Australia can be a traveller’s paradise, with it’s beautiful beaches and breath-taking scenery. Many young people flock to the island to get some sun and surf. In 2015, 606,000 backpackers visited Australia. Unfortunately, Australia is sometimes a backpacker’s last destination. Many of my readers, especially if you are Australian, will have heard of Ivan Milat. His spate of serial killings is known as ‘The Backpacker Murders’ because he killed seven people, five of whom were foreign backpackers, from 1989 to 1993. Even more backpackers have befallen a terrible fate before and since Milat’s reign of terror, and sometimes the worst part is not knowing what happened. Here I chronicle eight missing backpacker cases in Australia, in order of their date of disappearance.
In 1972, 18-year-old Anita Cunningham left Melbourne with her friend, 19-year-old Robin Hoinville-Bartram. They took their bags and their camping gear to set off to Bowen, 2500km away. The purpose of the trip was to visit Robin’s mother in Bowen. They planned to hitchhike to Bowen via Darwin in the north before heading south to Mount Isa and on to Bowen, as they told a friend in Melbourne. They left in July 1972 and travelled to Darwin, in the north and far out of the way of Bowen. Next, they went to Mount Isa, likely on their way to Bowen. Mount Isa is about 1000km west of Bowen. In November 1972, bones were found jutting out of a shallow grave under a bridge. This was around 600km west from Bowen. The bones belonged to Robin, who had been sexually assaulted before being shot twice in the head with a rifle. Anita has never been seen. It’s certainly possible that the girls parted ways during the trip, though they indicated they were planning on completing the entire trip together. Robin had more incentive to get all the way to Bowen as it was Robin’s mother the girls were visiting. Theories include that Anita left her life behind, or that she stayed in hiding to protect her family from Robin’s killer. A family friend allegedly saw Anita in December 1972 (a month after Robin was found), working at a bar in Melbourne. Anita’s brother says the family was ‘very close’ and that Anita would not have left them without ever making contact.
Barbara Carol Brown
Barbara Carol Brown was a 22-year-old Texan who had arrived in Australia for a backpacking holiday in 1978. She hitchhiked across New Zealand, Tasmania and Victoria. She liked hitchhiking as it gave her a way to meet new people while she travelled. She had been hitchhiking with a female friend but after arriving in Sydney they split up. At this point Barbara was staying at the Beecroft (suburb of Sydney) home of her boyfriend’s brother and the brother’s wife. Barbara’s boyfriend was an Australian named Chris who lived in Melbourne. On May 17, 1978 Barbara left Beecroft and was planning to hitchhike to Queensland, then on to Perth. She was never seen again.
In 1978, 17-year-old Kim Teer left her New South Wales, Australia, home to go hitchhiking around Australia. She hitchhiked around the country, supporting herself by picking fruit and other odd jobs including being a cook on an ocean-trawler. Kim was last seen sometime in September 1979 in East Melbourne. Kim was sharing an apartment with friends Gwen and Peter in East Melbourne. She left the apartment following a fight with her friends. It is not reported what the fight was about, however, her friends alleged that Kim had stolen from them. Gwen remembers “tipping out Kim’s backpack and discovering her own clothes in the bag” and the other friend, Peter, thought “some things were missing from the flat when Kim left”. Police believe Kim “most likely met with foul play while hitch-hiking or had been involved in an accident in an isolated area.” Kim was known to hitchhike frequently, but even she knew it was dangerous. In a 1979 letter to her mother, Kim said she planned to not hitchhike anymore. She asked her mother to send her birth certificate so that she could get her driver’s license. The Australian coroner believes the letter foreshadowed her fate. Kim’s mother reported her missing an entire year after her last contact with her. She didn’t want to worry the police about the case and thought Kim would be assumed to be a runaway and treated with low priority. Kim hasn’t been seen since leaving the East Melbourne apartment, and her friends Gwen and Peter are not considered suspects and have bene cleared.
