Faces of tragedy ... Grace Millane, Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland  - all young women have have recently fallen victim to attacks while on backpacking holidays.
Faces of tragedy ... Grace Millane, Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland - all young women have have recently fallen victim to attacks while on backpacking holidays.

Why backpackers are ‘easy targets’ for criminals

BEFORE  British backpacker Grace Millane was murdered, the aspiring young artist painted a picture of a skull in rainbow watercolours, and posted it on her Facebook page.

"Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead," Millane wrote above the artwork.

Now, just months after her unknowing post, Millane's words take on chilling significance.

Indeed, only she and her killer know the secret of how she met her grisly end on 1 December, 2018, after disappearing from an Auckland hostel on the eve of her 22nd birthday.

 

British backpacker Grace Millane was murdered in New Zealand on the day before her birthday.
British backpacker Grace Millane was murdered in New Zealand on the day before her birthday.

 

When she failed to respond to birthday messages, despite usually staying in very regular contact with her family while on her New Zealand holiday, they raised the alarm from London.

A week later, Millane's body was found in a bushy area on the outskirts of the city, 10 metres from the edge of a scenic drive in Auckland's Waitakere Ranges.

A 26-year-old man has been charged with her murder.

Millane's horrifying end sends a stark message to the hundreds of thousands of backpackers currently landing on Australian and New Zealand shores amid the countries' peak summer backpacker season.

But her disappearance is just one in a string of young lives cut short across the globe in recent times.

 

 

Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland.
Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland.

 

On 18 December, the bodies of Scandinavian students Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, were found with knife wounds to the neck, in a remote spot in Morocco's Atlas Mountains.

The university friends were believed to be camping when they were attacked by what is believed to be a group of terrorist "lone wolves".

In a crime that caught international headlines for its shocking nature, the young women were stabbed multiple times, and their throats slit before they were decapitated. A graphic video showing Ms Jespersen's beheading was filmed by one of the assailants and uploaded to social media, and the victims' families, including Ms Jespersen's mother, have since had their Facebook pages spammed with photographs of their severed heads.

 

The village of Imlil on the slopes of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, about 10km from the spot where the bodies of two Scandinavian women were found. Picture: AP
The village of Imlil on the slopes of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, about 10km from the spot where the bodies of two Scandinavian women were found. Picture: AP

 

Moroccan prosecutors have filed preliminary terrorism charges against 15 people who are suspected of links to the killings.

"Her priority was safety," said Maren's mother Irene Ueland, describing her daughter as "warm and engaged" in an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

"The girls had taken all precautionary measures before embarking on this trip."

But precautionary measures are no match for a determined killer - and the very nature of backpacking, in which young, inexperienced travellers head off the beaten track on minuscule budgets, often means risks are taken.

 

 

Backpackers Beatriz (surname withheld) and Lena Rabente, who survived an attempted murder by Roman Heinz, at Salt Creek, South Australia, in February 2016.
Backpackers Beatriz (surname withheld) and Lena Rabente, who survived an attempted murder by Roman Heinz, at Salt Creek, South Australia, in February 2016.

 

South Australian police recently launched a new social media initiative to help young travellers stay safe after the Salt Creek assault on two international travellers in 2016.

Lena Rabente from Germany and Beatriz (last name withheld) from Brazil were 23 when the new friends accepted a lift from then 59-year-old Roman Heinze, after he responded to their Gumtree ad for a ride.

When the trio set up camp on a remote beach, Heinze tied Beatriz up and sexually assaulted her while Rabente slept.

Heinze then attacked Rabente with a hammer and the screaming women ran in different directions to improve their chances of escaping him.

Chasing Rabente in his four-wheel-drive, Heize hit the German woman several times before she climbed on to the roof of the car, clinging to the roof rack as he continued to try and dislodge by swerving and hitting at her feet with his hammer.

She was finally able to escape after she witnessed Heinze throw his hammer and knife into the scrub and made a run for her safety.

 

Roman Heinze outside the Supreme Court of South Australia. Picture: Greg Higgs
Roman Heinze outside the Supreme Court of South Australia. Picture: Greg Higgs

 

The resulting police safety campaign features posters and a pocket card educating travellers about personal safety.

"Not everyone has a huge budget when travelling and some tourists will look to ridesharing websites to get around to various locations," said SA Police Minister Corey Wingard.

"This initiative provides a range of easy-to-understand tips on ridesharing, safe partying, travelling in the remote areas of the state, gaining farm work and other useful information."

