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September 11, 2003

Snowtown: The dark side of Adelaide

This has got them talking in Adelaide. Allan Perry, an Adelaide University criminologist, has said that South Australia's reputation for bizarre killings was not just bad luck or coincidence.

"Adelaide is a stifled and inbred city whose subculture of degeneracy led to atrocities such as the bodies-in-barrels murders. Cities such as Sydney and Melbourne had areas of similar social deprivation to Adelaide, but these were dynamic and social societies with more outlets for people's frustrations. Adelaide is much more of a stifled, inbred community.There is no vibrant social or commercial life (in the city). The question is why do the best and brightest in Adelaide never stay around, and why few in that category come here? The answer is clear - no one with ambition thinks that Adelaide is the place for them."

Adelaide is a large country town, that fancies itself to be a cosmopolitan city. It has large urban areas of social deprivation due to the negative impact of economic globalization on its old manufacturing industries. The Athens of the South in the 1970s became a rust belt town in the 1980s and 1990s and is now trying to reinvent itself.

Dr. Perry then went on to put his finger on what troubled him about Adelaide:

"(I'm referring to) the lifestyle of an increasingly significant subculture of people in the South Australian community, whose lives are totally amoral and parasitic upon society. This culture of degeneracy had built up in some impoverished parts of the city created by welfare dependency and worsened by the breakdown of family units, leaving children growing up in amoral environments."

The remarks are seen to be inflammatory and Dr Perry has been told to go to New York. South Australia is a state where the Rann Labor Government adopts a tough law and order regime to ensure its re-election. Yet the the killings went undetected by the police for the best part of a decade.

The bizarre bodies-in-a-barrel murder case is hard to dismiss lightly. This is dark stuff in a city whose self-image is premised on it beign a child of the liberal Enlightenment. John Justin Bunting and Robert Joe Wagner were engaged in a cold-blooded campaign to kill suspected pedophiles and homosexuals, whom they labelled dirty and wastes. The 11 gruesome murders involved torture, victims bodies being cut in pieces, and then being kept as rotting trophy items in six barrels of hydrochloric acid.

Yet this darkness has been quitely buried--the horror has been brushed aside. An enlightened city has no way of dealing with this stuff. It cannot comprehend that the darkness of 12 vicious murders in six years involving four killers---far more than you seen on Law and Order--- is the other side of the light of reason.
Mark Findlay, a criminologist, writing in The Australian, says that even though Snowtown was an awful, explicable and relentless tragedy involving serial killings the press was relatively disinterested (The Australian being an exception). Press coverage was sporadic. He asks:

"[Snowtown] was the worst serial murder case in Australia's history, and one of the longest and most brutal trials, yet Pauline Hanson's imprisonment seems to have stirred up more heat. Why?"

The 'why' is a good question to ask.The Advertiser has been largely silent on this. Findlay draws attention to what Allan Perry called the the culture of degeneracy:

"In Snowtown, brothers killed brothers, homosexual lovers killed partners as some sick statement over confused sexuality [sic] and vulnerable victims were robbed after death all in an atmosphere of neglect, abuse, domination and degradation. Most of those involved in the tragedy came from a part of our society that is ignored, avoided or institutionalised. Perhaps it explains how a dozen deaths over half a decade passed seemingly unnoticed. There has been little comment on how, not why, this could happen. The why has exercised little more than some glib generalisations about social outcasts."

Findlay's answer has to do with the outcast bit:

"It is not unfair to suggest that as a lost, socially inadequate, fringe dweller you will not generate the excitement of the viewing public or of criminal justice until it is too late, and even then not much. Snowtown was, in part, the consequence of a lack of social engagement and of rejection at all levels. The apparent apathy surrounding this horror seems a natural extension of this climate of rejection."

Adelaide is trying to expunge the serial killings as having nothing to do with what it is as a civilised liberal and egalitarian society. They are beeing swept under the carpet. It is best to forget. But the sense of shame and embarrasment stays. It reinforces the public feeling that there is something sick/unhealthy about the culture of Adelaide. We are indeed a long way from the 1970's brand of 'Athens of the South.'

