Bodies in the Barrels; The Snowtown Murders

A quiet Australian town marred by brutal serial killings.

Jamie Bean
Published in
8 min readJan 7, 2021


Unsplash | Jeff Finley

Before 1999, most people outside of South Australia had never heard of Snowtown.

An unassuming country town, Snowtown is situated off a rural highway amongst South Australian farming land. It’s the kind of small community that has dirt roads, a pub, a corner store, and not much else. Snowtown rarely gets visitors who aren’t merely passing through.

On the 20th of May, 1999, Snowtown made headlines for the first time in the town’s history. Multiple missing persons reports lead police to the town’s abandoned former bank vault, inside of which they found six acid-filled barrels.

The barrels contained the disintegrating corpses of eight deceased persons.

Upon the discovery, the name Snowtown became synonymous with murder. The killings shocked Australia, which has a low homicide rate and hadn’t seen such a large-scale atrocity before.

The nation’s shock intensified when it was revealed that the murders were not committed by a single, deranged psychopath. Instead, they were carried out by a group of four men.

Eight bodies were found inside the barrels in the bank vault, although the men were responsible for eleven murders altogether.

The Killers

The killings were primarily carried out by three men; John Bunting, Robert Wagner, and James Vlassakis. A fourth man, Mark Haydon, was also convicted for helping to dispose of the bodies.

The killings were incredibly violent, and most of the victims were tortured prior to death. Police found in possession of the murderous group a number of weapons used to torture their victims, including knives, saws, shotguns, rope, tape, and a metallurgy tool used for electrocution.

John Bunting

John Bunting, born on the 4th of September 1966 in Inala, Queensland, was the ringleader of the group. He was convicted for his role in the killings of 11 victims, and was accused of a 12th which was unable to be proven. He is currently serving 11 life sentences, without possibility of parole.



Jamie Bean

Writer, criminology major, gin enthusiast. BA at the University of Melbourne. Email —