‘How I escaped from Ivan Milat’
In January 1982, Colin Powis nearly became one of Ivan Milat's earliest victims.
It was just after 9:30am on a Tuesday and the 21-year-old backpacker, recently arrived from the UK, was hitchhiking in the Blue Mountains. He was trying to catch a ride to the town of Cobar, near Dubbo, to look for work in the mines.
After about half an hour, a pick-up truck finally stopped.
"I got my backpack off, and I went to throw it in the tray," Mr Powis, who returned to Australia for the first time in nearly four decades to recreate the encounter, told Seven's Sunday Night.
"And, when I did that, the fella said, 'No, mate, don't do that. 'Put it here in the car. It's a lot safer.' And there was nothing else in the back of that truck, except one large hammer that was right in the corner."
The man, who Mr Powis judged to be in his mid to late 30s, was sporting a baseball cap and work boots. He was "kind of muscular" and had a faint moustache and a few days' growth beard.
Shown a photograph of the serial killer in his prime, Mr Powis confirmed "that was him". "That was definitely the creep who picked me up - but he wasn't smiling," he told the program.
Milat "never said hello", according to Mr Powis.
"He just said, 'Put your seatbelt on, mate.' So I put my seatbelt on. And then he said, 'Put that button down … We don't want you to fall out, mate.'"
After Mr Powis locked the door, Milat asked him a chilling question.
"The first thing he said was, 'How long have you been in Australia?' He said, 'Who knows you're here?'," Mr Powis said.
"And I said, 'Well, I've only been here two days and I don't know anybody here.' He went into a kind of trance right away. He just went into a trance - like, deep into thought. And he wasn't speaking."
Milat remained silent until abruptly taking a left turn.
"Suddenly he said, 'I'm turning off here.' And I said, 'I'm gonna go to Cobar, so just drop me off right here,'" Mr Powis said.
He continued driving down a dirt road for half a kilometre before he finally stopped. "(He was) claiming that it wasn't safe to stop, and, at the same time, looking in the mirror."
Mr Powis got out of the car - and so did Milat.
"He had his hand behind his back holding the hammer," he said. "I knew there was going to be trouble right then because he had no reason to get out of the vehicle. What saved me is some cars came past."
As the cars came past Milat was "looking over his shoulder at them and looking at me at the same time, because he was just about to strike". "And because he was acting suspiciously, they were looking at both of us," Mr Powis said.
"And it gave me an opportunity just to quickly get out and then pull the seat forward like this to try to get the backpack out. And at the same time, he was stood right behind me like that."
Milat couldn't do anything because the cars were still coming past.
"But he wanted to, though," Mr Powis said.
"When I had the backpack, I slung it over my shoulder like this, and he was blocking my path. So I shouldered past him like this and started walking away."
When he has about 20 feet away, Mr Powis said Milat called out, "Hey, mate!"
"And I looked back, and he was loungin' against the tailgate of his truck," he said. "And he said something like, 'Have a safe trip,' or, 'Look after yourself, mate.' And that was the last time I saw Ivan Milat."
Mr Powis said at the time, he thought it was an attempted robbery. He didn't report the incident to police because "there was nothing to report".
"He never laid a hand on me," he said. "He didn't run away with my backpack."
Reflecting back now, he thinks in Milat's "hillbilly world" he saw backpackers as a "form of exotic wildlife that migrated through his territory, and he could just go out and kill 'em for fun".
"He saw backpackers as, like, stray dogs that could be picked off the street, taken into the bush you know, killed for sport, so to speak," he said. "That was his primitive kind of world view."
Milat, now aged 74 and terminally ill with cancer, was arrested in 1994 for the murders of seven backpackers whose remains were found in the Belanglo State Forest, an hour north of Goulburn.
He was convicted in 1996 and is currently serving seven consecutive life sentences. While he has always maintained his innocence, former NSW Police detective Clive Small believes he is responsible for at least three other unsolved killings.
"There's one definite murder and there are two others, quite possible," he told the program.
The most likely is the murder of 18-year-old hitchhiker Peter Letcher, whose body was found in the Jenolan State Forest in January 1988.
"There were a number of similarities in that murder with the backpackers," Mr Small said.
"Probably one of the most significant was the fact that he was both stabbed and shot. And the bullets that were found there - some spent shells - appeared to have been fired by the same type of weapon that was used in the backpacker murders. And the bullets themselves appeared to be the same type. All the signature signs of Ivan Milat. And Milat was working in that area at the time."
Mr Small believes Milat's other two likely victims are Keren Rowland, who was 20 years old when she went missing in the Canberra region in February 1971, and 29-year-old Dianne Pennacchio, who was last seen leaving a hotel in Bungendore in September 1991.
"I believe there's more than just seven, but not too many more," Mr Small said.
The former assistant police commissioner recalls the one moment Milat slipped up while inside Goulburn jail. "He accused me of suggesting his sister was involved in the murders," he said.
"And I said, 'I've never suggested she was involved, because I know you did them.' His response was, 'Yes, so why are you saying she's involved?' It wasn't until he said it that the expression on his face was one of shock, where he thought, 'I've almost made an admission here.' But from my point of view, it was an admission."
Ivan's older brother Boris Milat, in previously unbroadcast segments from a 2015 interview, told Sunday Night he thinks the real number of victims is far higher.
"I mean, he's doing it in one place - he was also living in other places," he said. "Surely. There's suspects all over the place. There's suspects up there in Newcastle, at Belmont, you know? He was working there."
He added, "I definitely think it is at least double. In my mind it'd have to be."