The Snow Town Murders

#11 bodies #6 barrels #killers #Bunting and Wagner


WHO: John Justin Bunting, Robert Wagner, Mark Ray Haydon and James Vlassakis (State Library, n.d.)

What: Brutally tortured and murdered 11 people

WHEN: December 1995 to May 1999

HOW: Strangulation, torture and shooting (State Library, n.d.)

WHY: In court Bunting stated his reasons: "Paedophiles were doing terrible things to children and innocent children were being damaged," he said, reading from a statement. "The authorities did nothing about it, I was very angry. Someone had to do something about it. I decided to take action and I took that action." (Debelle, 2003)

However, Justin Martin believes, stating towards Bunting and Wagner "I am satisfied both of you derived pleasure from the physical act of killing and the violence and torture that preceded some of the killings," he said. "I am also satisfied you derived pleasure from the defleshing and dismembering of some of the bodies."(Debelle, 2003)

Investigators also believed that one of the main killers objectives was to financially gain from their victims as they received their victims doll payments. This was achieved by the killers impersonating their victims.


30 Railway East Terrace, Snowtown, South Australia 5520

Is the location of the bank where the bodies in the barrels were found.

The Evidence

Scene of the crime: The bank, where six barrels containing eight bodies were found. A Snowtown officer describes the scene of the crime “It was scene from the worst nightmare you've ever had. I don’t think anyone was prepared for what we saw.”

One of the murders occurred at the Snowtown bank.

Evidence of the brutal torture and mass murders was demonstrated through the tools and materials found at the crime scene.

- A bloodstained saw

- Double barrel shotgun

- Coils of rope

- Rolls of tape

- Rubber gloves

- Cloths

- Pliers

- Clamps

- Sparklers

- Handcuffs

Pathologists reported that these tools were used prologue the torture.

Details of the Crime: The 11 Victims

Clinton Trezise - Ray Davies - Michael Gardiner - Barry Lane - Thomas Trevilyan - Gavin Porter - Troy Youde - Frederick Brooks - Gary O’Dwyer - Elizabeth Haydon - David Johnson

Investigation and Breakthroughs

Police Commissioner Neil McKenzie formatted the Taskforce, 'Chart'. Veteran Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Schramn was in charge. They were investigating the disappearance of Elizabeth Haydon, Barry Wayne Lane and his friend Clinton Dougless Trezise .

The first link to the investigation was when Elizabeth’s brother reported her disappearance. The police were curious as to why her husband had not reported it.

After a year of missing persons investigation police had finally arrived at the “chamber of horrors”, the Snowtown bank. In the bank's vault six black plastic barrels were found which contained hydrochloric acid and human body parts from eight different victims. One vat contained fifteen human feet. Gathered information from the police suggested that the bodies had been in storage for at least three months.

Less than a kilometre evidence was collected from Bunting's rented hose.The neighbours to this rented house said that the occupants were “reclusive” and did not bond with the community thus they were “left separate”.

On Sunday, 23rd of June, police arrived at one of Bunting's former homes in search for bodies. Once at the property the investigators used a ground-penetrating radar. The radar was wheeled across the area and the data revealed that an area of 2 meters square had been “disturbed” and refilled, a human body in two separate bags was detected by forensic police.


DNA profiling was used to identify the decomposed bodies as it provided the most effective and accurate results. The constructed Taskforce "Chart" indicated that the missing people’s identification could be verified via blood relations. This DNA matching process requires police to track down relatives to the suspected deceased. The relatives will provide DNA samples which can be then used for microscopic comparison. If the deceased DNA is similar to their suspected relatives then it is 20 million times more likely to be of their relation. Human DNA is resilient as it regularly present in bodies which have been exposed to in this case, acid. DNA is enclosed in the nuclei of cells which can be extracted from bone marrow, blood, hair follicles which have been in corrosive fluid. These identification methods occurred in the laboratory. By June the 8th the eight victims from the vault were identified however the two discovered in Salisbury North were not (John Boston, 2014).

Finger prints and DNA analysis was used to convict the four suspects. Finger prints were found on the torture instruments and materials found in the vault and at their homes as explained in the evidence. DNA was also located gloves and other material as described in the evidence. A male of the 10 bodies found in the vault was identified by finger prints (Aussie Criminals, 2014).

Forensic biologists would assist with identification of the criminals and victims using DNA technology. Polymerase chain reaction was used to replicate the DNA found at the crime scene. As well as short tandem repeat where specific regions of the replicated DNA are analysed. Genetic markers are used to identify patterns in a specific region and if a match is made with one of the suspects then they can be connected to the crime. This can be conducted as all humans have unique patterns.

