Snowtown: Repeating the darkness

I’ve always been both fascinated and horrified by serial killers. When the Jeffrey Dahmer killings surfaced – I was about sixteen and in Florida on a trip with my family – I bought the People magazine with him on the cover, with my mom’s full approval. She wanted to read the gory details too.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t admire these people. I’m not writing them love letters or setting up shrines. But I know I’m not alone in my morbid fascination. Look at the popularity of Dexter and movies like Silence of the Lambs. And it was with this morbid fascination that MB and I started to watch Snowtown.

Snowtown is based on the serial murders that occurred in the mid to late 1990s in small towns in South Australia. The killings were led by John Bunting, charismatic yet cold-blooded, and a ragtag and ever-changing bunch of strange and troubled men. Bunting’s main targets were those he thought were pedophiles and homosexuals, but many of his accomplices were also pedophiles or gay. Some of Bunting’s accomplices eventually became his victims.

The film was even more dark and disturbing than we expected, even though they barely showed anything (SPOILERS FOLLOW). Smears of blood on the bed and in the bath tub, a dead body obscured, a mother screaming to her son, “Get out of here!” and Bunting behind her looking furious. There were just two graphic scenes, a rape and a killing, but these were so disturbing I couldn’t stop thinking about them long afterward. MB was completely wigged out (and he doesn’t really get disturbed by anything), while I was both horrified and curious: why did these things happen? Why did Bunting kill like this? Why did the town they were living in seem so full of pedophiles, rape, and sexual abuse?

I did some research on the internet, but didn’t find much. I found names and facts about the murders, but nothing about why. I ran across one of the books that inspired the movie, Killing for Pleasure by Debi Marshall, and I was all set to buy it for the Kindle, but then discovered it’s available only in Australia. What the – ?! Or else used from Amazon for $30 (!). I wanted to wait a while and see if it would eventually be available in the U.S. but MB went and ahead and got the book for me.

The book is well-written, though it could use some editing and perhaps overdoes it on the grisly details of each killing, to the point that I had to skim over those parts. However, it really helped to clarify who the heck was whom in Bunting’s weird little circle. In the movie, there was no explanation as to who Bunting’s hangers-on were. There was just some silent dude who was always there, always helping Bunting with the murders. There was another bearded guy who was always hanging around, silent and creepy. People would just appear at each other’s houses, in and out of each other’s lives. The mother of the kid Bunting “mentors” is named Elizabeth Hardy, but the kid, Jamie, has a different last name, as does his older half-brother, as does his step-brother. Leaving things unexplained in the movie lent an air of eerieness, but at the same time, I kept wondering, Who’s that? Why is he there? What’s their relation?

Marshall also offers some speculation as to the reasons behind people’s behaviors. Supposedly when Bunting was eight years old, he was gang-raped by his friend’s older brother and his friends. But people who knew Bunting don’t know if this story was true because he made up so many stories. His partner in crime, Robert Wagner, was also abused as a kid by an older neighbor boy, then at 13 took up with a transvestite named Barry “Vanessa” Lane. Lane seemed to be involved with some fucked up shit: pedophilia, bestiality, what have you.

Jamie, the young kid Bunting takes under his wing and who will later testify against Bunting and Wagner, was horribly, serially abused. His biological father, his older brother (who had also been abused by the father), one neighbor, then another neighbor, all before he was 17.

Jesus fucking Christ, how does this happen in just a few adjoining towns? And that’s not even everything.

Marshall gives some background on the towns as well. While the bodies (held in barrels in the vault of an abandoned bank) were found in Snowtown, only one of the murders occurred there. The others occurred in small towns around Adelaide. These small towns seemed to be comprised entirely of “trust housing,” which we’d call public housing or “projects.” From the way Marshall described it, many of these residents were “permanently unemployed,” learning disabled, and desperately poor.

Adelaide was also home to the Family Murders, “the name given to an alleged high society conspiracy involving the kidnap, torture, and murder of teenagers, particularly young men and teenaged boys, in Adelaide, Australia and surrounding areas in the late 1970s to the mid 1980s.” There is some speculation that Lane was somehow involved in a high society pedophile ring, auctioning off young kids from foster homes to the highest bidders. I can’t help but think of Jerry Sandusky, the Second Mile, the charity he set up for kids, and all the higher-ups involved in keeping his horrific crimes hush-hush. Was Sandusky the only one involved? Why would people go to such lengths to protect him? Were they protecting more than him?

It’s all very disturbing. If you need me, I’ll be curled up in a fetal position and rocking back and forth.

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