While Australia is generally considered a safe destination, marring our reputation of golden beaches and red-dirt adventures are internationally known horror stories of attacks in the wilderness.

 

Convicted backpacker murderer Ivan Milat, dressed in his orange overalls, handcuffed and manacled with his left hand bandaged, is escorted from hospital by prison officers.
Convicted backpacker murderer Ivan Milat, dressed in his orange overalls, handcuffed and manacled with his left hand bandaged, is escorted from hospital by prison officers.

 

The most notorious were the backpacker murders of 1989-1993 when serial killer Ivan Milat murdered seven young people in the Belanglo State Forest, NSW.

The horror stories only continued with the 2001 disappearance of Peter Falconio who was travelling with girlfriend Joanne Lees in the Northern Territory.

 

Bradley John Murdoch was found guilty of the 2001 murder of missing British tourist Peter Falconio. Picture: AFP
Bradley John Murdoch was found guilty of the 2001 murder of missing British tourist Peter Falconio. Picture: AFP

 

In 2005, Bradley John Murdoch was convicted of his murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, after Lees told the court Murdoch had tied her hands behind her back and put a sack over her head before she managed to escape.

While such attacks were widely publicised, lesser known incidents include the 2016 stabbing murders of Brits Mia Ayliffe-Chung and Tom Jackson at the hands of French backpacker Smail Ayad, who was staying in the same hostel in Home Hill, Queensland.

 

Smail Ayad was arrested for the stabbing Murder Mia Ayliffe-Chung, 21 at a hostel complex in Home Hill, Queenlsand.
Smail Ayad was arrested for the stabbing Murder Mia Ayliffe-Chung, 21 at a hostel complex in Home Hill, Queenlsand.

 

Then there was the 2017 murder of an unnamed German tourist, who was stabbed to death on the street, near the Brisbane backpacker hub of Milton Street, in what police have described as "a road rage incident".

When a car almost hit the backpacker in the early hours of the morning, an argument ensued, resulting in the German being stabbed multiple times in the abdomen and back before his attacker fled the scene.

Former assistant police commissioner, Clive Small, who led the investigation into Milat, said backpackers were an "easy target" for criminals.

 

Peter Falconio and Joanna Lees were attacked by Bradley John Murdoch.
Peter Falconio and Joanna Lees were attacked by Bradley John Murdoch.

 

"Backpackers are still looked at (by criminals) because they are isolated, they are not going to be missed within the next day or night because they didn't come home, and that gives the offender a greater chance of escape," Mr Small told the BBC.

"Because of their constant movement and travel they don't keep regular contact with family back at home. When (relatives) don't hear from them for a while they just assume that they have been hitchhiking or changing location, and so it may well take some time before they start to become concerned."

 

 

Despite the horror stories, the most recently available statistics from Tourism Australia show Australia welcomed 9.2 million visitor arrivals for the year ending October 2018, an increase of 5.2 per cent relative to the previous year.

Australia has also seen a steady increase in international arrivals since 2009, with dramatic growth observed in each year from 2012 onwards.

Conversely, our taste for overseas adventures, long considered a rite of passage for many, hasn't dampened, either.

 

Facebook photo of 21 year old British backpacker Mia Ayliffe-Chung who was violently stabbed to death at the Shelley's Backpackers in Home Hill near Townsville, Queensland.
Facebook photo of 21 year old British backpacker Mia Ayliffe-Chung who was violently stabbed to death at the Shelley's Backpackers in Home Hill near Townsville, Queensland.

 

"Over the last decade the figures are undeniable," said Michele Levine, CEO of market research company, Roy Morgan. "Australians are looking to travel overseas in greater numbers than ever before - and that's not just due to a growing population. Australia's overall population has grown by about 3 million in the last decade.

"In the year to March 2018 over 2.3 million Australians (11.4 per cent) planned to take an overseas trip in the next 12 months up from only 1.2 million Australians aged (7.2 per cent) a decade ago."

For the relatives of Grace Millane, who have just seen in the new year burying their "lovely, outgoing, fun-loving, family-orientated" 22-year-old, this zest for travel can only be encouraged.

Even in his darkest hour, her father David Millane had one powerful message for anyone considering following in his daughter's brave footsteps and discovering the world.

"We all hope that what has happened to Grace will not deter even one person from venturing out into the world and discovering their own OE (overseas experience)," said Mr Millane.

For advice on how to stay safe while backpacking or travelling, visit www.smarttraveller.gov.au



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