The Snowtown Murders and the Bodies in the Barrels
The Snowtown murders, commonly known as the “bodies in the barrels” case, are filled with unthinkable horrors: mutilation, sexual abuse, and violent deaths that ultimately claimed the lives of 12 people. This true crime story is not only the account of one depraved and violent killer but also the work of a group of sadistic men and one vicious, blood-thirsty leader.
In 1999, Paul Schramm, head of the Police Major Crime Sector, introduced a new system that allowed officers to review any idle or old missing person cases, should they have any spare time. He instructed them to select ten files they deemed most worthy of a review. One file that was chosen was that of Clinton Trezise.
All of the barrels were full of body parts. The difficulty was – how many bodies did we have in therePaul Schramm, Head of the Police Major Crime Unit.
Clinton Trezise was an openly gay man who disappeared back in 1992, but he was only reported missing three years later by his sister. However, the report was never officially recorded; it was only five years later when his mother reported him missing that the report was documented. Another file that was also being looked into alongside Clinton Trezise was that of Vanessa Lane.
Vanessa Lane was a transgender woman and a convicted paedophile who, at one point, had lived with Clinton Trezise. Rumours circulated about their relationship being more than just roommates, although this was never proven.
Vanessa Lane was reported missing in 1997, but records showed that hi/her disability benefits were still being accessed from her bank account at the same service station located in Adelaide, South Australia. Using CCTV footage, the detectives captured the person withdrawing Vanessa Lane’s benefits – Robert Wagner, who was also seen withdrawing more money two weeks later. By this point, Vanessa Lane had been missing for around 6 months.
Little did the detectives know that reworking Clinton Trezise’s missing person file, along with Vanessa Lane’s, would set them on a grim course to unearth one of Australia’s most disturbing serial killer cases.
A Disturbing Childhood Connection
John Bunting was born on the 14th of September 1966 and was an only child. From an early age, Bunting displayed disturbing behaviours. Not only did he show an interest in Chemistry, but also in acid and poisons. He would take great pleasure in killing bugs and insects by dipping them in acid, and as he grew older, Bunting’s murderous intent outgrew killing insects. He shot a dog in the stomach that was annoying him and even skinned a cat alive.
As an adult, Bunting worked in an abattoir and was often heard boasting about how he enjoyed slaughtering the animals, as that was the part he most revelled in.
For those who knew Bunting, it was no secret that he despised anyone whom he saw as “weak” or “degenerate,” including paedophiles, homosexuals, and women who knew about child abuse but did nothing to intervene. He referred to them as ‘tooth fairies,’ and this hatred likely stemmed from the abuse Bunting endured as a young boy.
According to Bunting, when he and a friend were playing in his friend’s bedroom, they were ambushed by his friend’s brother and forcibly tied to the bed. His friend’s brother, along with some other friends, proceeded to rape and beat the boys – Bunting was eight years old at the time. Too afraid and traumatized by what had happened to him, he never told anyone, about it, despite being continually taunted by what they had done to him.
The other significant and equally depraved character in this horrific story is Robert Wagner. He, too, suffered sexual abuse as a child by his babysitter, which solidified his hatred for child molesters. In 1991, when Wagner was only 14 years old, he started a relationship with Vanessa Lane, much to the horror of his mother.
The relationship between Wagner and Lane was deeply troubling, considering the significant age difference and the disturbing background of both individuals. It’s important to note that Wagner’s experiences as a victim of sexual abuse may have contributed to his involvement in the heinous acts committed by the group led by John Bunting.
Paedophiles were doing terrible things to children. The authorities didn’t do anything about it. I decided to take action. I took that action. Thank you.Robert Wagner’s statement from the dock after sentencing
Bunting and Wagner met and became friends when Bunting and his then-wife, Veronica Trip, were visiting a friend named Robert Skewes. It didn’t take long before Bunting developed a severe hatred for Vanessa and even viewed her and Wagner’s relationship as a “homosexual relationship.”
