Victims’ families speak out: ‘Milat destroyed our lives’
The families of the seven young backpackers are forever united by the murders of their children.
Having bonded during the long committal hearing and trial of Ivan Milat, they stayed in touch across the world. But as contact lessened over the years, the grief never did.
Tim Everist said he tried to be diplomatic about the painful death of his sister Deborah's killer but he couldn't manage it.
"It hasn't come too soon. It's long overdue," the Melbourne abattoir worker said of Ivan Milat's death from cancer of the oesophagus.
The father of Caroline Clarke, one of the two British backpackers killed by Milat, was just as blunt.
"My immediate reaction is that any decent person would not wish this disease on anyone but I find it hard not to make an exception in his case after the terrifying experiences to which he subjected all those fine young people," Ian Clark said.
Some of the parents have taken their grief to the grave like Tim and Deborah's mother, Patricia Everist, and German backpacker Simone Schmidl's father, bus driver Herbert Schmidl.
Others just still cannot bear to talk about what happened. Or cannot find the words to say.
In Wales, Ray and Gillian Walters, whose daughter Joanne Walters was murdered with her friend Caroline, said they had no statement to make.
In a village outside the German city of Bonn, where their son Gabor is buried in the local cemetery, Anke and Manfred Neugebauer asked for privacy.
"We will not comment further these horror of our lives," Mr Neugebauer said.
Their arms around each other, Mr Neugebauer and Mr Walters had embraced before he had to leave to return to Germany and his other son's 30th birthday the day before the jury returned its guilty verdicts at the end of Milat's 1996 trial.
Not a day of the trial had passed without the families in the court representing their children.
Olga Habschied, whose daughter Anja Habschied had been travelling with her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer, broke down in court, sobbing when she learned through the German interpreter that Anja had been beheaded.
The Habschieds could not be contacted recently.
Ray Gibson, whose son James was killed alongside his girlfriend Deborah Everist, is said "not to be in the best of health". The family also could not be contacted.
His mum Peggy Gibson, a nurse, and Patricia Everist, had individually dropped their son and daughter off at Frankstown Railway Station on December 28, 1989 to begin their big adventure.
Two days later, beside herself with worry when she hadn't heard from Deborah, Mrs Everist called Mrs Gibson. Together they reported their missing children to Frankstown police on January 15, 1990.
It would be almost four years before the bodies of their children were found in the Belanglo State Forest in October 1993.
In May 1992 in the UK, the families of Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters were going through the same terror.
They hadn't heard from their daughters for over a month when Ray Walters tracked down the Clarkes in Northumberland, England. The two girls had only met in Australia and the parents had never spoken before.
"Have you heard anything," Mr Walters asked Mr Clarke. Four months later both parents were in NSW after the bodies of their daughters were found.
Mr Everist, 51, said Milat had destroyed all their lives. He hasn't spoken much about it over the years and it has been a while since he has been in touch with the German and British families.
He said that reading the autopsy report into his sister's injuries had "destroyed my soul as it did my mother's".
"For the amount of suffering he (Milat) caused to my family and to my sister, what it did to my mother, it tore her inside out and made her life a living hell," Mr Everist said.
"For someone to do what he did was incomprehensible."
Ian Clarke said Caroline would have been 49 now and like her sister Emma, probably would have had children.
Mr Clarke said he had mixed emotions about whether he had wanted Milat to make a deathbed confession about who was his accomplice in murder and how many other young people he had killed.
"I have no wish to give him the opportunity to boast about his evil behaviour and listen to even further evidence of what he may have done to Caroline and all the others," Mr Clarke, a retired manager with the Bank of England, said.
"However I think there has always been suspicions that he had other victims and knowing what a harrowing experience it was waiting to find out what had happened to Caroline, it would be a wonderful relief to all those parents of other missing children if their anguish could be set at rest.
"Sadly, I fear that is a forlorn hope."