The former home of Australia’s most notorious serial killer is a cookie-cutter red-brick bungalow in Eagle Vale, southwest Sydney. Four bedrooms, one bathroom, a two-car garage with ample storage space and an alfresco entertaining area out the back. It’s comfortable; almost cosey. If nobody told you, there’d be little way of knowing it was once the residence of a man who murdered and dumped the bodies of seven backpackers in a forest just an hours’ drive south.
“We came to look at this house and I really liked it,” says Rebecca as she welcomes me into the front room. “I didn’t know it was Ivan Milat’s house—no one told me.”
Rebecca has lived here for about two-and-a-half years, having bought the property in early 2016. The previous owners were an Italian couple who were going through a divorce, she says, and they seemed eager to get rid of the place. They didn’t mention its dark history. Unsurprisingly, neither did the real estate agent.
“We had to mention it to them,” says Rebecca’s partner, Roger. “And then she [the real estate agent] turns around and says ‘Oh yeah, sorry: it was Ivan Milat’s house.’ Said it’d slipped her mind.”
Ivan Robert Marko Milat was born in 1944, one of 14 kids in a Yugoslav immigrant family. Throughout his teenage years he was in and out of courtrooms for housebreaking, grand theft auto, and armed robbery. Then in 1971, at the age of 26, he was trialled—though ultimately acquitted—over the alleged rape of two female hitchhikers.
Milat spent the next two decades flying under the radar. But in 1992 the bodies of two British tourists were found decomposing in Belanglo State Forest, followed by the bodies of five more missing backpackers in 1993. Police eventually closed in on Milat, and on May 22, 1994 he was hauled from this very house and charged with murder. He later received seven life sentences—one for each victim.
Looking back now, Rebecca concedes that she probably could have gotten this place a bit cheaper had she known the former owner was colloquially dubbed the Backpacker Killer. As it were, she paid just over $650,000—and it wasn’t until after she’d put the deposit down that she learned what she was really sitting on.
“I rang my mum excited about buying a brick house with a pool, and she rang me back five minutes later and said ‘Oh my god! Do you know whose house that used to be?’” she recalls. Then she sighs. “Before finding out it was Ivan’s I loved this house.”
Rebecca gives me a quick tour: past the open kitchen, the cluttered bedrooms and the small, tidy bathroom to the back patio. There really is an in-ground swimming pool, and it’s in good knick. Roger is happy to point out it was installed after Ivan’s tenure.
Roger says he knows the person who lived next door during Milat’s arrest, and says “this place got pulled apart something shocking. Pulled just about every nail and screw out and X-rayed all the walls. They were here for weeks.”
In the course of that search police uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition, including the firing pin to a .22 caliber rifle that was linked to the murders of several young people aged between their late teens and early twenties. They included British backpackers Caroline Clark and Joanne Walters; German backpackers Simone Chmidl, Anja Habschied and Gabor Neugebauer; and Australian couple James Gibson and Deborah Everist.
Nearly all had been trying to hitchhike south to Melbourne throughout the early 90s, only to have the misfortune of being picked up by Milat, who would pull into Belanglo State Forest along the way.
When police raided Milat’s home, they found his victim’s personal effects stowed away in the roof space: clothing, sleeping bags, camping equipment. A drink bottle with the name “Simmy” written on its side.
With this in mind, Rebecca invites me up into the roof: a must-see on any tour of the Milat family home, apparently. The entry point is one of those pull-down attic ladders that are only ever seen in suspenseful movies about serial killers, and I awkwardly climb up it into Ivan Milat’s former attic.
It’s creepy, but only slightly more so than every other roof space I’ve ever been in. The insulation is tattered, an old chandelier lies next to a fallen Christmas tree, and a blue canvas camping chair is erected in the half-light like the prop of a haunted house. A breeze blows in through chinks in the roof, howling softly, and Rebecca quips that it’s the sound of Ivan’s ghost.
“I do believe that bad energies or evilness can hang,” she says. “My mum, the first time she stayed here, she got a really bad feeling. And Roger’s niece and nephew, when they stayed they were scared too.
“You just get a strange, uneasy feeling. Sometimes we tell people ‘This is Ivan Milat’s house’ because it’s a talking point, and then sometimes people come here and say ‘We got an eerie feeling’ without even knowing it was his house at all.”
When we go downstairs Roger says much the same thing: that Rebecca is often scared to go into the kitchen by herself; that he gets a chill walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
“Sometimes I come out of the bedroom and I don’t want to look down the hallway,” he admits. “They say he never killed no one here, which I believe. But I don’t really know what to believe.”
Roger insists he doesn’t buy into the whole ‘dark energies’ thing, though, and that only two strange things have ever happened to him since living here.
The first was when two random people came knocking asking if they could come inside and have a look at Ivan Milat’s house. Dark tourists of a sort. Roger says he told them to go away, and shut the door. But it got him thinking.
“I wanted to rent the back rooms out to backpackers,” he declares, entrepreneurially. “I was thinking about it seriously—because you’d probably get some people that would.”
“‘The Backpacker’s Hostel’,” Rebecca suggests, before considering that a name like that might be in bad taste. Roger agrees, so she tries another:
“‘The Backpacker’s Bed and Breakfast’.”
It’s hard to say how serious they are about the idea, but Roger insists it’s just his “warped sense of humour” and that they “don’t want to make any money off all the people that died.”
While you're here, watch our doco on one of Australia's most crooked cops:
But then there’s the other weird thing that happened to Roger.
“I didn’t tell Rebecca this because I didn’t want her to get scared, but I was up at the shop one day and one of Ivan’s brothers comes up and says ‘How’s the house going?’
“I didn’t get a chance to say ‘How do you know I live here?’ I just thought it was a neighbour. But then I seen his photo on the TV, and when I realised who it was it freaked me out.”
This anecdote does nothing to calm down Rebecca, who’s already mentioned several times that she thinks someone might be targeting her. Part of the reason she and Roger fell in love with this house was “because it was advertised as having a full security system that you could go to bed and turn on”, as well as locks on all the windows. I imagine such defenses might have come in handy over the years, if for no other reason than to put the mind at ease. Particularly following a run-in with Ivan Milat’s own brother.
Ivan and his brother Walter built the house in the 90s for their sister, Shirley Soire, before Ivan moved in with her in 1993. It would have been around this time that the bodies of his victims were first being unearthed in the nearby forest—making the idea of Ivan sitting in this lounge reflecting on his grisly murders a realistic one.
It’s a disturbing thought, and one that really is hard to shake in this place. I proffer the question: after nearly three years spent living here, what kind of psychological effect has all of this had on Rebecca and Roger?
“I do find it mentally exhausting,” Rebecca admits, and Roger confirms that “the last house she was at she wasn’t as bad as when she came here, in terms of her anxiety and things like that.”
“Yeah I’ve been really bad here… I don’t want to stay. It’s just making me really uneasy.”
It’s maybe the third time Rebecca’s talked about leaving since I arrived. So will she and Roger tell the next tenants that this cosey, four-bedroom red-brick bungalow was once the home of Australia’s most notorious serial killer?
“Oh yeah, I think it’s my responsibility,” says Rebecca. “We won’t advertise it as that, but when somebody walks through and they want to know about the house, yeah. Of course.”
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For more on this topic read: A Sad Walk Through Australia's Serial Killer Forest