On the trail of a mad­man

THE KIM­BER­LEY KILLER The mem­ory of Josef Schwab’s killing spree lives on, writes Rourke Walsh

The West Australian - - AGENDA -

It was a killing spree that had peo­ple in WA’s north on edge.

Five West Aus­tralians were mur­dered while fishing and camp­ing in the re­mote Top End in June 1987 — seem­ingly with no ex­pla­na­tion.

The killer, a de­ranged Ger­man tourist with a mil­i­tary back­ground, had flown into Bris­bane two months ear­lier, hired a four-wheel-drive and loaded it with an arse­nal of guns and am­mu­ni­tion.

Josef Schwab then made his way across the Top End, at first shoot­ing buf­falo and cut­ting out their horns be­fore turn­ing his high-pow­ered guns on peo­ple.

Yes­ter­day marked 30 years since the start of Schwab’s deadly ram­page, at Tim­ber Creek in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, about 200km from the WA bor­der.

Schwab’s first vic­tims, a fa­ther and son from WA, were check­ing out a fishing spot on the Vic­to­ria River while their wives waited at their camp.

Mar­cus Bullen, a 70-year-old re­tired coun­cil­lor and one-time deputy mayor of Fre­man­tle, and his 42-year-old son Lance were shot in the back.

The shock­ing mur­ders led NT po­lice to lock down the area to hunt for the killer. But five days later and 300km away over the bor­der, at a pop­u­lar fishing spot on the Pen­te­cost River, Schwab struck again.

This time his vic­tims were a young cou­ple liv­ing in Ku­nunurra and their friend from Derby.

Phillip Walke­meyer, 26, his fi­ancee Julie War­ren, 25, and friend Terry Bolt, 36, were gunned down on June 14, 1987, af­ter de­cid­ing to camp an ex­tra night.

It was not un­til they failed to show up for work that the alarm was raised and their bodies found.

Speak­ing be­fore the 30th an­niver­sary of their son’s death, Mau­reen and Otto Walke­meyer said the grief left by a mur­der never faded com­pletely.

“Grief from homi­cide is a never-end­ing story,” they said.

“It is like a scar that never heals.

“Some peo­ple think that af­ter a few months, grief should have passed and things should be back to nor­mal. Not so, there is a scar there that will never heal.”

Mr and Mrs Walke­meyer, of Lath­lain, said fam­ily get-to­geth­ers had not been the same since they lost Phillip be­cause it al­ways felt like some­one was miss­ing.

“Even af­ter 30 years, our Christ­mas is never the same as it was,” they said. “Phillip was a kind and car­ing young man and was ready to help any­one. He had a great sense of hu­mour and one of the things we miss is hear­ing his laugh. It was magic.

“He was a gen­tle gi­ant, a beau­ti­ful per­son. He loved peo­ple, camp­ing and fishing.”

Mr and Mrs Walke­meyer said the fam­ily still got to­gether on Phillip’s birth­day and the an­niver­sary of his death and were speak­ing pub­licly to en­sure his mem­ory was not for­got­ten.

“These are not mor­bid times but the op­por­tu­nity to share and re­mem­ber the 26 years of hap­pi­ness that he gave us,” they said.

Long-time Kim­ber­ley res­i­dent Norma Wain­wright re­mem­bers the shock waves the mur­ders sent through the tight-knit com­mu­nity.

Mrs Wain­wright, then a cel­e­brant, was sup­posed to marry Mr Walke­meyer and Miss War­ren just a few weeks later.

“I was liv­ing in Wyn­d­ham and had seen an iden­tikit pic­ture on the TV the evening be­fore,” Mrs Wain­wright said.

“I needed to drive across to Ku­nunurra and left with my big Rhode­sian ridge­back on the back seat just in case.

“Just down the high­way, at the turn-off to the Gibb River Road, there was a po­lice road­block. I was told not to stop for any­one.

“This brought home to me

that it was an un­known of just where the killer could be hid­ing.”

Mrs Wain­wright said the dis­turb­ing mem­ory of the mur­ders lived on in the town for years.

Bob Brown was a mem­ber of the newly formed WA Po­lice tac­ti­cal re­sponse group and was sent to the Kim­ber­ley as part of the team that hunted Schwab.

Based at Home Val­ley Sta­tion near the Pen­te­cost River, the team quickly es­tab­lished a con­nec­tion be­tween the mur­ders, find­ing a boot print in the mud which matched one from the scene in the NT.

For the next five days the TRG team swept sta­tion home­steads, many of which had been aban­doned by the ter­ri­fied oc­cu­pants.

They also set up am­bushes for ve­hi­cles on re­mote dirt roads.

“The roads were vir­tu­ally empty be­cause word had got out that there was a mur­derer on the loose,” Mr Brown said.

“We had very lit­tle sleep for the next five days.”

Schwab was even­tu­ally spot­ted on June 19 at a bush camp about 10km out­side Fitzroy Cross­ing by a heli­copter pi­lot mus­ter­ing horses for the rodeo that week­end.

Peter Leuteneg­ger re­mem­bers vividly the mo­ment he saw the ve­hi­cle hid­den un­der trees and a cam­ou­flage net about 3km off Great North­ern High­way.

“Ev­ery­one was on edge,” he said.

“No one re­ally knew where this bloke was and where he was go­ing to turn up next.

“I hadn’t been up that long and I had an­other bloke in the heli­copter with me and we spot­ted what looked like a ve­hi­cle in an area where

tourists wouldn’t nor­mally be camp­ing.”

Mr Leuteneg­ger landed his small heli­copter out­side the Fitzroy Cross­ing po­lice sta­tion and told them of his dis­cov­ery. He then went back to get his ground mus­ter­ing team out of harm’s way.

The TRG raced to Fitzroy Cross­ing and within a cou­ple hours were in po­si­tion along the high­way. They made their way to­wards Schwab’s camp on foot. As they got about 2km from his car they heard gun­fire. He had be­gun fir­ing at the po­lice plane.

The dra­matic shootout that fol­lowed ended when Schwab was fa­tally shot be­tween the shoul­der blades.

The round passed straight through him and out of his chest.

It was ru­moured that Schwab had been plan­ning to tar­get the Fitzroy rodeo that week­end but Mr Brown said no one would ever know if that was true.

“The pas­sen­ger leg­well in his car was stacked with am­mu­ni­tion,” Mr Brown said.

“He was go­ing to kill more peo­ple. That is what he was go­ing to do. I have no doubt.

“Whether he was go­ing to go to the Fitzroy rodeo and shoot peo­ple we will never know.

“He was mad and you can’t pre­dict what a mad­man is go­ing to do, apart from the fact that he will kill again.”

Mon­tage: Don Lind­say

Killer on the loose: Josef Schwab, top left, and three of his vic­tims, Phillip Walke­meyer and his part­ner Julie War­ren and Mar­cus Bullen.

How The Kim­ber­ley Echo fol­lowed the story in 1987.

For­mer TRG of­fi­cer Bob Brown on the as­sign­ment to track mul­ti­ple mur­derer Josef Schwab.

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