Mark Haydon and Jamie Vlassakis
Along with Wagner and Bunting were Mark Haydon and Jamie Vlassakis. Mark Haydon was a neighbour of Bunting’s who as a child had been both mentally and psychically abused by his own mother. There is not much information readily available on Mark Haydon due to “suppression orders or statutory provisions prohibiting publication” which only allows him to be named a perpetrator and nothing more.
Jamie Vlassakis had also suffered a horrendous childhood at the hands of several paedophiles, including his own father and step-brother, Troy Youde. Jamie Vlassakis was also the target of a known paedophile by the name of Jeffrey Payne. Jeffery Payne would lure Jamie into his home with the promise of food and toys before the attacks started. Payne would abuse, rape and even take pornographic images of Jamie. Payne threatened Jamie to stay silent or he would kill his mother.
Convicted paedophile Jeffery Payne was also friends with transgender Vanessa Lane (also a convicted paedophile). Vanessa wanted Jamie all to himself. She told Jamie’s mother, Elizabeth Harvey, what Payne was doing to her son. Payne was eventually arrested for his crimes but was released on bail with no restrictions, allowing him to return home. Jeffery Payne lived in the house across the street from Jamie Vlassakis and his mother.
The Inner Circle
John Bunting set his sights on Jeffrey Payne, but before he could do anything, Payne was once again arrested and imprisoned for four years. Jamie’s mother, Elizabeth, became infatuated with John Bunting and his desire to help rid the world of child abusers. Similarly, Jamie looked up to Bunting as a God who shared his deep-seated hatred for paedophiles. Eventually, Elizabeth Harvey and her sons Jamie Vlassakis, Troy Youde, and two younger boys would move in with Bunting.
It seems that everyone within John Bunting’s inner circle idolised him and would happily and blindly follow him and his ideals, no matter how dark, gruesome, or inhumane they became. The men were all connected by unspeakable acts forced upon them as children. This connection of horrors solidified their friendship and took them to levels beyond anyone’s worst nightmares.
Over time, Bunting’s violent and depraved attitude and actions were not only directed towards homosexuals and paedophiles, but at anyone he decided he didn’t like, or those who he viewed as “weak”.
The Disappearance of Elizabeth Haydon
On November 25th, 1998, Elizabeth Haydon was reported missing by her brother. Elizabeth Haydon was the wife of Mark Haydon, who was friends with John Bunting. When the police first investigated Elizabeth Haydon’s disappearance, various neighbours informed them that around the time of her disappearance, her four-wheel land cruiser, which was parked outside their home, was filled with black garbage bags by Bunting and Wagner before it too disappeared. According to Mark Haydon, regarding his wife’s disappearance, he stated that she had left him for someone else.
The detectives, who were trailing Robert Wagner after concluding he was the person withdrawing Vanessa Lane’s benefits, followed both Wagner and Bunting into a town called Snowtown. Snowtown is a quiet, unassuming town, marked with dirt roads, vast farmland, and a low population.
As they followed the two men in question they spotted the missing land cruiser from Elizabeth and Mark Haydon’s home. The detectives questioned the person living at the residence who informed them that John Bunting, Robert Wagner and Mark Haydon rented a room in a disused bank in the town. They also informed them that they had seen large black barrels being loaded from the cruiser into the bank.
The Bodies in The Barrels
In May 1999, officers entered the disused bank building and saw a vault door at the other end of the room. Upon opening the door, they were met by a wall of black plastic bags taped over the door frame. They cut the black material down and stepped into the darkened room. Within, eerily illuminated by their flashlights, they saw six large black barrels, along with bottles of acid and boxes of rubber gloves.
As they opened the first barrel, the officers were greeted by a mummified foot. As they continued to open the remainder of the barrels, it became clear that all six of the large, black containers contained numerous body parts that were submerged in acid. Thus began the putting together of a grotesque jigsaw as they set out to see just how many bodies were kept within the barrels.
