Snowtown murders

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Snowtown murders
Cause of deathMurder
Other namesBodies in Barrels Murders
Criminal chargeTwelve counts of murder
PenaltyBunting: 11 life sentences without parole, Wagner: 10 life sentences without parole, Vlassakis: four life sentences with 26 year non-parole period, Haydon: 25 years with 18 year non-parole period
Span of crimes
August 1992–May 1999
State(s)South Australia
Date apprehended
21 May 1999

The Snowtown murders (also known as the bodies in barrels murders) were a series of murders committed by John Justin Bunting, Robert Joe Wagner and James Spyridon Vlassakis between August 1992 and May 1999, in and around Adelaide, South Australia. A fourth person, Mark Haydon, was convicted for helping to dispose of the bodies. The trial was one of the longest and most publicised in Australian legal history.

Most of the bodies were found in barrels in an abandoned bank vault in Snowtown, South Australia, hence the names given in the press for the murders. Only one of the victims was killed in Snowtown itself, which is approximately 140 kilometres (87 miles) north of Adelaide, and neither the twelve victims nor the three perpetrators were from the town. Although motivation for the murders is unclear, the killers were led by Bunting to believe that the victims were paedophiles, homosexuals, or "weak". In the case of some victims, the murders were preceded by torture, and efforts were made to appropriate victims' identities, social security payments and bank accounts.

Although initially the notoriety of the murders led to a short-term economic boost from tourists visiting Snowtown, it created a stigma, with authorities considering a change of the town's name and identity.


Initially, the body of Clinton Trezise was found at Lower Light in 1994,[1] although no connection to Bunting was made at this time. Similarly, the death of Thomas Trevilyan in 1997 was initially treated as a suicide. It was police inquiries into Elizabeth Haydon's disappearance which eventually led them to Snowtown, and on 20 May 1999, the remains of eight victims were found by the South Australian Police in six plastic barrels in a disused bank vault.[2] For this reason, the murders were dubbed the "bodies in barrels murders".[3]

It is believed that the bodies had been held in several locations in South Australia before being moved to Snowtown in 1999. Prosecutors believe that the killers moved the bodies after they became aware of the ongoing police investigation. Two more bodies were found buried in the backyard of Bunting's house in Adelaide.[2] Police later arrested and charged Bunting, Wagner, Vlassakis and Mark Haydon on 21 May 1999 for the murders. At the time of the arrest, Vlassakis lived in Bunting's home.[1]

Trials and verdicts[edit]

The trial of Bunting and Wagner lasted almost twelve months, the longest in the history of South Australia. In December 2003,[4] Bunting was convicted of committing eleven murders,[2] and Wagner of ten murders, of which he had confessed to only three.[2] Vlassakis pleaded guilty to four of the murders.[2] In 2004, Haydon was convicted on five counts of assisting with the murders (of which he admitted to two).[3][5] The jury did not come to a decision on two murder charges against Haydon, and another charge of assisting murder, at which the senior prosecutor, Wendy Abraham, indicated that she would seek a retrial on those charges.[5] The final count against Bunting and Wagner—that of murdering Suzanne Allen—was dropped on 7 May 2007, when a jury had been unable to reach a verdict.[6]

Justice Brian Ross Martin[7] determined that Bunting was the ringleader, and sentenced him to 11 consecutive terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of release on parole. Wagner was sentenced to 10 consecutive terms under the same conditions, and at his sentencing, he stated from the dock: "Paedophiles were doing terrible things to children. The authorities didn't do anything about it. I decided to take action. I took that action. Thank you."[8] Vlassakis was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences with a non-parole period of 26 years and Haydon was sentenced to 25 years with non-parole period of 18 years.

