Every day Kryss Black and Rob Vanderveen watch someone new turn up out the front of their house. It's a constant stream of the morbidly curious. Some come to stare and imagine. Others picnic in front of the doors. Some leave cards for paranormal investigators. Some try to break in. Most come to take photos. Sometimes they even bring their own barrels."They want to get into the bank," Black says. "They want to get into the vault. That's their mission. Go and look at the vault. If they can get in, they will."
The vault, as most Australians knows, is where eight corpses crammed into barrels were found in 1999, the handiwork of sadistic serial killer John Justin Bunting, assisted by Robert Joe Wagner and James Vlassakis.It's been 16 years since Australia's most infamous murder case, and people still keep coming to Snowtown. Vanderveen sees them when he goes out for groceries or when he's doing work. Sometimes they even take photos of him.He and Black bought the bank back in 2012 when they moved over from Melbourne. They were looking for something quiet, they say, and the bank's history didn't matter. Asked how they feel about living in the building next door, they say to them it's just a shop."You've got people who have been murdered in houses all around the world," says Vanderveen. "You can't just let it rot.""Even if they had pulled it down, people would still visit the block," Black adds. "They go to Truro and they look at nothing. A paddock. And they still go up there in flocks."
Now the couple live in the house adjoining the bank and have slowly been restoring the property after years of neglect. The bank itself isn't used for much, they say, except for storage and as an occasional sleeping place for their cat, Gandy.The pair see themselves as the bank's custodians. To them, it's a part of Australian history—the headlines that followed the discoveries of the bodies, after all, gave Snowtown instant notoriety.
Bunting, the man behind the killings, was Australia's answer to Jeffrey Dahmer. He'd turned up in Adelaide's working class north one day in 1991, and slowly manipulated his neighbors into murdering those he considered society's "waste."Between August 1992 and May 1999, Bunting, along with Wagner and James Vlassakis, preyed upon at least 10 people. Many of them were brutally tortured, including 24-year-old David Johnson, who was the only person killed in the bank and was found partially cannibalized. Bunting had rented the disused bank in Snowtown, 80 kilometers [50 miles] north of Adelaide, to dissolve eight of their victims in barrels of hydrochloric acid. Instead this had the unforeseen affect of pickling the corpses, which provided conclusive evidence when they were found.At trial, Bunting styled himself as a vigilante and claimed his victims were "pedophiles." It's a line that some, such as the closed Facebook group calling itself the John Bunting Appreciation Society, seem to have bought entirely.The catch is, many of those who died were people Bunting simply didn't like. One was a mother. Others were disabled. Bunting went on to claim his victims' welfare payments and give away their property. As Justice Brian Martin said when he sentenced Bunting and his friends to life in October 2003, they were "in the business of killing for pleasure."Ever since, Snowtown—a sleepy town of 400 people—has had to live with the stigma of the bank and its vault.
"If you look at every other serial killer, there isn't a building connected," Black says. "It's usually bodies in the bush, bodies in the mountains somewhere, bodies in the paddock. But here you've got a building. People can actually see a solid thing and their imaginations run away with them."I asked to see the vault, but the couple said no. No one gets inside until they open it to the public as a memorial to the victims, a middle- inger to the perpetrators, and a bric-a-brac store for Australian-made Snowtown merch.The couple say they haven't thought about whether or not they'll charge for entry. They're not even at that stage yet. All they hope is that opening up the bank may help in some way to lift the economic slump that's settled over Snowtown since the railway went federal and their local station closed up."People only want to see one thing," Vanderveen says. "The only business you can put in there is something to do with what happened, to be honest. You can't go and make a coffee shop out of it. It's got to happen. There's too much interest. It's part of Australian history now."Follow Royce on Twitter.