According to forensic pathologist Roger Byard, a substantial amount of acid is needed to dissolve a body. The human body contains a large amount of water content, which means when it comes into contact with an insufficient amount of acid, the water content neutralizes the acid – which is exactly what happened to the bodies in these barrels. The remains had been sitting in a sterile and oxygen-deprived environment, which allowed them to carry out the identification process due to the preservation of tattoos and fingerprints. The pathologists were also able to attribute the methods of killing.
Tortured and Killed: The Victims
As the detectives and pathologists carried out their grim work, Mark Haydon, John Bunting, and Robert Wagner were arrested. Once the news began to circulate of the gruesome discovery and the resulting arrests, the major crime unit started receiving many ‘tip-offs’ regarding the bodies and the men arrested. One such tip-off suggested that there could be a body buried at 203 Waterloo Corner Road. Using ground-penetrating radar that seeks out disturbed soil, the apparatus discovered such an area, and when the ground was excavated, they found two bodies.
Ray Davies was an ‘intellectually disabled’ man who lived in a caravan on his landlady’s property. His landlady was Suzanne Allen. It is alleged that Ray Davies made sexual advances towards Suzanne Allen’s grandchildren.
As a young boy, Ray Davies was caught by his aunt performing a sex act with a dog. Davies would later be known to police as more incidents involving animals became apparent. Rumours swirled that Davies had actually tried on numerous occasions to lure children to his caravan and was repeatedly reported exposing himself and masturbating in public.
When another rumour of him successfully sexually assaulting a child emerged, Suzanne Allen confronted him which led to a violent altercation that resulted in Allen requesting a restraining order on Davies. Not long after this incident, Ray Davies vanished.
Davies’s disappearance was never reported, and even though people had noticed he was no longer around, no one seemed to care. At the time, John Bunting was good friends with Suzanne Allen, but he was already made aware of Davies’s behaviour by Vanessa Lane and Robert Wagner as they had met him previously.
In December 1995, Bunting and Wagner took Davies for a ‘ride’ in their car, during which Davies was held down and beaten up by Robert Wagner. They returned to 203 Waterloo Corner Road, where Bunting informed his then-wife, Elizabeth Harvey, that he had brought her a ‘gift’. Elizabeth Harvey reportedly stabbed Davies in the leg with a screwdriver before Bunting and Wagner proceeded to ‘repeatedly bash’ Davies in the genitals with a metal pole, which ultimately resulted in his death. Ray Davies was buried in the garden at 203 Waterloo Corner Road.
Suzanne Allen, a friend of Bunting and landlady to Ray Davies, was also aware of Davies’s disappearance, but she didn’t really care, nor did she know the truth of what happened to him.
It became apparent to Bunting that Suzanne’s feelings towards him had taken a romantic turn, which turned into an obsession. She would repeatedly contact him, drive to his home and write him love letters. Bunting found her infuriating and eventually turned violent towards her. In 1996, Suzanne’s brother reported her missing.
Bunting claims that he and Wagner had planned to visit Allen’s home and rob her, but when they broke into her property, she was already dead. Suzanne Allen was then dismembered, and her body parts were placed in various plastic bags. Her remains were then buried on top of the body of Ray Davies.
It is worth noting that Bunting, after dismembering and burying her body parts in his back garden, continued to claim her pension, accumulating around $17,000.
Due to a hung jury, the murder charges for Suzanne Allen were dropped, as they found ‘insufficient’ evidence of foul play, claiming there was a chance Bunting was indeed telling the truth.
Troy Youde, the son of Elizabeth Harvey and step-brother to Jamie Vlassakis, was one of the victims found within the large black barrels. Jamie had once confided in Bunting that Troy Youde had sexually assaulted him when he was younger.
