A draft of a paper I'm working on regarding an Australian serial killing. Suggestions and commnets are very welcome.
Monday, September 15, 2003
“They were the disease. We were the cure.” -- John Justin Bunting.
He referred to it -- and he referred to it loudly and often to anyone who would listen -- as his “accident”.
In 1974, as an eight-year-old boy in Inala, an isolated working-class suburb in southwest Brisbane, John Bunting was abused by a man who has never been named. The abuse continued throughout his early teenage years, until ten years later, as an 18-year-old legal adult, he left Brisbane to set up a new life on the other side of the country in Perth. Arriving in Adelaide in 1984, his car broke down, its engine hopelessly inadequate for the journey. Without enough money to buy a new car, he needed a job, and stayed in Adelaide.
He never left.
The flat, dusty northern suburbs of Adelaide are desolate, sad places, street after street of cheap government-subsidised housing. Buried car tires act as front fences, car wrecks litter front lawns and graffiti covers everything else. These are the homes of some of the city’s poorest, least educated and most powerless citizens. Nowhere is unemployment higher; local welfare agencies can scarcely support the demand for benefits and other assistance.
Here, life is often lived hand-to-mouth. There is also plenty of time for people to fill up. Days are spent lingering around the local shopping centre or, on the fortnightly pension day, at the pub. Self-respect is clearly a rare commodity -- the evidence of vandalism is everywhere.
John Bunting moved to one of these suburbs with his wife, Veronika Tripp, at the height of summer in 1991. Their house -- in fact, her house, rented from the state housing authority -- at 203 Waterloo Corner Rd, Salisbury North, was a small, semi-detached fibro cottage with a square of sun-scorched lawn in front and a long, featureless backyard, the same in every respect as every other house in the street.
Veronika Tripp is not an intelligent woman. She speaks simply and bluntly, almost petulantly, like a child. During her appearance at Bunting’s trial, the judge described her as having the intelligence of a person many years younger than her age. Yet she is not unusual -- all of the women involved in this story are extremely vulnerable, teetering on the edge of hopelessness, easily seduced by a man like Bunting who promised them security, money and a guiding hand. Indeed, Tripp today leafs through her wedding album and declares, naively, that she still loves him.
Killing was something that Bunting was familiar with, even before his campaign of murder began. He worked as a slaughterman in the Elder’s abattoir at Gepps Cross. Tripp remembers him railing against the animals he killed for his living: sheep were “stupid”, cows had “no brains” and pigs “were repulsive because they stank”.
Others remember the otherwise polite, quietly spoken Bunting railing against people he considered animals: pedophiles and gay men, who he called “dirties”, and others, the intellectually disabled, or drug users, who he called “wastes”. A neighbour recalls him saying during one these rants that “he would kill all pedophiles”.
In the midst of so much poverty, Bunting was respected for his apparent intelligence. A neighbour said that people looked up to him because “he had a motorbike and a car”, and that “he knew about money and finance and things like that”.
One house in the neighbourhood would not have escaped Bunting’s notice. The house on the corner of Waterloo Corner Road and Bingham Road was guarded by four Doberman Pincers and surrounded by a two-metre high fence. It was common knowledge that behind the fence lived a convicted pedophile and that the fence had been erected to prevent the vandalism against the house that had been rife.
Barry Lane, who was also an occasional transvestite -- in pink shorts and a bleached-blond hair, he was known as “Vanessa” -- and convicted pedophile, met Robert Wagner at a shopping centre in 1986 when Lane was 31 and Wagner was 14. Lane took Wagner away from his family and moved interstate for four years. Lane’s mother said their relationship was “like father and son” at the beginning, but that when Wagner was older (“about 19”) it became “a homosexual relationship”.
They lived together for eight years at 1 Bingham Road, Salisbury North. Although he disputed it, claiming it was “forced”, Wagner had a sexual relationship with Lane. They called each other “love”, Lane introduced Wagner has his fiancé, they held hands and talked of getting married.
Bunting realised that Lane would be a perfect source of information about other pedophiles and other gay men. He befriended the gay couple, despite his apparent hatred of them.
