Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
John Justin Bunting is an Australian serial killer from Adelaide, South Australia known as the ringleader of the Snowtown murders. Dubbed as “Australia’s worst serial killer”, he is currently serving eleven consecutive sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
With the help of his friends, Bunting killed 11 people they knew so that they could steal their welfare payments. However, his motivation for murder is from a deep hatred towards pedophiles, homosexuals, and other people he considered “weak”.
His gruesome crimes gave Snowtown its unfortunate notoriety.
Getting to Know John Bunting
John Bunting was born on September 4, 1966, in Inala, Queensland. Not much is known about his family and childhood, but he claimed to be beaten and sexually assaulted by a friend’s older brother at the age of 8. This traumatic event caused Bunting’s intense hatred towards pedophiles and homosexuals.
He lived in Murray Bridge, South Australia until November 1991. Then, he moved to Burdekin Avenue in May 1997 where he remained until September 1998.
The Snowtown Murderers
Bunting didn’t act alone in the Snowtown murders. He worked with Robert Joe Wagner, James “Jamie” Spyridon Vlassakis, and Mark Ray Haydon.
Bunting married Elizabeth Harvey, who was the mother of Vlassakis. Having spent the most time with Vlassakis, Bunting assumed the role of a father figure. When Bunting learned that Vlassakis’ half-brother, Troy Youde, sexually harassed Vlassakis, he sympathized with the young Vlassakis.
In 1991, Bunting befriended his neighbors Wagner and Haydon. At that time, Wagner was in a relationship with Vanessa Lane, also known as Barry Lane, who was a male cross-dresser with an alleged history of pedophilia.
The Victims of the Snowtown Murders
Bunting and his newfound friends mostly targeted people close to them. They reportedly tortured the victims before killing them and hiding the bodies in barrels. Then, they use the victims’ identities, social security payments, and bank accounts.
Their victims were identified as:
• Clinton Trezise – 22-year-old Trezise was invited by Bunting to his house for a social visit. Then, Bunting bashed him to a shovel until he died. As per reports, Trezise was an alleged pedophile. His body was found on August 16, 1994.
• Ray Davies – An intellectually disabled 26-year-old man who lived in a caravan behind the house of Suzanne Allen in Salisbury North. Davies became the second victim after Allen claimed that he made sexual advances to her grandsons.
• Michael Gardiner – A 19-year-old openly gay man murdered by Bunting and Wagner in August 1997. Wagner reportedly did not like Gardiner’s open homosexuality. To fit Gardiner inside the barrel, the pair had to cut off his feet.
Bunting asked Frederick Brooks to harass Gardiner’s friends for his personal belongings to gain access to his personal funds.
• Vanessa “Barry” Lane¬ – Wagner’s long-time partner, who also assisted in the murder of Trezise. On the day of Lane’s murder, he was forced to call his mother and say that he would be moving to Queensland and that he was cutting her off.
Lane was dismembered and was put inside the same barrel as Gardiner. Bunting then claimed Lane’s welfare payments.
• Thomas Trevilyan – An 18-year-old man who was known as Lane’s previous lover. Trevilyan assisted in Lane’s murder and then started to tell others of his involvement. In order to silence him, Bunting murdered him and claimed that Trevilyan lost his mind and disappeared.
• Gavin Porter – A 31-year-old man who was a heroin addict and a friend of Vlassakis. He lived with Vlassakis and Bunting. One day, Bunting was accidentally pricked by Porter’s used syringe, sparking anger.
Bunting and Wagner then killed him as he slept in his car before storing his body in a barrel.
• Troy Youde – Vlassakis’ step-brother who allegedly molested him at 13-years-old. Youde was murdered, dismembered, and stored in a barrel.
• Frederick Brooks – An intellectually disabled man who was murdered by Bunting, Wagner, and Vlassakis on September 17, 1998. Mark Haydon continued to access the welfare payments of Brooks.
• Gary O’Dwyer – Another intellectually disabled man who lived alone in Frances Street, Murray Bridge. After learning the victim had no family members, Bunting murdered him to receive welfare payments.
• Elizabeth Haydon – The wife of Mark Haydon who also had a brief relationship with Bunting. Her murder and disappearance on November 20, 2018, later led to the discovery of eight bodies stored in a vault.
• David Johnson – Vlassakis’s step-brother. Although he was not a homosexual, Bunting and the others still referred to him as a “faggot”. Johnson was grabbed and forced to read a script and to provide his banking details.
He was the last victim before the apprehension of Bunting and the others.
The End of the Snowtown Murders
The trial of Bunting and Wagner lasted almost twelve months, the longest in the history of South Australia. In December 2003, Bunting was convicted of committing eleven murders, and Wagner of ten murders, of which he had confessed to only three.
Meanwhile, Vlassakis pleaded guilty to four of the murders. In 2004, Haydon was convicted on five counts of assisting with the murders.
Suzanne Allen was believed to be a victim of Bunting and Wagner. However, charges were dropped on May 7, 2007, when a jury had been unable to reach a verdict.
Justice Brian Ross Martin determined that Bunting was the ringleader, and sentenced him to 11 consecutive terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of release on parole. Wagner was sentenced to 10 consecutive terms under the same conditions.
Vlassakis was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences with a non-parole period of 26 years and Haydon was sentenced to 25 years with no possibility of parole for 18 years.
The Snowtown Murders in Popular Culture
The gruesome murders inspired several films and documentaries, including:
• Snowtown – a feature film based upon the life of John Bunting, was released in Australia on May 19, 2011.
• Crimes That Shook Australia – Series 3 Episode 01: “Snowtown: The Bodies in the Barrels Murders” – aired February 18, 2018.
• Crime Investigation Australia – Series 1 Episode 09: “Snowtown: Bodies in the Barrels” – aired 2005.
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