One night, Jamie was awakened by Bunting and Wagner, and they told him they were all going to ‘get’ Youde. Youde was beaten in his bed before being handcuffed and dragged into the bathroom. He was thrown into the bathtub and violently beaten again, resulting in the bathroom being covered in Youde’s blood.
John Bunting tortured Youde by crushing his toes with pliers while coaxing him to tell them his bank account details and to repeat certain phrases, which Bunting recorded. This recording was then sent to his friends and family, detailing how he ‘was going away’.
Troy Youde was strangled to death, and, to ensure he was definitely dead, Wagner jumped up and down on his chest. His torso and head were found in one of the black barrels within the bank vault, while his legs were found in another. He was 21 years old.
Elizabeth Haydon, the wife of Mark Haydon was another of the men’s victims. Although Mark Haydon wasn’t directly responsible for the death, it is said that when he was shown her remains by Bunting, he laughed.
John Bunting hated Elizabeth Haydon for no other reason than he saw her as “weak” and a liability as Haydon had informed his wife of the murders. Robert Wagner also detested Elizabeth Haydon, calling her a “whore” and a “low-life”.
Whilst her husband and children were out one night, Bunting and Wagner entered her home, dragged her into the bathroom, and tortured her, before shoving a gag in her mouth and strangling her. Her body was shoved in one of the black barrels and was found with a rope still around her neck.
Frederick Brooks was the son of Jodie Elliot, sister of Elizabeth Haydon. Unfortunately, this connection led him directly into the path of John Bunting. John Bunting, for some reason, became obsessed with the idea that Frederick was ‘touching up’ young girls – this was enough for Bunting to want to add another victim to his already bloody list.
Excited that he had been accepted into the Australian Air Force Cadets, Frederick Brooks had been invited to a party on the 17th of September 1998 by Bunting, Wagner, and Vlassakis. Before he entered the party, Bunting, Wagner, and Vlassakis asked Frederick if he would be interested in a quick ‘break and enter’ job, to which Brooks was excited, but this was a ruse to get him into the car. Brooks was driven back to John’s house where he was tortured for several hours.
John Bunting reportedly kept screaming in Brooks’s face to admit to “touching up some young girls”, but it was clear Brooks had no idea what he was talking about. Eventually, Brooks admitted to Bunting that he had indeed done as he was being accused of, but this was purely in an attempt to stop the torture being inflicted upon him – instead, the torture intensified.
Frederick Brooks was then subject to having his toes crushed by pliers, cigarettes shoved up his nose and down his ears, and even a lit sparkler violently inserted up his penis. Brooks also endured being electrocuted and having various substances injected into his testicles. During this ordeal, Frederick Brooks was made to give up his banking details before he choked to death on his gag. His body was found in a barrel at the Snowtown Bank Vault.
Michelle Gardiner met Robert Wagner and John Bunting through Robert Wagner’s new girlfriend, Maxine. Her friend Nicole lived with Michelle Gardiner, a transsexual woman formerly known as Michael Gardiner.
Unable to afford a sex-change operation, Michelle would dress in women’s clothing, often helped by her friend Nicole. One day when Nicole returned home after a day out, she found her house ransacked; the perpetrator – Michelle Gardiner. Gardiner apparently spoke to Nicole over the phone and admitted ransacking her home, though Nicole wasn’t truly convinced.
John Bunting told Nicole that he had seen Gardiner fleeing her home with her belongings before spouting a homophobic slur towards her. The truth was that one day Michelle Gardiner was playing with Maxine’s children in the living room of their home, along with Robert Wagner. Gardiner, innocently, caught one of the children by their mouths which Wagner and Maxime saw as sinister. Not long after this incident, Michelle Gardiner was also taken for a ‘ride’ by Bunting and Wagner.
Wagner and Bunting proceeded to torture and torment Gardiner for hours, inflicting electric shocks and beating her badly before strangling her to death. Michelle Gardiner’s body was found in one of the six barrels at the Snowtown Bank Vault. He was 19 years old.