More than 250 suppression orders prevented publication of the details of this case. In early 2011, a judge lifted the remaining orders in response to a request by the producers of the film Snowtown, a dramatisation depicting the murders and the events leading up to them.[9]


  • Clinton Trezise, 22, killed 31 August 1992, body found 16 August 1994[10]
  • Ray Davies, 26, killed December 1995, body found 26 May 1999[10]
  • Suzanne Allen, Bunting's ex-girlfriend, 47, died November 1996, body found 23 May 1999 (perpetrators were tried but not found guilty as a result of a hung jury; her case was never tried again, but it is believed she was likely a victim of Bunting)[10][11]
  • Michelle Gardiner (Born Michael Gardiner), 19, killed September 1997, body found 20 May 1999[10]
  • Vanessa Lane (Born Barry Lane), Wagner's ex-partner, 42, killed October 1997, body found 20 May 1999[10]
  • Thomas Trevilyan Vanessa Lane's last partner, 18, killed 5 November 1997, body found 5 November 1997 in Kersbrook[10] [12]
  • Gavin Porter, Vlassakis's friend, 29, killed April 1998, body found 20 May 1999[10]
  • Troy Youde, Vlassakis's half-brother, 21, killed August 1998, body found 20 May 1999[10]
  • Frederick Brooks, 18, killed September 1998, body found 20 May 1999[10]
  • Gary O'Dwyer, 29, killed October 1998, body found 20 May 1999[10]
  • Elizabeth Haydon, Mark Haydon's wife and Frederick Brooks's aunt, 37, killed 21 November 1998, body found 20 May 1999[10][13]
  • David Johnson, Vlassakis's stepbrother, 24, killed 9 May 1999, body found 20 May 1999[10]


Several individuals were involved in the murders: John Bunting, Robert Wagner and Mark Haydon were all charged with the killings; additionally, James Vlassakis pleaded guilty to four murders and provided testimony in exchange for a lesser sentence.

John Justin Bunting (born 4 September 1966 in Inala, Queensland) was found to be the leader of the perpetrators. When he was 8 years old, Bunting was beaten and sexually assaulted by a friend's older brother. He is reported to have "enjoyed weaponry, photography and anatomy," and grew to develop a strong hatred of paedophiles and homosexuals. At age 22, Bunting worked at an abattoir and reportedly "bragged about slaughtering the animals, saying that's what he enjoyed the most".[14]: 1  Bunting moved to a house in Salisbury North, South Australia in 1991 and befriended his neighbours Mark Haydon and Robert Wagner. Wagner's romantic partner, Vanessa Lane (formerly Barry Lane), was a transgender woman with a history of paedophilia (their relationship began when Wagner was 14).[15]

Robert Joe Wagner (born 28 November 1971 in Parramatta, New South Wales) was befriended by Bunting in 1991. Bunting encouraged Wagner to assist in the various murders.[15]

James "Jamie" Spyridon Vlassakis (born 24 December 1979), along with his mother and half-brother, lived with Bunting and was gradually drawn into helping with the murders. Vlassakis, 23, helped torture and kill his own half-brother, Troy Youde, and his stepbrother, David Johnson. He confessed in 2001 to four murders, including Johnson's, and became a key witness for the Crown. The detail he provided, supported by other evidence, helped convict Bunting and Wagner. Vlassakis was sentenced in 2002 to a minimum of 26 years and is held in isolation in an unidentified South Australia prison.[15]

Mark Ray Haydon (born 4 December 1958), an associate of Bunting, was initially the subject of "suppression orders or statutory provisions prohibiting publication" and could not therefore be identified as anything other than an alleged perpetrator.[5] In January 1999, he reportedly rented the abandoned state bank building at Snowtown.[3][1]: 242  A jury deadlocked on the murders of Haydon's wife, Elizabeth Haydon, and of Troy Youde.[3] The murder charges were not retried when Haydon pleaded guilty to helping the serial killers dispose of the bodies of Elizabeth and Youde.[5]

Community impact[edit]

The notoriety of the murders led to a short-term economic boost from tourists visiting Snowtown,[1] but created a lasting stigma.[16] The Age reported in 2011 that Snowtown would be "forever stigmatised" due to its association with the murders.[16] Shortly after the discovery of the bodies in Snowtown, the community discussed changing the name to "Rosetown", but no further actions were taken.[16] As of 2012, one shop in Snowtown was selling souvenirs of the murders "cashing in on Snowtown's unfortunate notoriety".[17]

