A back­packer’s hor­ror: Mi­lat had me in his grasp

Sunday Mail - - NEWS - AMELIA SAW

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.

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