WOLF CREEK, The Real Story of The Australian Murders
This true story of a murder in the Australian Outback influenced the Wolf Creek movie and five books are on their way.
The scenic Wolfe Creek National Park in the Western Australian Outback has never received so much attention, even though the movie title misspells it.
The actual name of the remote meteorite crater on the edge of the Kimberley and the Great Sandy Desert is Wolfe Creek.
Wolf Creek: A True Story?
In the Wolf Creek movie story three young backpackers in their twenties return from a hike in Wolf Creek National Park in the Australian Outback to find that their car won't start. They accept help from a seemingly friendly local bushman. He tows their car to his camp, an abandoned old mine site.
They spend the night there, wake up the next morning and this is when they realise that he is not the friendly bushman they thought. The horror starts there, and I won't tell you any more in case you haven't seen the movie.
The movie tagline says, "Based on true events." So what's the Wolf Creek true story? How close is the movie to Australian Outback reality?
I've seen outcries on travel forums by young English backpackers: "Oh my god, what are they doing to us?" Excuse me? They? As in us Australians? Or what?
Anyway, for those who have trouble separating fact from fiction, here is Wolf Creek, the true story.
Wolf Creek: The True Story
The true Wolf Creek story happened about two thousand kilometres from Wolfe Creek National Park, and not in Western Australia, but in the Northern Territory.
On July 14, 2001, British tourists Peter Falconio (then 28) and Joanne Lees (who in October 2006 finally launched her book, the only true story!) travelled on the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs in the direction of Darwin. It was night time.
Roughly half way between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, just outside Barrow Creek, a mechanic called Bradley John Murdoch managed to make them pull over, and told them that sparks were coming out of the exhaust of their van.
Peter went to the back of the van with Murdoch to have a look, and Joanne was asked to rev the engine. She later said she thought she heard a shot. Then Murdoch, holding a gun, came to her window. He bound her hands and dragged her into his four wheel drive.
Then he disappeared for a while. It is assumed that he dealt with Peter's body during that time. That's when Joanne managed to escape. She hid in the bush as Murdoch was searching for her with his dog. Eventually he gave up.
Joanne waited for hours, making sure that he was really gone and not coming back. When she finally staggered back onto the highway two truck drivers stopped and helped her.
Murdoch was caught in the largest Northern Territory police investigation ever. He had been in Alice Springs the same day as Joanne and Peter, he had also visited the same fast food outlet.
Whether he targeted them at random or followed them from Alice Springs is not known. He claims he wasn't even near Barrow Creek, had taken the Tanami Road instead (a rough bush track from Alice Springs to Western Australia. It runs past Wolfe Creek National Park)
Many questions remain. No weapon or body was found. The motive is unclear, too. But speculations revolve around paranoia and aggression induced by his heavy amphetamine use. Murdoch is a self confessed drifter, drug runner, and regularly transported large amounts of cannabis between Alice Springs and Broome in Western Australia.
His lawyers couldn't explain how his DNA had ended up on the makeshift handcuffs that Joanne was tied up with, if he'd been nowhere near her. After a two month trial he was found guilty in December 2005. The verdict by the jury was unanimous. Murdoch will serve at least 28 years of a life sentence, unless his appeal (due for hearing in December 2006) is successful. (Update: Murdoch's appeal was rejected in January 2007.)
I followed the reports of the trial and admired Joanne Lees' stoicism. I believe it helped her to make an escape, but it often didn't help her before and during the trial. She has remained silent, withdrawn, not revealing her emotions (which are nobody's business in my opinion). No big magazine spreads and TV shows, just four days of testimony during the trial. Unusual in our age of media hype and rampant disclosure...
Five years after her ordeal Joanne released her book, "No Turning Back", in October 2006. And now, for the first time, she is talking to the media.
I found this terrific interview (unfortunately the five page interview is no longer online), which confirms every impression I had of her. I'm so impressed with this woman...
Joanne Lees is an exceptionally strong person who deserves our compassion and our admiration. I recommend the interview, and if you want the true "true story", read the book.
And that's it, the Wolf Creek true story. Or is it?
Well, not quite. There sure are many parallels, enough for Murdoch's lawyers to prevent the movie from being released in the Northern Territory during the trial. But the true story above is not the only one that influenced the Wolf Creek movie.
The character of Mick Taylor, the seemingly friendly and helpful bush bloke, is modelled on Ivan Milat. Milat was a serial killer who picked up hitchhikers and took them into the woods where he tortured and killed them. These murders took place in the 1990s in New South Wales, not in the Outback (and have taken place in other form at other times in other parts of the world as well...) Milat, too, was caught and sentenced to life in prison.
You should also keep in mind that writer/director Greg McLean wrote the original story years ago, as a conventional and purely fictional horror flick set in the Australian Outback. He only became aware of the true cases afterwards, and took ideas and cues from them and blended them into his story. The line "based on true events" surely helps marketing the film, but it is misleading...