Clinton Trezise was an openly gay man who befriended both Vanessa Lane and Robert Wagner and was despised by Bunting who accused him of being a paedophile.
Vanessa Lane confessed to John Bunting’s wife at the time, Veronica Trip, that Bunting bludgeoned Clinton Trezise to death with a hammer. She then told Veronica that Bunting made both her and Mark Haydon dispose of his body. He was buried in a shallow grave in Lower Light, where he was discovered by two farmers, two years after his murder in 1994. The cause of death was ruled as traumatic head trauma.
Clinton Trezise’s murder remained an unsolved case for many years and he even appeared on the TV show ‘Australia’s Most Wanted’. Bunting reportedly had been watching this particular episode with Jamie Vlassakis and his mother, boasting that it was his own ‘handiwork’.
After Vanessa Lane’s and Robert Wagner’s relationship came to a turbulent and violent end, Vanessa Lane (also a transgender individual) moved in with a man by the name of Thomas Trevilyan, after the violent breakdown with his most recent ex-partner Michelle.
Michelle received a phone call from Vanessa asking him if he would be able to look after his dog as he was leaving town for a while. What Michelle didn’t know was at the time, Vanessa Lane was being tortured by Bunting, Wagner and her roommate, Thomas Trevilyan. Lane was also forced to call his mother and scream abuse down the phone telling her to never contact him again as he was moving to Queensland.
Lane was then tortured for her bank details by having her toes crushed by pliers, before being strangled to death. Her dismembered body was found in one of the black barrels alongside Michelle Gardiner. Robert Wagner continued to withdraw Lane’s benefits for months after her death.
It is thought that Bunting only kept Vanessa Lane around for as long as he did because he/she was an excellent source to him, being able to detail the whereabouts and behaviours of local child sex offenders. It seems that once Lane was no longer a part of Wagner’s life and no longer needed to help track down suspected paedophiles, John Bunting was able to torture and murder the individual who he had despised for many years.
Thomas Eugenio Trevilyan
Thomas Trevilyan was a paranoid schizophrenic who had a history of hallucinations and suicide attempts. He moved in with Wagner and Maxine after he, Wagner and Bunting killed Vanessa Lane. One day, when Trevilyan was in their home, he brandished a knife and began chasing the family dog around the living room, exclaiming that he was going to kill it. Trevilyan did this in front of Maxine’s children which angered Wagner and horrified Maxine and her children.
In November 1997, Thomas Trevelyan’s body was found hanging from a tree by a passing trucker. Trevelyan’s cause of death was documented as a suicide. It wasn’t hard to come to this conclusion given his previous mental health problems and other attempts at taking his own life. In reality, Wagner and Bunting made him stand on a box, tied a rope around his neck and kicked the box out from under him. Thomas Trevilyan was 18 years old.
Gary O’Dwyer was a neighbour of Bunting and was both mentally and psychically disabled and received benefits. Under orders from Bunting, Jamie Vlassakis called in on O’Dwyer as a potential “friend” and asked him questions about his life. Did he have any family? Did he have a wife? Did he require any particular documents in order to collect his money – the answer to all these was no.
Jamie then suggested he should hang out with his friends, Robert Wagner and John Bunting and have a few drinks. During this social gathering, they intended on getting O’Dwyer intoxicated in order to coax out his bank details.
During the gathering, John Bunting grabbed O’Dwyer around the neck before handcuffing him and dragging him into the bathroom. Gary O’Dwyer was tortured for several hours by the three men before his body was dismembered and stuffed into a black barrel.
Gavin Porter met Jamie Vlassakis during a methadone program they had completed together and became close friends. Both Jamie and Gavin were hard drug users, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars in one day to fuel their habit. Gavin and Jamie at one point were roommates, before Jamie decided to move back into John Bunting’s home. Bunting despised drug users, especially Gavin Porter; he saw him as a “waste”. Bunting oddly didn’t have an issue with Jamie, although he too was a drug user, but Bunting saw Jamie as family.