Update 2
This article in The Australian describes what Allan Perry called the culture of degeneracy. It is an underclass world of joblessness, dysfunction and welfare dependency in Salisbury North. In this world damaged and often traumatised people (from being sexually abused and beaten as children) are caught up in destructive relationships (friends and lovers). They live a damaged life of tangled relationships, involving de factos, husbands, wives, casual partners, step-children and half-siblings.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at September 11, 2003 04:37 PM

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But he has made a silly argument, hasn't he? This is classic phoney thinking: The question is why do the best and brightest in Adelaide never stay around, and why few in that category come here? The answer is clear - no one with ambition thinks that Adelaide is the place for them."

The same arguments have been made in the past about Australia in general. It's chicken and egg: is Adelaide a dead-end therefore people leave, or is it so because people leave? Australians of a certain type had to learn to get over their cringe and realise you could succeed without seeking out imperial centres and maybe Perry needs to do the same thing? Arguably Patrick White's decision to write about and from Australia was the symbolic end of cringe and maybe the choice by someone like Paul Davies to base themselves in Adelaide is the state-based equivalent. Besides, the gruesome murders thing is so inconclusive as to be laughable - how does he explain New York? Anyway, I don't know, I'm just saying - "arguments" like Perry's always strike me bogus and based more on their own insecurities and/or biases than any real empirical evidence.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2003 11:57 PM

But he has made a silly argument, hasn't he? This is classic phoney thinking: The question is why do the best and brightest in Adelaide never stay around, and why few in that category come here? The answer is clear - no one with ambition thinks that Adelaide is the place for them."

The same arguments have been made in the past about Australia in general. It's chicken and egg: is Adelaide a dead-end therefore people leave, or is it so because people leave? Australians of a certain type had to learn to get over their cringe and realise you could succeed without seeking out imperial centres and maybe Perry needs to do the same thing? Arguably Patrick White's decision to write about and from Australia was the symbolic end of cringe and maybe the choice by someone like Paul Davies to base themselves in Adelaide is the state-based equivalent. Besides, the gruesome murders thing is so inconclusive as to be laughable - how does he explain New York? Anyway, I don't know, I'm just saying - "arguments" like Perry's always strike me bogus and based more on their own insecurities and/or biases than any real empirical evidence.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2003 11:57 PM

two posts two basic ideas?

There is always the element of cultural cringe in Adelaide. Adelaide has fallen behind Melbourne and Sydney economic wise. Professional people do have to leave to get jobs. We are not good because we are not like Sydney.

That cultural cringe feeds into the Australian cultural cringe---it is still live and well in Adelaide. Some universities departments in Adelaide refuse to appoint a local or a national on principle. By definition the best in Australia are not as good as the third rate from the imperial centre(London)

So I agree with that part.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at September 12, 2003 12:17 PM

Forget New York. Its a throwaway line by an embarrased minister in the Rann Labor Government doing a bit of media management.

The context for Perrys' remarks are the thinkers in residence events in Adelaide. See my junk for code weblog for this.

How do we recreate or reinvent Adelaide? is the theme.

One answer is that it has to become mor exciting and confident. The diagnosis is that Adelaide is boring, inward looking, defensive, self-satisfied, prone to self-criticism etc.

Perry was adding the repressive bit re the subculture of a depressed northern working class suburbs with broken families surviving on welfare dependency

It's a conservative account---indicated by 'growing up in amoral environments'. There is no enlightenment and civilization there. It's the home of barbarians.A cancer within the social body.

Yet Perry has put it on the table. In contrast to the once closed cities of Perth and Brisbane (in the 1970s) who have opened up and turned outward, Adelaide has closed down and turned inwards. That has been its response to the negative impact of economic globalization.

The social consequences of three decades of high unemployment, low economic growth and low levels of education are now being publicly felt.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at September 12, 2003 12:34 PM

have travelled the world, I have lived free and my best memories that I can let come to the surface was when I had nothing, just a toothbrush. Possibly because of my age I could handle the hardship, the tough lifestyle, living on the edge. It made me feel alive!

I would not be writing this article if it were not for what has happened in the last few weeks. I thought that heroin addicts, prostitutes, paedophiles were just normal where I live. Man there is just so many lost individuals here that come and go or die of something. Suicide or old age!

It is a caravan park that I live, a cross breed of individuals some waiting for a house or should I say apartment ( I do not think that the housing association has many houses left) because they are turning every bit of space into sardine'ville'as (flats) oh what is the waiting time for a house or apartment? Well I have been on the list for over 7 years now. I was told it could be a wait of up to 12 years for a place to live.