He used information from them to make his construct his “spider wall” in a small bedroom at Waterloo Corner, a wall of Post-It notes with the names and contact details of suspected pedophiles, connected by a web of pink and blue wool. At the centre of the web was one name: Barry Lane. Tripp knew about the “spider wall”, but Bunting told her to keep out of the spare room.
Bunting would go into the spare room, closed his eyes and touch a Post-It note, then call the person and abuse them over the phone.
What attracted Wagner to Bunting was the older man’s confession that he, too, had been abused as a child. Over time, he convinced Wagner that his relationship with Lane was just as abusive, that Lane was “low-life scum”. Bunting’s relationship with Wagner loosened Lane’s hold on Wagner.
Geoff Williams, 52, a disability pensioner, lived a few doors from the house Lane and Wagner shared. Both men were frequent visitors. So was Bunting. “Lane and Wagner's house was putrid,” Williams said. “There was dog shit all around that house. No one went inside. They came to see us.'' Williams said Lane and Wagner would come to his home to drink and watch TV.
The true nature Bunting and Wagner’s relationship is the one of the most puzzling aspects of the case, the enigma at the very heart of it. Wagner’s life cannot have been easy, and the appearance of this intelligent, self-assured man, a relative success in the community, would have been highly attractive to him. There has been some speculation that it was motivated by Bunting’s latent homosexuality, but the reality is more complex than that. Bunting relished control and, in Wagner, found someone who could be controlled. Tall, good-looking and powerfully built, Wagner was undoubtedly an attractive 19-year-old. He was also illiterate -- he dropped out of school when he was 13 -- and neighbours describe him as “brooding”.
Why would Bunting want to interfere in Wagner and Lane’s relationship? He hated Lane but identified with Wagner’s abuse. His desire to assert his power would result in the first murder.
Clinton Trezise, 22, was a friend of Barry Lane’s. They were known around Adelaide’s small gay scene, and may have been his lover. Because his taste for colourful clothing, Bunting referred to him as derisively as “Happy Pants”.
In late 1992, Trezise was invited to Bunting’s house with Lane and Wagner.
Bunting killed Trezise with multiple blows to the head with a shovel.
Wagner and Lane buried the body in a shallow grave in a paddock at Lower Light, north of Adelaide. It was discovered in 1994. Tripp says Wagner was the driver, and “poor Barry dug the hole”.
A month later, Lane went to his mother and said he was worried -- that he had help get rid of a body.
Tripp noticed that Clinton was missing, and a month later Bunting told her that he was dead. He also told her to keep her mouth shut or the same thing would happen to her.
One person was dead and at least four people knew about it: Bunting, Wagner, Lane and Tripp. The “respect” that Bunting engendered -- in reality, it was little more than fear -- was powerful enough that none of them questioned him.
In early 1994, 14-year-old James Vlassakis came home from school and found his mother, Elizabeth Harvey, talking to two men from the neighbourhood -- Barry Lane and Robert Wagner. Harvey was an emotionally fragile woman. Her husband, who had abused her son, had dropped dead in front of the family. When Harvey’s mother was dying of cancer, she was nursing her and left her children to their own devices. A neighbour and family friend, Jeffrey Payne, who was sexually abusing Vlassakis. At the time, Vlassakis was also being abused by his half-brother, Troy Youde.
A few days later, Bunting pulled up on his motorbike. Bunting drew Vlassakis out of his shell. He told Vlassakis that he had been abused as a child and Vlassakis asked Bunting to be his father.
I was comfortable with John. I looked up to him. He was like a father figure, a brother figure to me that I never had.”
In August 1994, Clinton Trezise’s body was found in the paddock at Lower Light.
For now, it looked like Bunting had killed and got away with it.
In 1998, while watching a segment of the TV program Australia’s Most Wanted dealing with the discovery of the body, Bunting told Vlassakis, “That’s my handiwork,” and admitted that he had murdered him.
Although the first body to be found, Trezise was not identified until last.
When he turned 15, Vlassakis could not go on living with his mother and brothers any more. He moved to the Waterloo Corner Road house with Bunting and Tripp for a while, where he first encountered the “spider wall”.
