Lots of horror films carry the not-so-subtle message that city slickers, especially good-looking youths thirsting for adventure, shouldn’t linger in the backwoods—including 2005 Australian entry Wolf Creek. It’s a gruesomely scary flick. And it was inspired by genuinely frightening real-life killers.
First was the case of Ivan Milat, said to be one of Australia’s most prolific serial killers. That’s him up top, in a 1997 file photo that was re-distributed in 2009; he’d made new headlines after using a plastic knife to saw off his pinky finger in prison. Why? Well, he wanted to mail it to the High Court of Australia as a little thinking-of-you gift, apparently. Visiting the hospital after this and other stunts are the sole source of excitement for Milat these days, who was convicted of seven murders in 1996. His actual number of victims is unknown; he preferred hitchhikers and travelers passing through isolated locations. But his methods were brutal. Though they weren’t his first targets, the bodies of British citizens Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters were the first to be discovered:
They were found in an area of the Belangalo State Forest known as Executioners Drop, by orienteering enthusiasts who were out on their weekly run, on September 19, 1992.
...Both girls had been missing since May of that year, when they had teamed up to look for work south of Sydney. Joanne Walters had been stabbed repeatedly; including one wound to her spine that, it was believed, might have paralyzed her while the killer continued his vicious attack. The zip of her jeans had been undone, but the top button was still fastened, as if she had been partially stripped and sexually assaulted, then buttoned up hastily after the attack. Her remains were too badly decomposed to actually establish whether a sexual attack had occurred. Caroline Clarke, as well as being stabbed repeatedly, had been shot in the head ten times. She also had a similar spinal wound to Walters. Four bullets that remained inside her skull were preserved for forensic analysis, and detectives were confident that they would be able to use these to track the weapon responsible.
A primitive brick fireplace had been constructed near the bodies, and cigarette butts and spent .22-caliber cartridge cases were also recovered from the scene.
Subsequent crime scenes were similarly horrifying; one victim was actually decapitated. A man who’d been picked up by Milat but managed to narrowly escape his clutches was the key to cracking the case; after he positively identified his attacker, the police found “trophies” concealed in Milat’s house, including camping gear and clothing he’d stolen from his victims.
Milat alone would be enough script fodder for any horror filmmaker, but convicted murderer Bradley John Murdoch is also cited as an inspiration. In 2001, British couple Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio stopped their van, pictured above, on a remote road to help a man who claimed he was having car trouble. Falconio was apparently shot dead (his body has never been recovered), and Lees was bound and blindfolded. Fortunately, she was able to escape before finding out what Falconio’s assailant had in mind for her.
Though some questioned Lees’ story at first (the Guardian said she was being “Lindy Chamberlained,” a reference to the mother who was accused of murder even as she insisted, famously, that dingos had snatched her young daughter), Murdoch was nabbed after his DNA was traced to their van, as well as to a T-shirt Lees was wearing when she was attacked. He was convicted in 2006.
Top: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File; bottom: AP Photo/Ian Waldie, Pool