The house in Salisbury North where Bunting lived and buried two bodies was demolished by its owner, the South Australian Housing Trust.[15] The other place in Murray Bridge has been sold. The bank, with a four-bedroom attached house, was placed on auction in February 2012 but only reached half its reserve price of $200,000.[18] After holding an open house which raised $700 for charity through charging an entrance fee, the property sold later that year on 27 September for just over $185,000 with the new owners intending to live in the house while running a business from the bank. A plaque will be installed to commemorate the victims.[19][20]

In media[edit]


Snowtown, also known as The Snowtown Murders, a feature film based upon the life of John Bunting, was released in Australia on 19 May 2011.[21]


Australian comedian Eddie Perfect wrote a demo song for "Snowtown the Musical" intended to be screened at the 2011 Inside Film Awards that he was hosting. The song was not broadcast.[22]


Books detailing the crimes include:

  • Marshall, Debi: Killing for Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Serial Murders, ISBN 1-7405-1248-0
  • Mitchell, Susan: All Things Bright and Beautiful: Murder in the City of Light, ISBN 1-4050-3610-9
  • McGarry, Andrew: Snowtown Murders: The Real Story Behind the Bodies in the Barrels Killings, ISBN 0-7333-1482-1
  • Pudney, Jeremy: Snowtown: The Bodies in Barrels Murders: The Grisly Story of Australia's Worst Serial Killings, ISBN 0-7322-6716-1
  • Cawthorne, Nigel: The Mammoth Book of New CSI: 31 New Real-Life Crime Scene Investigations, ISBN 1-7803-3534-2


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Newton, Michael (1 January 2006). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Infobase Publishing. 242–244. ISBN 9780816069873. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Debelle, Penelope (9 September 2003). "Sadists get life". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d "Bodies-in-barrels trial not over". The Sydney Morning Herald. AAP. 19 December 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  4. ^ Hull, Tony (8 September 2003). "Snowtown killers likely to die in jail". Lateline. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d "Snowtown killers 'cooked victim's flesh'". ABC News. Australia. 19 September 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Final Snowtown murder charge dropped". ABC News. Australia. 7 May 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  7. ^ Coogan, Michael (28 July 2016). "Brian Martin QC: Meet the man who will head the NT youth detention royal commission". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  8. ^ "Snowtown murderers get life". Lateline. 29 October 2003. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  9. ^ "Snowtown suppression orders lifted for film". AAP. 20 January 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "R v BUNTING & OTHERS (NO 3) No. SCCRM-01-205 [2003] SASC 251". Supreme Court of South Australia. 29 October 2003. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  11. ^ "Snowtown Murders - Bodies in the Barrels". Aussie Criminals and Crooks. 25 April 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  12. ^ Keane, Daniel; Martin, Patrick (20 May 2019). "Living in the shadow of one of Australia's worst serial killings". ABC News. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  13. ^ "Chamber of horrors". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 September 2003. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  14. ^ Heckel, Jessica; Drum, Tracy; Gravitt, Karoline (26 November 2008). "John Justin Bunting" (PDF). Dept of Psychology, Radford University, Va. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d Debelle, Penelope (9 September 2003). "Gruesome trail of killing". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  16. ^ a b c Snowtown: Living with a death penalty The Age 7 May 2011
  17. ^ Kennett, Heather (15 July 2012). "Tourists snap up souvenirs of Snowtown's past". The Advertiser. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  18. ^ "If walls could talk". The Australian. 30 June 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  19. ^ Noonan, Amy (29 August 2012). "Snowtown bank sells for more than $185,000". The Advertiser. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  20. ^ "Snowtown bank sold". The Age. 29 September 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  21. ^ Snowtown (2011) at IMDb, 18 November 2011
  22. ^ Snowtown the Musical, 10 April 2017

Further reading[edit]