An invalid pensioner, 26-year-old Ray Davies lived in a caravan in the backyard of Suzanne Allen’s home in Salisbury North, a block away from Bunting.
Bunting believed that Davies was a pedophile who had abused Suzanne Allen’s grandson.
He was last seen alive on Boxing Day, 1995.
He was stabbed, beaten and strangled in January 1996 by Bunting and Vlassakis’ mother, Elizabeth Harvey.
Harvey stabbed Davies in the leg with a ceramic tool and Wagner strangled him with jumper leads.
The body was buried in Bunting’s back yard.
Davies’ body was discovered on 23 May 1999.
Barry Lane, meanwhile, was living in fear. As Wagner began to assert himself more forcefully, with Bunting’s encouragement, Lane moved out and fled to a house in Hectorville and began a relationship with Thomas Trevilyn, an 18-year-old schizophrenic. Wagner entered a relationship with a woman, Vicki Mills.
Suzanne Allen, 47, lived a block away from Bunting.
She was infatuated by him and pestered him with love letters and would regularly turn up on his doorstep making desperate demands. Friends said that just before she disappeared, Bunting had rejected her advances and she seemed angry and depressed.
Bunting claimed that he and Wagner had discovered her dead in her own home in November 1996. She was known to be asthmatic and they claim she died from natural causes.
In what Bunting told Vlassakis was a “slice and dice”, he and Wagner cut off her arms, her breasts and her head. While Wagner was holding the dismembered head, Bunting told him to “Kiss the puppet”. Her body was butchered into pieces and buried in Bunting’s back in 11 garbage bags, a few feet above Davies’ body.
Her Centrelink benefits had been accessed.
The jury in Bunting and Wagner’s trial was unable to reach a verdict over Allen’ death.
In December 1996, police following up a missing person report found Bunting and Wagner inside Allen’s home. They gave their correct names and addresses and said they were helping Ms Allen move house. They gave police telephone number which they said could be used to contact Ms Allen and verify their story. The phone number belonged to Elizabeth Harvey.
THE BURIAL OF THE TWO BODIES
Bunting moved to Murray Bridge
Broke up with Veronika Tripp
In 1996, Vlassakis heard about the death of Ray Davies, but was heavily involved with drugs and did not know what to believe. He moved to Murray Bridge, 80km from Adelaide, with a friend, Gavin Porter.
Michael Gardiner was a 19-year-old gay man who lived around the corner from Wagner in a house he shared with a cousin of Wagner’s defacto wife Vicki Mills, Nicola Zuritta. He sometimes wore dresses and high-heeled shoes.
His openly gay lifestyle made him an enemy of Bunting. Bunting referred to him as “the biggest homo”.
Shortly before his disappearance in September 1997, Gardiner was playing with Wagner’s defacto’s children in his front yard. Gardiner grabbed one of the children and placed his hand over the child’s mouth.
Wagner saw the incident and became infuriated. Whereas previously he had tolerated Gardiner, and would mumble an occasional “Hello”, now he was ropeable and refused to acknowledge his neighbour.
In September 1997, Bunting and Wagner took him to Murray Bridge where they strangled him in a shed, forcing him to stand up each time he collapsed.
Wagner and Bunting staged a robbery at their victim’s home, stealing some of Ms Zuritta’s belongings and convincing her that Gardiner ha stole them in order to pay for a sex change operation.
Gardiner’s body was kept in the a barrel in the shed until it was moved to the Snowtown bank vault.
Although Barry Lane knew about the murder of Clinton Trezise -- at least -- and had helped bury him, Bunting decided that he needed to be punished for his pedophilic relationship with Wagner and accused him of raping Wagner when he was 14 years old. Bunting’s hatred of Lane was also fuelled by suspicions that Lane had told friends about the murder of Clinton Trezise -- a fact that made Lane distraught.
Bunting and Wagner came to call on him at his home in Hectorville.
He was tortured by Bunting, Wagner and Thomas Trevilyan, an 18-year-old schizophrenic Lane had recently had a sexual relationship with and, up until shortly before his murder, had been living with. In the early hours of 18 October 1997, led by Wagner, they forced him to telephone his mother, Sylvia Lane, to abuse her and say that he was moving to Queensland.