A new person came to stay at the caravan park and I will not mention his name. But he started to say things that was to introduce himself and I thought what a well spoken person he was and one thing led to another. He mentioned that he was a friend of the Snowtown murderers. He was waiting for the court case to help give him financial support for his involvement in helping collect the pin numbers for the group of individuals that eventually murdered and cut up and ate their victims. He is suing them because he said it has caused him mental anguish. This is a person that has a history of drug abuse and is known to be
schizophrenic! He is not taking any medication and seems really well, I think he said this affected him because he could've been a victim. He mentioned that he was going to commit suicide at some time to escape interrogation and to eventually get compensated. This is my own opinion!

I thought my god how can someone so involved in this be suing the Snowtown murderers for over $30 thousand because he felt he could've been a victim? What I find strange is that the guilty have been recognised as saying that they hated paedophiles and homosexuals yet Barry Lane
'Vanessa' Barry Lane was a known paedophile eventually a victim who was living with Robert Wagner for over 7 years as partners? They had to get vicious dogs and put up a huge fence because of people throwing things at their house.

Yet it has been said that the group of individuals had a strong hatred towards homosexuals and paedophiles? I think this was manufactured so that when they went into jail most people would not harm them, and thus saving allot of man power as protection!

He has a history of strong drug abuse, well South Australia must be proud to be a State so lenient with drug offences. let alone murder it has only been just recently that people who have killed has been given a longer life sentence! why is that? Will these people be given help with rehabilitation? Oh I just remembered the person who was the head of the mental health department was murdered not so long ago, is this coincidental? Are people depraved in Adelaide? When you reach a certain age yes you are that is if you do not have a certain sense of well being. I mean you have to feel comfortable with being alone, if you do not drink or take drugs or be involved in an activity that will ease your idle mind. The you are prone to do strange things! So Adelaide is a prime target for strange events, as I'm sure so is anywhere else in the world.

Posted by: Mr X at October 17, 2003 10:22 PM

What is it in my opinion that makes a person do what he/she does?
Motive has always been #1 but in this case where people who live in a low income bracket do things that are very diferant to those who are white collar variety!

All I can say is that from what I see and what I hear it is very strange indeed!

More people who were friends of the Snowtown murderers are here in the caravan park! They all claim to be mentally challenged, suffering from abuse of the society falling apart.

Several individuals talk about how to kill their ex-wife, some talk about starting a male brothel, then sifting out the homosexuals!

Many people are on the dole and work on the side to help keep their lifestyle intact. Some have children from a variety of men they run around without supervision. It is amazing how none of them has not fell in the river a drowned by now!

Poverty is the main instigator, age along with low intelligence is the second meaning it deprives individuals to join the work force, medication or lack of is the next, drugs and alchohol follows. Mix all that together and you have a time bomb

People are cunning and even though they might seem to have low iq they are smart, very smart and calculating. They seem to know every trick in the book to survive.

Why does the system here in Adelaide seem to be getting worse? (I have a list too long for this space)What makes an individual become deceptive?
Are the people who do wrong the flip side of the after affects of the rules and laws set up by government?


Posted by: Mr X at October 31, 2003 12:03 PM

For those who are interested there are some brief comments on this by Trevor Maddock over at philosophical conversations

Trevor ties these events and others into a discussion about George Bataille. So provides a theoretical context in which to make sense of them.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 31, 2003 02:07 PM

City of Churches changes it's name to City of Corpses

There is an inexplicable dark side to Adelaide. Some are now choosing to call it the "City of Corpses". And it is not hard to understand why. Per capita Adelaide and environs has recorded more of Australia's most notorious crimes than any other Australian capital city. In the annals of Australias most horrific crimes, laid-back Adelaides sinister past (and present) makes other cities look like Camelot.


I was recovering from a car accident and was seeing a chiropractor whose name I forget but he was Italian. He asked me if I wanted a job doing some gardining work for Derrance Stevenson who was a solicitor on Greenhill Road, Adelaide. This was in thie chiropractic office of the Italian guy. I said that would be great! We left to see the person D. Stevenson I was invited in and introduced to this guy, well they were talking at the far side of the office then an argument then I felt very uncomfortable. I said I'm leaving and left in the late afternoon to my horror it was not untill the next morning I found out that this was a group of homosexuals who preyed on their victims I was simply perplexed and scared. The guy ended up DEAD!Man that could've been me!
1979: David Szach murders his lover, lawyer Derrance Stevenson, and conceals the body in a freezer in Parkside this is on Greenhill Road.