Bunting’s wife at the time tried to talk to Porter about his drug use and behaviour in their home, but it fell on deaf ears. Porter’s last strike came about when Bunting sat on the sofa and found himself pricked by a syringe.
Jamie Vlassakis had been out for the day in April 1998, and when he returned, Wagner was in his home, along with Bunting. They led Jamie out into Bunting’s shed where he saw the body of his good friend Gavin Porter sprawled on the floor. He had been badly beaten and tortured. Jamie was then ordered to help dismember and stuff Gavin Porter’s body in one of the barrels.
Jamie Vlassakis detailed this account saying it made him feel “violently sick” but he knew he had to comply with Bunting and Wagner for fear of being the next body to be stuffed into an acid-filled barrel.
David Johnson was the step-brother of Jamie Vlassakis and was hated by Bunting. Bunting would refer to him as “faggot”. On the 9th of May 1995, Jamie informed Johnson that there was a cheap computer for sale over in Snowtown and wondered if he would be interested in purchasing it. Johnson, excited, agreed to go with Jamie – the computer did not exist.
When Jamie led David into the Snowtown Bank Vault, he was ambushed by Wagner and Bunting. David Johnson was tortured, during which he was also forced to refer to his attackers as “Master”, “Lord Sir” and “God”.
During his torture, Johnson was forced to give up his pin code – to make sure he was telling the truth, Jamie and Wagner went to the nearest ATM to withdraw some money; it did not work, but this was thought to be because there were insufficient funds in his bank account at the time. When Vlassakis and Wagner returned, David Johnson was dead. Bunting claimed Johnson had kicked him in the ribs, resulting in Bunting strangling Johnson.
Bunting referred to David Johnson as a “slice and dice” which meant it was time to cut him up so he could be placed in a barrel. Vlassakis pointed out to the men that Johnson didn’t need cutting up as he would fit in the barrel as is, but Bunting and Wagner continued to dismember Johnson’s body and stuffed him into a barrel, but not all of him.
It is said that Bunting carved a piece of flesh from Johnson’s body and later on, at a friend’s house, Bunting fried the flesh in a frying pan before he and Wagner ate it. Jamie Vlassakis refused.
Sentencing The Snowtown Murderers
John Bunting was charged with 11 counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no parole. He never pleaded guilty or not guilty to any of the charges against him; throughout the entire trial, he stayed silent.
Robert Wagner pled guilty to three murders: the murder of Vanessa Lane, Frederick Brooks and David Johnson. He was found guilty of seven of the murders, including the three he admitted to, taking him to 10 counts of murder. He too received life in prison with no parole.
Mark Haydon was originally tried on 11 counts of murder, but as the evidence against him was weak, he was only charged with the murders of Troy Youde and his wife, Elizabeth Haydon, and charged with assisting in the murders of six others. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison with a non-parole period of 18 years. A possible release date could be reached in May 2024.
Jamie Vlassakis originally pled not guilty to the five murders he was being charged for. During this time Vlassakis’ mother passed away from cancer and Jamie changed his plea to guilty. He pled guilty to the murders of Troy Youde, Fredericks Brooks, Gary O’Dwyer, Gavin Porter and David Johnson, although the charge for Gavin Porter was withdrawn.
During the trial, Jamie became ‘the storyteller’ of the horrors, much to the dismay of Bunting and Wagner who taunted Jamie in court. Jamie received four life sentences with a non-parole period of 26 years. He could be eligible for parole in 2025.
This dreadful tale of the Snowtown murders exposes not only the dark side of human nature but also the need for society to address and provide support for victims of abuse. Understanding the roots of such malevolence can help prevent future tragedies and, hopefully, bring awareness to the importance of early intervention and support for those who have experienced trauma in their lives.
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