He was then beaten and his toes were squeezed with a pair of pliers. James Vlassakis said that Bunting and Wagner described the torture to him: “I was told the difference in pain from the toenail to the knuckle on the toe -- when they squeezed the toenail Barry screamed louder, which obviously hurt more.”
Wagner ended Lane’s torture by strangling him.
Bunting told James Vlassakis that Lane had been “made good”.
The trio wrapped Lane’s body in a roll of carpet and left the body in the house. A friend of Lane’s walked on the carpet roll when visiting the house and they laughed hysterically.
Vlassakis said that hearing Bunting and Wagner talking about Lane’s murder was like “when you go into a shop with a young kid and you buy them a toy and the kid gets really excited”
Lane’s body was discovered in a barrel at the Snowtown bank.
Shortly before Lane’s death, Thomas Trevilyan had moved in with Wagner and his de facto wife Vicki Mills and her children, at Elizabeth Grove in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. Wagner had encouraged it, saying that he had to move because Lane was pedophile.
He crossed Wagner -- his behaviour upset the children and annoyed Bunting by telling people he was involved in Lane’s murder.
On the day before he died, he was chasing Mills’ daughter, who was carrying a puppy, around the front yard with an army knife.
On Melbourne Cup Day 1997, Mills told Bunting and Wagner that Trevilyan had to leave. Later that day, Bunting and Wagner said they were taking Trevilyan for a drive so they could have chat. Wagner told Mills that they had driven to Gawler and left him there to teach him a lesson.
Trevilyan was never seen alive again and his body was found hanging from a tree near Kersbrook on 5 November 1997. A crate found near his feet produced the killers’ intention of disguising it as a suicide.
Later, Bunting told Vlassakis that Trevilyn had been killed because he was “a fuck-up”.
Now 18 years old, James Vlassakis’ life, built on a pathetically unstable foundation, was a mess. Like him, his closest friend Gavin Porter, 29, was a heroin addict. The pair were in the same methadone treatment program.
In early 1998, having drifted from house to house, the two moved in with Bunting in his house in Murray Bridge. They slept in the living room.
Because he was an experienced drug-user, Bunting considered Porter “a waste”.
One night in April 1998, Vlassakis took his younger brothers to the drive-in.
While he was out, Porter passed out. Wagner, following Bunting’s instructions, strangled him to death.
When he returned, he found Bunting and Wagner eating Chinese food in the living room. They led Vlassakis out to a shed in the garden, where he was proudly shown the lifeless body of his best friend, and two barrels of hydrochloric acid containing the bodies of Gardiner and Lane.
The display of the bodies shocked Vlassakis. He was, however, in an almost untenable position. He trusted Bunting -- his “father” -- but was, now, terrified of him. A few days after Porter’s murder, Vlassakis helped Bunting put his former best friend’s body into a third barrel of hydrochloric acid.
After Porter’s death, someone called Centrelink, impersonating him, asking for his benefits to be posted to a post office box. It was registered to Wagner.
The registration of Porter’s car was transferred to Vicki Mills.
Vlassakis repeated a story concocted for him by Bunting: that he and Porter had fallen out, and that Porter had moved to Melbourne, overdosed and died.
By now, Vlassakis was in deep -- and he had nowhere to turn.
Bunting referred to their murders as “Smurfing” because the victims turned blue as they were strangled. “First you go blue, then you poo.” He started calling Wagner “Papa Smurf”.
Meanwhile, police were following up the missing person’s report for Barry Lane. Checks with Centrelink showed that Lane was still receiving his disability pension. His bank account was also being accessed regularly at a service station. Video surveillance showed that the man who was doing it was Wagner.
Sensing Vlassakis’ discomfort, Bunting chose his former tormentor, his half-brother Troy Youde, as the next victim, and Vlassakis would be present for his murder.
Vlassakis had already confided in Bunting that Troy Youde, his half-brother, had repeatedly raped him when he was 13. Bunting called him “a dirty” and that it was time for Youde, who was now 21, “to go to the clinic”, time for Vlassakis to take his revenge.