Today things are still strange and they get stranger, man when will it end!
A while ago about a year and a half I was asked if I wanted to do some work for this guy's friend near Murry River. I disliked the day I first met this man and he gives me the creeps. Well check this out! New managers came to take over this caravan park several months ago guess where they were from.....yes Murry Bridge! Also who happens to be good friends with them the guy who said he was friends of the Snowtown Murders. The woman used to work for CenterLink (I have a funny feeling about this) I'm hardly ever wrong!Was there an insider covering up trails?

This guy who ask's me if I wanted a job knowing that I was on a dissability pension said I could be given light work and get paid on the side! I said no thanks, I have great concern that there was more to the Snowtown Murders than just four people being convicted. I wonder if anyone has ever gone missing from here? People do come and go quite alot! I was told that there was a great sum of money and I'm talking about millions not thousands that CenterLink has said was what was taken by the Gang of Four! Five, Six, Seven -->???

I question the security around CenterLink and individuals living on a pension! I do not feel safe! Will I survive this time!

There is a MIXED BAG of people uneducated and educated here in Adelaide who are just plain CRAZY! Whatever people say about Adelaide it is TRUE. By the way I have lived in New York and I felt safe maybe it was because I only stayed there for several months.
Why am I still here??????

Posted by: Mr X at November 11, 2003 05:53 PM

I am confused! Is this PUBLIC OPINION???

How come just a few people have an interest in this most fascinating place called " The City of Corpses"?

By the way the new managers of the caravan park were told to leave because they were stealing money! we have now another couple who are new managers of the park!

Hopefully they will do a better job!

Call upon all the ancestors who love you to guide you and protect you!

Posted by: Mr X at November 19, 2003 06:44 PM

I used to live in Adelaide . It was an experience alright . I learn't at Parahills high school , what a drugged fucked area that was !.?

Posted by: stefo at December 7, 2003 08:31 PM

Adelaide is not that bad a place. Think of all of the children here that are making a future for themselves and people saying that people with no ambitions come here is a joke. How do you think that makes people who have lived here all there lives and appreciate its remoteness and how it is different from other towns.

Posted by: Rachel at June 22, 2004 01:32 PM

it is not a drug fucked area, there are lots of remote areas that don't have problems like that. Look at the broader picture, like the barossa and places like that, not at the killings and drugs problems.

Posted by: anonnymous at June 22, 2004 01:35 PM

The world is not perfect, if you think it is then you are living in a fairy tale world. You all nedd to grow up adn have faith in not as successful towns.

Posted by: annoymous at June 22, 2004 01:38 PM

First, Derrance Stevenson, then the Snowtown killers and possibly an oblique reference to The Family in between.

Interesting company you keep Mr.X. Of course, you could just be full of it.

Posted by: James at September 21, 2004 05:00 PM

James my dear James......full of what?

There is much more happening in this cute little town that you obviously are not aware of! Or maybe you are....family in between?

Interesting company I keep, hehe It is just everyday people I meet on the streets of Adelaide!

Anyone hear of Project 15? Only one or two if that! And they would be physchologist's confused and in shock!

Mr X

Posted by: Mr X at December 4, 2004 07:34 PM

No offence Mr. X, but all you've offered is stuff that's been rehashed in the papers ad nauseum.

BTW, George Octopodellis was knocked off a long time ago.

Posted by: James at December 15, 2004 12:33 AM

I lived in Adelaide for 30 years, and was married for 8 years to the uncle of David Johnson (final Snowtown victim, and the only one to actually die at Snowtown). I owned and lived in a house in Salisbury for 5 years, it was one of the better streets, we only had ONE drug dealer. I'm no scholar, and you may not agree with my opinion, but I would never live in Adelaide again because of its "dark" side. I lived for many years in the "blue chip" suburb of Medindie, also Norwood and North Adelaide. Although they are more "trendy" suburbs with residents who have higher incomes (a lot of them have JOBS) and better educations, than those in the northern suburbs. Still any area of Adelaide that I have lived in has suffered greatly from being "drug fucked" ... I must agree with a previous posting which referred to Para Hills. Norwood although one of the more "cosmo" and exciting areas, was particularly haven for low-lifes and addicts of all types. I have now lived on the Gold Coast for nearly 9 years and can't compare its healthy culture and generally positive atmosphere to Adelaide. Contrary to what many southerners think, the Gold Coast isn't choc-a-bloc with privileged millionaires either, but ordinary people with a zest for life, and drug problems and violence generally are a feature in "Sufferers Parasite" - the tourist strip - around the pubs and clubs at night. But these problems are more related to an amazing shortage of cops up here!!! I saw more police cars during one morning's drive into work in Adelaide than I do in a MONTH here in Queensland. The Gold Coast lacks only the good old Adelaide-style pub with atmosphere (I miss the Oxford ... I hope its still going strong), and its very hard to find a continental deli, where oh where can I get a decent home-made pate??? All for now. Cheers.

