Australia, made the horrifying discovery of eight dismembered bodies in barrels. These killings became known as the Snowtown Murders, one of the most famous cases of serial killers in Australia. These murders were attributed to John Bunting, Robert Wagner, James Vlassakis, and Mark Haydon. Of course, some people are morbidly curious about these killings, and if you're one of these people, then read on. Just be aware that what you read here is definitely not for the faint of heart.
There haven't been many Australian serial killers who have murdered as prolifically as Bunting and his gang, nor as heinously. Their victims were their own family members and friends, who they often torturing them before death. Most of the killers have never shown remorse and the little town has forever been scarred. As you learn more about these murders in Snowtown, keep in mind that these killers are all behind bars and still alive. There may be more victims that authorities do not know about yet.
The victims of the group of murderers rarely died quickly. Police recovered the following tools that were used to torture the victims: knives, saws, a double barrel shotgun, rope, tape, gloves, pliers, clamps, cloth, and even a Variac metallurgy tool that was used to give electric shocks to the genitals and other parts of the victims. One of the killers later confessed about how the tools were used, and it did not paint a pretty picture.
Ray Davies was garroted with rope and a lever after he was put into a bath. Before he died, they attacked him with clubs and beat his genitals. They even crushed one of his toes with a pair of pliers, just to make him suffer. Another victim, Frederick Brooks, was given electric shocks to his testicles and had a lit sparkler shoved into his penis. His toes were also crushed with pliers and his nose and ears were burned with cigarettes. Eventually, they stuffed a rag in his mouth and just let him choke to death. All the while, these two men and other victims were forced to call their killers different titles, such as "God," "Master," "Lord Sir," and "Chief Inspector."
The final victim that was killed before the police got wind to this murderous gang was David Johnson, James Vlassakis's stepbrother. Johnson was lured to an empty bank building by Vlassakis, where Bunting and Wagner lay in wait. Once there, Johnson was strangled, handcuffed, and forced to read a script for a recording. He recited confessions of crimes and acts he had not done and gave his financial information. The killers had done this before with other victims. Then, Wagner and Vlassakis left Bunting alone with Johnson to try (unsuccessfully) to access Johnson's funds through an ATM. When they returned, he was dead.
But Wagner wasn't done yet. He said he was upset that he hadn't gotten to "play" with Johnson, so he thought he'd have a little more fun. When they dismembered Johnson, they took parts of his flesh, fried them, and ate them together as one more means of having "fun." Despite the name "Snowtown Murders," Johnson is the only victim to have actually died in Snowtown.
Historically, prolific serial killers tend to work alone because it affords them a smaller chance of getting caught. This was not at all the case for the Snowtown murders. There was a ringleader who pushed for and arranged all the killings, and he enlisted not one, but three other people to regularly help with the crimes, as well as a few others. John Bunting, the one in charge, approached his neighbor, Robert Wagner, as a friend and eventually roped him into murder.
Bunting was married to Elizabeth Harvey, and through her, met her son, James Vlassakis. Vlassakis would help with and suggest later killings. Mark Haydon also lived nearby and became friends with Bunting, and was eventually drawn into his circle of murders.
In addition to these four main players, there were other accomplices. Bunting's wife, Elizabeth Harvey, also assisted in at least one of the murders. Thomas Trevilyan was initially part of the gang as well, but later became a victim. Jodie Elliott was a relative of Mark Haydon and also helped out with collecting money after the killings. With all of these people involved in the murders, it's shocking the operation went on for as many years as it did.
The ringleader of these murderous operations was John Bunting, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better killer gang leader. He was characterized as a good listener, kind, compassionate, and empowering. He had a knack for talking to people, befriending them, and making them feel so connected to him that they would do just about anything he asked of them.
However, underneath that kind and unassuming appearance lay all the classic earmarks for a serial killer. He'd been abused as a youth and became fascinated with weaponry and causing pain. He killed a friend's dog, became fascinated with anatomy, and began working in a crematorium with human bodies. He killed and skinned cats, bragging about how much he enjoyed slaughtering animals while working at a meat company. In summary, he was a master manipulator, obsessed with death, and had a love of killing. It was the perfect storm that resulted in a terrifying serial killer.