The detection of iron which is contained in blood on the weapons listed in the evidence was identified in a luminol reaction. The presence of blood is indicated when a blue luminescent light is emitted (BCA, n.d.). A Phenolphthalein test may have been used where the heme molecule in blood reacts and a pink colour is emitted. This test however includes all blood types thus the blood may have been of an animal (BCA, n.d.)

The identification of the fingerprints found at the crime scene (in evidence) on moveable and stationary objects for example the fingerprints on the gloves (found in evidence) were discovered through a number of processes. The collection of the fingerprint depended on the surface it was present on. On porous (absorbs liquids) surfaces chemicals are sprinkled over the prints such as ninhydrin. The developing prints are then photographed. Powder and brush techniques are used on non-porous surfaces (liquids sit on surface such as glass) and lifting tape is used to collect this print (National Museum, n.d.). This also applies to rough surfaces however a gel-lifter is used to lift the print. The finger prints are classed and individual characteristics are identified in the analysing process . These classes include arches, loops, and whorls (National Museum, n.d.). Individual characteristics consist of minor irregularities which are recognised within friction ridges, for example ridge endings, dots or islands. This applies to the unknown print to the print that it is being compared with, a known print (suspect). The two prints are compared alongside each other. Their class characteristics are compared and if their is a match then individual characteristics are compared and identified point by point. Two examiners are required to do this process. If their is a match then the fingerprint is classed as strong evidence. It is evident to conclude that the fingerprints analysed in the Snowtown murders went through a similar process to narrow down the suspects.


Forensic Pathologists where involved in the Snowtown investigation. The definition of pathology is described by Dr Ananya Mandal, “a branch of medical science primarily concerning the examination of organs, tissues, and bodily fluids in order to make a diagnosis of disease” (Mandal, n.d.)

Forensic psychologists were introduced to the crime where they profiled the suspects and how they may have been connected to the crime. This is only one aspect the psychologists assisted with in the crime the other aspects are revealed in the definition of Forensic psychology, “is the study of the mind and behaviour where criminal profiling, crime trends, effective mental health treatment for offenders and the interaction of the practice are applied and used.” (Explore health, 2014)(Mauro, 2010)

Forensic anthropologists assisted with the identification of the victims as they “are experts in analysing human remains”(Forensic Anthropologist, n.d.) and more specifically human osteology. They are subsequently involved in forensic investigations such as the Snowtown murders. This implies that they assisted with the identification of the bones and bodies. They were able to identify the sex of the body, approximate age and ethnicity.

Wendy Abraham, deputy Director of Public persecutions revealed in the Supreme Court of South Australia that Bunting forced his victims to refer to him and Wagner as “Master”, “My Lord”, “God” and “chief inspector”. Professor Kevin Howells, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of South Australia said that Bunting “fitted the classic mould of the emotional deficient psychopathic killer who lacked empathy with his victims” Hollwells also revealed that “cutting of the bodies after death showed asexual sadism”. (Aussie Criminals, 2012)

The experts have evidently put the pieces of the crime together by identifying the events that have occurred and the criminals. They supported the evidence through confirmation that the suspects had the capability to commit the unforgiving crimes. This subsequently would be beneficial to notify the court during the trials.

Identification and confirmation of the Criminals and the Victims

The vault's door was locked when the police arrived however it was opened with a wire bent into a key constructed by Mr Freeman. A similar wire with the same capability to open the vault was found in a pit in Haydon’s shed on his premises. This indicates that Haydon had access to the bank thus was involved with the criminal activity.

Gloves were found in the bank’s premises containing Bunting’s, Wagner’s and Haydon’s DNA. DNA of the deceased were also identified on various gloves. Of the three gloves that contained Johnson’s DNA one contained voluntary skeletal muscle. The presence of this muscle indicated that Wagner removed flesh from Johnson’s body. Johnson’s DNA was also found on a knife (in vault), on tape and in hair. Haydon’s and Bunting’s prints were identified on plastic which had the potential to be used as a poncho when handling bodies.

On the bank’s counter, rope was found which contained Porter’s DNA. Youde’s DNA was located on tape, clothes, rope and hair within rope. A number of the deceased DNA was located on items that were found in plastic bags.

Valassaki was the “chief witness” at the court trials and retold each account of the murders. He admitted to Buntings plans and his gruesome and uncomprehending behaviours. An example of this is when bunting provided the four, himself, Haydon, Valassaki and Wagner with gloves when inside the vault. The bodies decay and deterioration was monitored as the lids of the barrels were removed.

All information provided by Aussie Criminals, 2012.

Clinton Trezise bones were identified by medical technology, an X-ray which was considered a "significant breakthrough" by Superintendent Schramm as it was "a matter we have been trying to achieve for the past four years." (John Boston, 2014)

This result occurred on June the 8th, 1999 where one of Clinton's x-rays were obtained and was analysed by pathologists and anthropologists.