Posted by: Terri at February 26, 2005 08:07 AM

i like to lick balls, my head is shapped like an egg, i have lots of freckles, i wear sunscreen inside, i cant swim, i have no muscles, my mum says im cool, i have no friends, im quite, my cat beats me up, my little sister made me cry, my name is eggnoggin

Posted by: james waugh at March 2, 2005 10:15 AM

Are you kidding me? This is nothing like Adelaide, and all the negative opinions you have are from those living in trailer-trash suburbs. Every city has trash, and for the record Adelaide isn't a town, it's a city.

I live in Springfield and have never come across anything as drastic as is being described. I've studied two years in Melbourne due to parents moving temporarily for jobs and spent eight months studying in England, and I would really prefer to live in Adelaide any day. I'm sorry for all those who happen to be geographically disadvantaged (Parahills? Eww...) but you can't make wild generalizations about a city and label it as any worse than other Australian cities. When it comes to Australian cities, size doesn't matter.

Posted by: Andy at March 13, 2005 07:20 PM

what were justin bunting and mark haydon charged with..??

Posted by: madee at June 5, 2005 11:03 PM

I honestly hope they suffer for what they did to those poor people & their families. I know death all to well & I can simpathise for them. When someone close to you dies its heart breaking! There is no such thing as a mourning period, you will never get over it, it will forever be etched in your minds. Anyone who things other wise needs to have an ego check!!

Posted by: Kris PIper at August 1, 2005 02:05 PM

I agree with madee! I also know what its like to have someone very close to you die or be killed and its not the best feelling in the world. You yourself become very depressed and withdraw from the world around you, wishing that you have died instead and you start to question your own existance. Personally I think that they should rot in jail for what they done to the victims and what they have put their families through!!

Posted by: Kris Piper at August 4, 2005 11:25 AM

I have previously added my opinion to this site and i'm not changing my opinion for anyone. I may only be 16 years old but i do know what i'm talking about when I say that I know what it's like to have a person you love taken away from you just like that. My uncle was killed in a motorbike accident and my aunt was killed by a serial killer in Frankston, Melbourne. I'm not judging a book by its cover or saying anything bad about Snowtown, I'm just saying that once my aunt and uncle were dead, I was very young and was very close to them, I found it very hard to cope, My mother didn't know what to do with me. She thought that I might cause myself physical harm. I'm not judging these guys by what they have done, they're probably pretty nice guys, but what they done is just inexcusable

Posted by: Kris Piper at August 8, 2005 10:08 AM


Posted by: UYF at August 16, 2005 05:22 PM

Who said anything about the killers being Trailer trash?

Posted by: Kris Piper at August 18, 2005 11:35 AM

James Waugh, you seriously need to have an ego check! Honestly who cares if you've been studying in Melbourne & England! This site is about personal opinions about Serial Killers! Not boosting your personal status & ego. In your case! When you have anything meaningful to add to this site let me know!

Posted by: Kris Piper at September 1, 2005 11:30 AM

Adelaide's dark side takes a new turn. The
allegations of cannibalism in the Snowtown bodies-in-barrels murders have finally been made public in South Australia.

The details have been suppressed from publication in South Australia since 2002, but can now be revealed following an order in the SA Supreme Court today.

A lawyer for convicted serial killer James Vlassakis told the court in 2002 that the bodies-in-barrels killers fried and ate flesh from one of their victims.

It is reported that Rosemary Davey, a lawyer for convicted serial killer James Vlassakis, told the court in 2002 that the bodies-in-barrels killers fried and ate flesh from one of their victims. She said:

My client was going to have a shower and he comes out to find Robert Wagner cooking the flesh of (murder victim) David Johnson in a frying pan. He's offered some, told effectively, try some.

That says a lot about Adelaide's dark side does it not?

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at September 19, 2005 05:07 PM

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