In late August 1998, Vlassakis was woken by Bunting and Wagner and a fourth man, Bunting’s friend Mark Haydon. Each of them carried a jack handle. They handed Vlassakis a pair of handcuffs and the leg of a wooden chair.
The four went to Youde’s room and woke him by beating him, He was handcuffed and taken to the bathroom where his torture began.
Bunting ordered “Selling the drama” to be put on the CD player on repeat.
Bunting led the questioning, demanding that Youde call him “Lord sir”, Wagner “God” and Vlassakis “Master”. They beat him until he confessed that he had raped Vlassakis, and that this was his chance to apologise. Vlassakis walked into the bathroom, knelt on the floor next to Youde and told him that this was his chance to apologise. then demanded the PIN of his bank account and other personal details.
They used a cassette recorder to record statement, prompted by Bunting, that would later used to give the impression that he was still alive, saying that he had got a 13 year old girl pregnant and that he was moving to Perth. and abuse directed at his mother and threats to kill her.
Wagner wound a thin blue rope around Youde’s neck, tightening it with a tyre lever.
He was beaten about the genitals and had his toe crushed with a pair of pliers.
Youde passed out.
Bunting said that he was having a lot of fun and that he could do this all day to Troy.
During all this, Bunting laughed and joked, staring into his eyes as the others tightened the rope around his neck.
He said he could pinpoint the moment when the person died.
Bunting: “We’d better make sure Troy’s dead.”
To make sure he was dead, Wagner stood on his chest.
Vlassakis: “The air from Troy’s lungs came out of his nose and it made a grunting noise. John and Robert laughed and Robert kept pushing on Troy’s chest.”
they then wrapped him up in garbage bags and tied him up with rope, storing him in the shed before moving him into a barrel.
Jodie Elliot and her 18-year-old son, Fred Brooks, had recently moved to Murray Bridge from Brisbane. Elliot was Elizabeth Haydon’s sister, and was involved in an affair with Bunting. Brooks had learning difficulties -- he was intellectually disabled.
Bunting had an intense hatred of Brooks. He called him “a dirty” and was convinced that he we a pedophile.
One night in September 1998, Brooks and Vlassakis played a game which involved putting on handcuffs and taking them off at Bunting’s Murray Bridge house. Eventually, when Brooks was wearing the handcuffs, Wagner grabbed him and dragged him to the bathroom where his torture began.
Over the next six or seven hours, Vlassakis, Bunting and Wagner tortured him.
They forced him to record statements in which he confessed he was a pedophile, saying that he had got a 13 year old girl pregnant and that he was moving to Perth. and abuse directed at his mother and threats to kill her.
The CD was put on and the torture began.
He was savagely beaten. A smiley face was burned onto his forehead with a lit cigarette, which was also inserted into his nose and ears. His right toe was crushed with pliers. A variac machine was used to give his electric shocks. Water was injected into his testicles using a syringe. Sparklers were inserted into his penis and lit until they burned down. Brooks, screaming in agony, finally choked to death on the gag stuffed into his mouth.
Instead of buying a new barrel, Brooks body was cut into pieces and put into the other barrels.
The next day, Jodie Elliot reported Brooks as a missing person. Ten days later, Elizabeth Haydon received a telephone call from someone claiming to be Brooks. She told Jodie Elliot and the missing person report was withdrawn.
For weeks, Bunting fed Jodie Elliot stories to stop her continuous questions about Brooks’ whereabouts. He said that Brooks was a schizophrenic and that he did not want to see her any more and that he would call her when the time was right.
Vlassakis later said that Bunting claimed he was continuing his affair with Jodie Elliot “to use her and to keep her quiet”. He called her “the village idiot” behind her back and she was being used to impersonate Suzanne Allan to claim her benefits.
Gary O’Dwyer was 29 years old and been brain damaged in a motorcycle accident. He lived near Bunting’s Murray Bridge house at 23 Frances St.
Bunting had seen him in his front yard. His crime, in Bunting’s eyes, was that he was “the spitting image of Troy [Youde]”. Bunting asked Vlassakis to arrange a way of getting the three of them into O’Dwyer’s house.
On 28 October 1998, Vlassakis asked if he, Bunting and Wagner could come over for a beer.
