Snowtown murders

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Snowtown murders
Span of killings
August 1992–May 1999
State(s)South Australia
Date apprehended
21 May 1999
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Snowtown murders
Span of killings
August 1992–May 1999
State(s)South Australia
Date apprehended
21 May 1999

The Snowtown murders (also known as the Bodies-in-Barrels murders[1]) were a series of homicides committed by John Bunting, Robert Wagner, and James Vlassakis between August 1992 and May 1999 in Southern Australia.[2] A fourth person, Mark Haydon, was convicted for helping to dispose of the bodies. Only one of the victims was killed in Snowtown, and neither the eleven victims nor the perpetrators were from the town.

It is believed that the killers' motives for some of the murders were that they believed the victims to be paedophiles, homosexuals or "weak".[2] The murders were frequently preceded by torture.[2]

The notoriety of the murders led to a short-term economic boost from tourists visiting Snowtown,[2] but created a lasting stigma.[3]

Investigation and charges[edit]

John Bunting moved to a house in Salisbury North in 1991. There he befriended his neighbors Mark Haydon, Robert Wagner and his girlfriend Vanessa Laney.[4] At the time of the arrest, James Vlassakis lived in Bunting's home.[2]

The body of Clinton Trezise was found near Adelaide in 1995.[2]

On May 20, 1999, the remains of eight victims were found by the South Australian Police in six plastic barrels in an unused bank vault in Snowtown.[5] It is believed that the bodies had been held in several locations in South Australia before being moved to Snowtown in early 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.[5]

Bunting, Wagner, Vlassakis and Haydon were arrested and charged in May 1999.[2]

Trials and Verdicts[edit]

The trial of Bunting and Wagner, lasting almost twelve months, was the longest in the history of the state. In December 2003,[6] Bunting was convicted of committing 11 murders,[5] and Wagner was convicted of 10 murders, of which he had confessed to three.[5] Vlassakis pleaded guilty to four of the murders.[5] In 2004, Haydon was convicted on five counts of assisting with the murders (of which he admitted to two).[1][7] The jury did not come to a decision on charges of committing murder or a sixth charge of assisting, with the prosecution stating they would seek a retrial on those charges.[1]

The final outstanding murder charge of Suzanne Allen against Bunting and Wagner was dropped on 7 May 2007, when a jury was unable to reach a verdict.[8]

At his sentencing, Wagner stated from the dock:

"Pedophiles 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."[6]

The court decided 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. Vlassakis was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences with a non-parole period of 26 years and Haydon was sentenced to 25 years with no possibility of parole for 8 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]


Community impact[edit]

The Age reported in 2011 that the town of Snowtown would be "forever stigmatized" by its relationship to the murders.[3] Shortly after the discovery of the bodies in Snowtown, the community discussed changing the town's name to "Rosetown," but no further actions were taken.[3] As of 2012, one shop in Snowtown was selling souvenirs of the murders "cashing in on Snowtown's unfortunate notoriety".[12]

The house in Salisbury North where Bunting lived and buried two bodies was demolished by its owner, the South Australian Housing Trust.[4]

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.[13] After holding an open house which raised $700 for charity through charging an entrance fee, the property sold 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.[14][15]

In media and popular culture[edit]

A film, Snowtown, regarding the life of John Bunting was released in Australia on 19 May 2011.[16]

A number of books have been written about the murders.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c AAP (December 19, 2004). "Bodies-in-barrels trial not over". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Newton, Michael (2006-01-01). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Infobase Publishing. pp. 243–. ISBN 9780816069873. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Snowtown: Living with a death penalty The Age 7 May 2011
  4. ^ a b c "Gruesome trail of killing". The Age (Melbourne). 9 September 2003. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Sadists get life - National -". The Age. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Tony Hull (08/09/2003). "Lateline - 08/09/2003: Snowtown killers likely to die in jail . Australian Broadcasting Corp". ABC Online. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Snowtown killers 'cooked victim's flesh' - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". ABC Online. 19 Sep 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "Final Snowtown murder charge dropped". ABC News. 8 May 2007. 
  9. ^ "Snowtown suppression orders lifted for film". Australian Associated Press. 20 January 2011. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Heckle, Drum & Gravitt, n.d. John Justin Bunting. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  12. ^ Tourists snap up souvenirs of Snowtown's past The Advertiser 15 July 2012
  13. ^ If walls could talk The Australian 30 June 2012
  14. ^ THE infamous Snowtown Bank has sold The Advertiser 29 August 2012
  15. ^ Snowtown bank sold The Age 29 September 2012
  16. ^
  17. ^
    • Snowtown Murders: The Real Story Behind the Bodies in the Barrels Killings, Andrew McGarry, ISBN 0-7333-1482-1
    • Snowtown: The Bodies In Barrels Murders: The Grisly Story of Australia's Worst Serial Killings, Jeremy Pudney, ISBN 0-7322-6716-1
    • All Things Bright And Beautiful: Murder In The City Of Light, Susan Mitchell, ISBN 1-4050-3610-9

External links[edit]

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