Tony Jones, 20 years old from Perth, Australia decided to go on a six-month working holiday around the country in 1982. He stopped in Cairns and was planning to meet his brother in Mount Isa before heading back home together. Tony had been hitchhiking around the country, and his last contact with family was a phone call on November 3, 1982 from Townsville. He told his family he was planning on making the 900km journey from Townsville to Mount Isa by hitchhiking. An inquest in 2002 ruled that Tony was the victim of foul play. A new inquest is underway. Kevin Wright and John Eastaughffe are suspects but they have not been charged. It is thought that they killed Tony and disposed of his body at Hughenden slaughter yard. The suspects deny the accusations, though associates of Kevin Wright state that he confessed to them that he had been involved in killing someone.
Naoko Onda, aged 22, came to Australia from Japan for a holiday. She had been staying in Sydney and last seen on 2 June 1987 in Queensland. She had plans to meet a friend in Sydney in the middle of June but she never returned to Sydney. Naoko’s belongings and passport were found in her Sydney flat. There was a sighting of Naoko in 1988 hitchhiking north on the Sunshine Coast. Police fear for her safety.
Anna Rosa Liva
Anna Rosa Liva was a 30-year-old Italian woman travelling in Australia at the time of her disappearance in 1991. She arrived in the town of Coober Pedy at on November 27, 1991. She booked into Radeka’s Dugout for that evening. The next morning, she ate breakfast a few hundred metres down the road at the Last Resort Cafe. After this she returned to Radeka’s for a cup of coffee around 9:15am. She told staff of her plan to go ‘noodling’ for opals. This means sifting through the dumps left by miners, looking for opal, and Coober Pedy is famous for this. Anna had booked an opal tour (a separate activity from noodling for opals) for 2pm. Next, she went to get tourist information at the council chambers, and made plans to attend a Jehovah’s Witness meeting at 7pm that evening. She disappeared off the town’s main street around 11:30am and no trace of her has been seen since. It is believed she was abducted, murdered and her body was put in a disused mineshaft. There are thousands of disused mineshafts surrounding the town. Police believe she could have been forcibly abducted into a vehicle or went into a vehicle willingly and was then murdered.
26-year-old German woman Nancy Grunwaldt took a year-long leave from work to travel Australia and New Zealand. On 6 March 1993 she flew from Auckland, New Zealand to Tasmania. On 9 March Nancy hired a mountain bike, telling the shop worker she would return it on 22 March. She left some of her belongings at the bike hire place. Nancy was seen in St Helens, and it was believed she was headed towards Rose Bay, 250km away. She was last seen riding her bike on March 12 near Bicheno, about a third of the way through her planned journey to Rose Bay. A retired detective in the area says he believes Nancy was killed accidently. The detective claims that he spoke to a solicitor who received a disturbing voicemail message. Apparently, a man called the solicitor around the time Nancy went missing and left a panicked voicemail saying he had hit a cyclist and needed help. The detective believes this caller killed Nancy in an accidental vehicle collision and hid her body in a state of panic. Two years later in 1995, an Italian tourist Victoria Cafasso was found stabbed to death, only 60km from where Nancy was last seen. Victoria’s murder, like Nancy’s disappearance, remains unsolved.
Melody O’Gara was 28 when she left the UK to travel around Australia in February 2004. She was last seen in Bondi, near Sydney on October 24 2004 at 5am at a friend’s house, resting on the couch. Her handbag was found on October 28 by the edge of a cliff near Bondi beach. Her family confirmed that she had been depressed during her time in Australia but they do not believe she would take her own life. Police state “A woman matching the description of missing British tourist Melody O’Gara was spotted by an elderly man on a cliff top in Sydney’s eastern suburbs” around the time Melody was last seen. The man said he saw her sitting at the edge of the cliff, alone. Police believe that Melody committed suicide.
Map of locations mentioned in post.