A backpacker’s horror: Milat had me in his grasp
FOR backpacker Colin Powis, the difference between escaping notorious serial killer Ivan Milat and dying a savage death all came down to the changing of a traffic light.
Mr Powis has never spoken about his terrifying escape from Milat, who was convicted of the murders of seven young travellers between 1989-1993, their bodies found buried in the Belanglo State Forest, southwest of Sydney.
But last year, the 57-year-old construction worker was at home in Durham, England, when a documentary on the murders came on television.
He instantly recognised Milat’s photo as the man he escaped while hitchhiking in Australia in 1982.
A re-enactment of UK backpacker Paul Onions’ encounter with Milat was almost identical to his own ordeal.
Mr Powis is “100 per cent sure” the man he escaped was Milat. In 1982, Mr Powis, a strapping 21-year-old, was standing on the highway near Katoomba, in New South Wales, waiting for a lift.
He was making his way to Cobar, in the state’s west, where he was told he could get work in a mine.
He saw a pick-up truck hurtling through the mountain mist.
“I think it was white but I can’t be sure,” Mr Powis said.
He thought it strange that the man insisted he keep his bag in the front – but he wanted a lift and wasn’t going to argue. The man locked the doors and they drove off.
Mr Powis noticed the driver’s “deep tan and narrow eyes”. He also thought it strange that the man wanted to know if anyone knew of his exact whereabouts in Australia. Mr Powis asked the man where he was heading and was told “Just up the road”.
Then he fell into a long, stony silence.
“He was weird right from the start,” Mr Powis said. “I thought he was on drugs because he went into such a mood, such a dark mood.
“And he was watching me, leaning against the driver’s door so he could scan me and the road at the same time.”
Just before Bathurst, the highway was intersected by a major dirt road with a set of traffic lights.
The man invited Mr Powis to walk along the road with him to check his rabbit traps. When Mr Powis refused, things turned bad.
The man slammed on the brakes, jumped out of his seat and raced to the passenger door, blocking Mr Powis from getting out.
Then the traffic lights changed and a stream of cars flowed down the dirt road.
“Milat, he was looking over his shoulder at this traffic and looking at me and I remember the traffic going past,” Mr Powis said. “It was that traffic that probably stopped him walloping me.”
Mr Powis managed to push open the door and run away.
Only decades later did he understand how close he’d come. Detectives have identified 16 unsolved homicides as killer Milat’s potential work.
LUCKY ESCAPE: Colin Powis as a backpacker in Australia in 1982, above, and Colin today, bottom left, who says he escaped Ivan Milat, bottom right.