After a few beers, Wagner grabbed O’Dwyer and his torture began.
He was forced to make a recording.
O’Dwyer: I’m Gary O’Dwyer, I’m a pedophile. Now I’m feeling really happy I’ve had treatment.
Bunting: Did you like the treatment you got?
Bunting: Did it hurt?
O’Dwyer: Yes, it hurt lots.
Bunting: Are you ever going to fuck another little boy or girl? You know you’ll get hurt, don’t you?
O’Dwyer: No, I’m not. I know I will get hurt if I hurt someone else.
He also recorded a message saying that his “friends” were helping him move out of his house because he was moving to Perth.
Vlassakis said that he was not present when O’Dwyer died. He said that he only participated at all because he was scared and wanted to show that he was “still playing along”
“All these murders and stuff -- I just couldn’t handle it any more. I had started to get a bit scared of being murdered myself.
He said that he had punched O’Dwyer in the chest five times “to reassure him [Bunting] that I was still playing . . . still doing what he was doing. I was still with him that way, that I wasn’t a threat to him, to reassure me not being murdered.” He said that he didn’t want to give Bunting the impression he was “messing up”.
He picked up some beers and left to go to a party.
Wagner held him while Bunting whipped him with a belt and administered electric shocks until then Wagner strangled him.
A few days later, Bunting and Wagner cleared out O’Dwyer’s house. Bunting kept his fridge, bed and dressing table, and his television set was given to Wagner’s defacto wife, Vicki Mills.
Mark Haydon was John Bunting’s best friend. His wife Elizabeth (born Verna Sinclair), who was also Jodie Elliot’s sister, would be the next to die.
At 37, she was the mother of six daughter and two sons by a series of different men. A neighbour described her as “a bit slow, but happy-go-lucky”.
Bunting hated her openly. He would spit in her hair and called her “scabs” and “pus”, and despised her because she was obese.
On 21 November 1998, Mark Haydon and Jodie Elliot went for a drive to Reynella together, leaving Wagner and Bunting in the Haydon’s house at 4 Blackham Cresent, Smithfield Plains.
Bunting and Wagner dragged Elizabeth Haydon into the bathroom where they tortured and strangled her.
Bunting later laughed as he recalled that she had said, “If you want sex you only have to ask -- you don’t have to go through all this.”
When they returned, Bunting told Jodie Elliot that Elizabeth had made a pass at him, and that he had rejected her and she was sulking in her bedroom. Jodie was told not to try and talk to Elizabeth and soon after Jodie and Bunting left. But she was not sulking in her room -- her body her in the boot of Bunting’s car.
Elizabeth Haydon’s body was put into a barrel.
The next day, Mark Haydon arrived at the house of Garion Sinclair, Elizabeth’s brother. He and his wife, Rae, had been looking after Elizabeth’s 11- and 12-year-old sons for the weekend. Haydon told Sinclair that he and Elizabeth had an argument and that she had left him. The next day he said that she had “run off with one of her boyfriends”, taking money from his bank account. A few days later he said that he’d gone to visit his father in a nursing home and returned to find that she had disappeared.
The Sinclairs’ suspicion was aroused by the different versions of the story and that fact that Haydon seemed utterly disinterested in reporting his wife’s disappearance to the police. On 25 November, Garion Sinclair filed a missing person report.
By now Jodie Elliot she was terrified -- her son and sister were both missing. She asked Bunting where she was. Finally, Bunting said that Elizabeth was a prostitute and had been seen working on the streets of Kings Cross in Sydney. Jodie Elliot became distraught on hearing of her sister’s supposed philandering.
On 26 November 1998, Detective Greg Stone was given Elizabeth Haydon’s missing person’s file. Both Bunting, Wagner and Haydon were interviewed as they were known to be the last people to see her alive.
In his interview, Wagner said “I’ll have to start keeping a little black book in case any of my other friends go missing so I can write down the date.”
There were now three missing persons reports relating to people known to Bunting and Wagner: Clinton Trezise, Barry Lane, and Elizabeth Haydon.
It was time to hide the evidence.
Bunting told Vlassakis that “the shit has hit the fan” and that the bodies in the barrels in the shed at Murray Bridge would have to be moved.