This accumulation of evidence assisted with the conviction of Bunting, Vlaskis, Wagner and Haydon. Without this evidence there would be nothing to connect them to their crime.

Social Impact

The crime “horrified” the public with the gruesome procedures taken to murder the victims. The town gained “unwanted attention” from curious tourists. They took photos of themselves in front of the bank where the barrels of bodies were found. Some even touched the vault’s door. This curiosity came from the manner at which the bodies were found. (Aussie criminals, 2012)

In the Supreme Court trials for Wagner and Bunting three jurors withdrew “due to the horror of evidence”.

The people of Snowtown were negatively impacted by views of outsiders. Snowtown is commonly referred as the "Snowtown murders". The town's real-estate market rapidly reduced.

The service for the Snow Town murders was held on June the 7th where less than 60 people attended. Eight candles were lit to represent each of the vault’s victims.

Murray Menzel Personally believes that "it hasn't affected me one little bit. I've just moved on and none of the perpetrators or victims were any part of our community."(Iskhandar Razak, 2007)

Chairman of Snowtown Community Management Committee, Paul McCormack states,
"None of the killers or their victims were from the town, the crime hasn't changed the people who live there" (Iskhandar Razak, 2007)

The father of one of the victims, David Johnson said that the evidence at court trials was "hard to deal with".

"The words and the things that were said in there, it's incredible to have listened to some of that, what went on with my son, with Troy my stepson and all those other victims and I feel for everyone in the families." (ABC News, 2003)

Overall, it was difficult for investigators to gather information of the possible killers and the relation to the disappearance of people. As the killers were strangers to Snowtown residents. Although the crime was gruesome it did not emotionally impact Snowtown residents. The people who were effected knew the details of the crime and were the relatives to the victims.

The Trial


Vlassaskis pleaded guilty to four murders in court where he was given four life sentences on the 21st of June 2001.

Bunting, Haydon and Wagner all pleaded not guilty to 10 accounts of murder.

Haydon's chargers where dropped as a result of“insufficient evidence”.

Wagner and Bunting’s Supreme Court trials began on 14 October 2002 and guilt chargers were made on 8 September 2003. Bunting's conviction was of eleven murders. Wagner pleaded guilty for three murders but was convicted of seven. The two were sentenced to imprisonment of life for each account. The judge, Justice Brian Martin, believed that the men were of a “business of killing for pleasure” and “incapable of true rehabilitation" (Aussie Criminals, 2012)

On 2 August Haydon’s trial reopened in 2004 and charged with two murders and six accounts of “assisting offenders”. He testified “he was not party to the crimes”. On the 19th of December he was convicted of five counts of assisting in the crimes (Aussie Criminals, 2012)

The trials dragged on for 11 months and the court heard from 227 witnesses. The trial came to accumulating 15 million dollars. (ABC News, 2003)


Dr Helen Cameron of the University of SA drew conclusions to the initiation of the mass murders,"You don't have any life chances, so crime becomes almost an entertainment," she said (The Age, 2009). Thus if support was provided to the troubled Victims such as Gavin Porter a heroin addict they would not have been victimised. As they would have been in an institute to eliminate their addictions.

The crime may have not have been as significant if the crime occurred in today's society as homosexuals and bisexual are more accepted. During Bunting's time homosexuals were rarely accepted even within their family. Thus he developed stereotypical conclusions that they all homosexuals are paedophiles due to one incident. If Bunting was educated he would not have drawn to these conclusions as they are not logical or statistically supported.

A part of Bunting's aim was to access his victim's accounts with the addition of their regular doll payments. Bunting achieved this, however if this crime occurred in 2014 this would not have occurred. Bunting had great ease it accessing his victim's bank accounts however in the future and partially in today's society regulations are stricter where visual identification is required. Therefore Bunting would not be able to access the accounts and therefore his crime may not have occurred.

The number of Bunting's and his associates killings would have been reduced and eliminated if James Vlassakis had reported them to the police when it first began. This would have occurred if he lived in an supportive environment and knew that the police would have protected him in safe housing. Today this is taught and recognised in school and in foundations that encourage safety smart behaviours.

Technology and knowledge of professional investigators has increased and therefore more information could be drawn from when the first three victims disappeared. There would be more questions, techniques used to identify anything unusual and any sociological behaviours that could indicate suspicion and anxiety.

An advancement in technology or in forensic professions would not affect or change the outcomes of the convicted as immense amounts of evidence was collected by investigators in Snowtown's bank. As well as the DNA located on the evidence and with the assistance of James Vlassakis who explained the crimes committed and involvements with the crime. In saying that the time to process data from the evidence would be reduced therefore the duration of Snowtown murders would be reduced also.

The convictions of the men could not have been conducted if it wasn't for DNA technology, forensic specialists and James Vlassakis admittance.


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