Serial killers have been a curious fascination to many; we are reviled by their cruelty, yet also strangely intrigued. Their thoughts and actions are so incomprehensible to the average person, which simply draws us further in. The monstrosity of their crimes makes them larger-than-life figures for even grown-ups, sensational characters that have been immortalized in books and movies. 

For the morbid and gothic fans, or the surprisingly curious, here are some of the most deadly serial killers in Australia.

Bodies in the Barrels

In the 1990s, John Bunting and Robert Wagner decided to take justice into their own hands to punish the “waste” of society, such as pedophiles. However, their victims often were not even sex offenders. These self-proclaim vigilantes had a gruesome MO: all eight victims were dismembered and stuffed into barrels. 

In South Australia, Snowtown, this small farming town unveiled one of the most horrific serial killers within their midst. John Justin Bunting took sadistic pleasure in torturing and murdering his victims. Yet, to others, he was the perfect gentleman, charming and well-mannered. His raw magnetism drew his friends, Robert Wagner, and Mark Ray Haydon, to join him on his killing spree. 

The men viciously tortured their victims using an array of devices, from hand and thumb cuffs to pliers and hammers, and even an electric shock chair. De-fleshed and dismembered, they then stuffed the bodies in barrels and hid them in a disused bank vault. Other victims were also found buried in Bunting’s former backyard and another hanging from a tree. 

Snowtown became infamous following this serial killing; most of the townspeople remain shocked and appalled but some also chose to turn this misfortune into an opportunity to cash in. Souvenirs such as magnets can be found with a distasteful joke “Snowtown SA you’ll have a barrel of fun”.

In 2003, Bunting and Wagner were sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole. 

Aunty Thally

Known as Aunty Carrie to family and friends, this seemingly lovable and friendly lady often brought delicious baked goods to share. Her cakes and biscuits are certainly decadent treats, but Caroline Grills had added an extra ingredient: poison.

Her choice of poison was subtle yet deadly. Thallium, also known as ‘the poisoner’s poison” or the “Inheritance powder”, is tasteless and odorless and often used as rat poison. It is the perfect poison — undetectable yet extremely toxic. 

Her targets were her family members, mainly extended relatives she was not too fond of. With four victims already under her belt, she tried to kill another three, but she was finally caught by the police. 

Aunty Carrie was sentenced to death, but her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She gained her infamous nickname in jail when her inmates affectionately dubbed her as “Aunty Thally”, for her choice of poison. Just six years later, she died of peritonitis in 1960.

After Aunty Thally’s case gained notoriety, thallium was banned from commercial sale.

The Granny-killer

John Wayne Glover seemed like a respectable family man, but he terrorized Sydney’s North Shore for over a year before he got caught by the police. 

In 1989, he bludgeoned and strangled six elderly women to death, and assaulted another seven. His choice of weapon was a claw hammer, although he has been known to use the victim’s own pantyhose to strangle her, During the year, his behavior escalated, not only was he increasingly violent — he also became a serial molester. 

His hatred towards elderly women has been linked to his childhood. According to the psychiatrist on trial, Glover had built up aggression and hostility towards his own mother since he was a child, and then against his mother-in-law. Both women passed away shortly before the killings started, and it was likely that Glover needed an outlet. He chose to vent his anger on the innocent and old ladies who were defenseless against his attacks. His lack of guilt led the jury to reach a verdict: six life sentences and a recommendation to not be released. 

At the age of 72, Glover committed suicide in prison, hanging himself after 15 years of imprisonment. 

The Baby Farmers Killers

From the late 1800s to 1900s, before adoption and abortion were legalized, many desperate mothers who could not keep their newborns turned to ‘baby farms’. These ‘baby farmers’ offered to provide and find loving homes for the infants in exchange for a fee. But these strangers don’t often have good intentions, not when they see a chance to make a profit.

John and Sarah Makin entered the business of baby farming after John was injured in an accident and could no longer work. With no money coming in, the family was struggling to make ends meet. Out of desperation, they responded to an ad in the paper by a poor single mother, Amber Murray, who was looking for a baby farmer.

The couple soon started out on this lucrative venture, where they earned 10 shillings per week for each baby, and sold the clothes of their victims to rake in more income. The Makins made up a pitiful background story, pretending to be loving parents grieving for the loss of their own child to gain more sympathy. The Makins covered their tracks well; along with false names, they moved 15 times over 2 decades, making it harder for the biological parents to keep tabs on their children.

The babies were carelessly killed; their bodies were simply thrown into the drain and had caused a blockage in the pipes in the Makin home. Bodies were also found buried in the backyards of previous homes the Makins had lived in. The total number of victims is not certain, but it is thought to be 13 children.

The Makins were sentenced to death, but only John Makin was hanged. Sarah Makin made an appeal and was actually released after 19 years of imprisonment. 

These serial killers might not be as gruesome as Jack the Ripper or Hannibal Lecter, but they are certainly terrifying. Targeting the old, the young and the vulnerable while pretending to be good samaritans, they are the hidden evil of society. Serial killers can look just like everyone else, they blend in seamlessly, and some can be as charming as the infamous Ted Bundy. Perhaps that’s what makes them so frightening; the juxtaposition between normalcy and monstrosity.