What on earth would possess a 17-year-old boy to lure his friends into the Belanglo State Forest, armed with a hidden double-edged axe and fueled by the desire to kill one of his mates? Ruth Wykes tries to understand the horrifying legacy of the Milat family.
Matthew was only two years old when Ivan Milat was arrested for the murder of seven people, and yet the family legacy lives through him through their murderous actions. In this week’s episode of Crimes That Shook Australia questions are raised about why this happened and several people search for answers. But I’m not sure they find them.
David Auchterlonie lived in Bargo with his grandparents, Sandra and David. On 20 November 2010, David celebrated his 17th birthday. He had lunch with his mother, Donna Locke, then went home to his grandparents for dinner. He told them he was going into town to celebrate his birthday with friends: Cohen Klein, Chase Day and Matthew Milat.
Unbeknownst to David, Matthew had a plan that involved Belanglo State Forest and murder. Just like Uncle Ivan. And that’s exactly what happened. Matthew tortured David while he pleaded for his life and then he killed him with a blow to the skull – all the while Cohen Klein filmed the horrific events on his mobile phone. Their other friend, Chase, was terrified and stunned. In fear for his own life, Chase helped drag David’s body deeper into the bush to conceal him.
The program opens in Belanglo, a beautiful pine forest that is thick with undergrowth, and even thicker with dark memories. Memories that make the forest sinister and eerie. Even now the sight of that forest, of the memorial plaque to Ivan Milat’s victims, makes me shiver.
Like most Australians I remember Ivan Milat, the rodent-faced serial killer who murdered seven people in the early 1990s. He was eventually arrested after one of his victims managed to escape and gave vital information to police. His nephew Matthew had never met his uncle, but yet in his teenage years, he began to study Ivan to be more like him.
Matthew Meuleman grew up in Bargo. A normal kid who lived with his mother and step-father, but something shifted in Matthew in his early teens. He changed his name to Milat and began to brag about the exploits of his great-uncle Ivan.
It’s hard to watch the police interviews of the three boys after their arrests. It’s raw, powerful footage. Detective Sergeant Ricky Hennessy offers insight into the investigation he led and I am struck as much by what he doesn’t say on camera as what he reveals. He is calm and thoughtful as he describes the investigation but I can see something in his eyes that makes me think he is holding back.
The crime is quickly solved as Chase Day is tormented by the murder of his close friend and tells his father the next day. His father drives him to the police station and he confesses. In stark contrast Cohen Klein lies and denies. He looks scared yet full of teenage bravado.
Matthew Milat is a different story, he’s accompanied by his grandfather, Ivan’s brother. From the moment he is arrested – he is surly, arrogant and doesn’t bother to hide his lack of remorse when he deadpans “no comment”.
All through the program I try to make sense of why he chose his friend David, as his victim. Or why he even began to fantasise about being like Uncle Ivan. Dr Richard Furst the Forensic Psychiatrist who examined Matthew, is supposed to tell us. Here was an expert who might be able to shed some light on the case. Yet he seemed almost as lost for words as everyone else. He talked about drug use, unemployment and how the public reaction was one of horror and outrage. I didn’t get the impression he could explain this evil crime any better than I could.
Sandra and David Auchterlonie look worn out to me. I came across photos of them that were taken not long after David’s murder and the changes in their appearance in just seven years takes my breath away. It’s obvious they hate Milat, that they pay the price every single day for their grandson’s murder. I can see traces of anger, of grief, of helplessness in their eyes as they talk about him and about what they have lost. There are moments in the program where I feel like a voyeur to their grief and it’s uncomfortable.
By the end of the show I am still left wondering why a teenager would want to emulate one of the worst serial killers in Australian history. Is it nature? Is it even possible there’s a genetic link that predisposes someone to do this? Did something break in Matthew Milat’s mind?
Ricky Hennessy called it a thrill kill. He is firm in his belief that if Matthew hadn’t been arrested he would have killed again.
It scares me to think that he will one day be released from prison. What if Hennessy is right?
Read more of Ruth Wykes’ Crime That Shook Australia Recaps:
Crimes That Shook Australia: Episode 1 – Snowtown – A World of Waste