Jodie Elliot still did not suspect Bunting or Wagner, and even kept a lookout for police as the barrels were loaded into a white Toyota Land Cruiser before they were transported to Snowtown.
In January 1999, Jodie Elliot was admitted to a psychiatric ward suffering from a nervous breakdown. She spent her days rocking back and forth, clutching porcelain doll she called “Jodie Bunting”. She said that she was engaged to marry Bunting and that he was organising “a special Valentine’s Day tea”.
The victims’ clothing and other possessions, as well as all the paperwork relating to the ongoing welfare fraud, was moved from Bunting’s home to a self-storage facility, U Store It, in Gepps Cross. A note found in Bunting's handwriting outlined the ritual: "The routine of confession had to be got through. The grovelling on the floor and the screaming for mercy, the crack of broken bones, the smashed teeth and bloody clots of hair."
In February, Bunting and Haydon leased a building which had been the State Bank of South Australia in Snowtown.
David Johnson was 24, and Vlassakis’ stepbrother. His father, Marcus Johnson, had been married to Elizabeth Harvey. He also had a job, which marked him out as a "yuppie” in Bunting’s eyes.
On 9 May 1999, Vlassakis and Johnson drove to Snowtown on the pretext of Johnson buying a cut-price computer.
Vlassakis drove in one car, Johnson followed behind in his.
Police intercepted a call from Vlassakis to Bunting.
Bunting: Mate, this is the voice of happiness.
Vlassakis: We’re on our way there now.
Bunting: Yeah, well just walk right in. The machine’s set up.
When they arrived, Vlassakis walked in first, towards a computer set up in the foyer. When he turned around, Wagner already had his arm around Johnson’s neck from behind and Bunting was putting handcuffs on him. They began beating him until he gave them the PIN for his bank account.
They also recorded phrases recited to him by Vlassakis. The recording are of a bewildered but obliging voice. Bunting would use the recording to piece together the by now cover story that Johnson had fled town because he got a 13-year-old girl pregnant.
Wagner and Vlassakis drove to a roadhouse in Port Wakefield to try the account, which failed.
When they returned, Johnson’s body was on the floor. Bunting said that Johnson had grabbed a Stanley knife and attempted to escape. Bunting had subdued him and strangled Johnson with his own belt.
With the six barrels already full of body parts, Bunting said that it would have to be a “slice and dice”. Wagner cut his leg of, in the process removing an 18-centimetre square piece of flesh which he stuffed into a disposable glove.
When they finished, they went across the train tracks to shower at house of a friend.
Vlassakis said that he took a shower and came out to find Wagner cooking the flesh in a frying pan in the kitchen.
On the same night, they drove Johnson’s car back to Adelaide where Bunting offered it to Jodie Elliot for $1,500.
[Bodies in bank discovered Friday 21 May 1999]
On Thursday 20 May, Det Steve McCoy led a team to Snowtown. Bunting’s Toyota Cruiser had been seen parked in the driveway of a house in the town. The house’s resident pointed the police in the direction of the former State Bank branch in town.
The next day, using a piece of bent wire to open the bank’s vault door, they were confronted by two sheets of black plastic taped together. Inside the vault were a cheap grey couch, rubber gloves, handcuffs, three containers of hydrochloric acid and a variac machine used to give electric shocks. In the corner of the vault were the six plastic barrels, some with knives on top of them.
McCoy remembers the stench: “It was unbearable. It was the stench of what I would say was rotting flesh, rotting bodies, human bodies. It was putrid. It permeated your hair, your clothing, everything you had on the stench got into. It was horrific.”
Five bodies in the barrels had their hands and feet removed, four had gags in their mouths held in place by tape while four had ropes around their necks.
The discovery of the bodies was enough to trigger the arrest of Bunting and Wagner.
Vlassakis was sentenced to life with a 26-year non-parole period and is held in isolation, on methadone, in an unidentified South Australian prison.
Wagner plead guilty to the murders of Lane, Brooks and Johnson and was found guilty of the murders of Davies, Gardiner, Trevilyan, Porter, Youde, O’Dwyer and Haydon.