true crime

In 2016, Beatriz and Lena found themselves in the middle of a "horror movie". They survived.

Warning: This story deals with graphic material and may be distressing to some readers. 

In February 2016, 23-year-old Brazilian backpacker Beatriz met Lena Rabente, a German backpacker of the same age.

The women quickly became friends after meeting in an Adelaide hostel, and shared plans to make their way to Melbourne together.

They had heard about the Great Ocean Road and were keen to check it out, so jumped on Gumtree in search of someone to drive them.

Before long they had 59-year-old Roman Heinze and his four-wheel-drive booked and the new friends excitedly set off on their adventure, with Beatriz snapping a selfie from the passenger seat grinning in her aviators.

Listen to Mamamia’s True Crime Conversations, where host Jessie Stephen speaks to journalist Sean Fewster, who covered the case of the Salt Creek attacks at the time. Post continues after podcast.

When Beatriz was booking Heinze in for the trip, he acted gruff – impatient even.

“Just answer me. Tell me if you want to go with me or not,” he texted her while they were liaising.

Their previous choice, a man in their age bracket, had pulled out just before they were set to head off so Heinze was their last resort.

When they met him he was imposing, very tall – standing at 198cm – balding, older than they had been led to believe and sporting a distinctive handlebar moustache.

He wasn’t what they were expecting at all.

“But he was focused on getting them where they were going, pointing out things along the way. Beatriz in the front seat, Lena in the back and they felt comfortable enough,” Sean Fewster, Chief Court Reporter for The Adelaide Advertiser and author of City Of Evil, told host of Mamamia’s True Crime Conversations, Jessie Stephens.

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The girls took this photo before the attack. Image: Nine.
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While the eight hour trip from Adelaide to Melbourne could be done in one go, Heinze suggested they camp for the night, taking the women off the main road through the sand dunes towards an isolated stretch of unspoiled Australian beach, to an area known as Salt Creek.

"I love this place, it's great for fishing. Let's stop here for the night," he told them.

It was the first time the women had any real concerns about the stranger that was driving them, discussing between themselves that it was a bit odd and not part of the plan. But they ultimately decided it was okay.

Lena was pretty tired, so settled in for a nap in the car while Beatriz and Heinze got dinner ready.

While they were busying themselves Heinze asked Beatriz if she wanted to go in search of kangaroos, which he told her could often be spotted on the other side of the dune.

After walking for quite a while and spotting no animals, Beatriz suggested they turn back.

That's when Heinze grabbed her from behind and pushed her face first into the sand.

"In the first split second I thought it was a joke," Beatriz told 60 Minutes in 2017.

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Heinze wasn't what two backpackers were expecting. Image: Twitter.

"He climbed on to her back, and pulled out a length of rope which she didn't even realise he had, along with a knife. He reached forward and stabbed the knife into the sand in front of her. Almost as if it was a statement to say, I'm in charge now," Sean said on True Crime Conversations. 

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Heinze then started to tie her wrists and ankles with the rope but Beatriz put up a fight, managing to grab one of the lengths of rope and throw it. Heinze responded by rolling her onto her back and punching her.

"Either you make this easy, or I'm going to break your arm," he told her.

He bound her and then used his knife to cut the bikini she was wearing off her body - licking, kissing and touching her as she tried to wriggle out of his reach. The punching and slapping also continued, as he tried to threaten her into complying.

The first thing that went through her mind was an image of her dead body in the sand, and her mother having to come over from Brazil to identify her. She was convinced she was going to die.

She managed to convince Heinze to take her back to the camp, telling him if he wanted to do things with her it didn't have to be this way. They could have a drink, chill out and have some fun together.

Heinze agreed, allowing Beatriz to walk naked and bound back towards their camping site.

"They were almost all the way back to the camp when Heinze decided he didn't like it and wanted to turn back. Beatriz realised she had just one chance to save her own life," Sean told True Crime Conversations. "She let fly with the loudest scream of 'Lena' she could possibly manage. She knew she was only going to get to do it once."

As soon as the name escaped her lips, Heinze slammed her back down to the sand. "I felt like I was in a horror movie," Beatriz told 60 Minutes reporter, Tara Brown.

Thankfully, Lena woke up.

She ran towards her new friend screaming "get off her, get off her, let her go. What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Heinze turned to her and said: "I just wanted to try her," and while he was facing the other way Beatriz noticed a long handle tucked into his belt. She thought it might have been either an axe or a hammer.

"Lena run, he's got an axe," she screamed.

Lena bolted for the car, grabbed her bag, and before she could do anything more she was struck in the back of the head by a hammer. Bleeding profusely, she fell to the ground.

She started running, but Heinze chased her - striking her another three times. Eventually, he gave up and hopped in the car instead.

While he was starting the engine, Lena managed to get to Beatriz and she untied her. In that moment, the women came to the decision that the only way either of them would survive is if they went in opposite directions.

"Lena sprints straight forward back towards the entrance, Beatriz, who is still naked, runs back through the sand dunes and hides as low as she can get," Sean said.

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Heinze decided to chase Lena.

"There was four feet between footprints. She's tiny. Can you imagine the desperation and the panic?" Sean added.

Every time he caught her, he'd ram her with the bullbar and send her flying. She was bleeding from four ragged wounds to her scalp.

"I got weaker and weaker, I knew I couldn't go on for this for very long," Lena told 60 Minutes.

Salt Creek Lena
Lena revisited Salt Creek with 60 Minutes in 2017. Image: Nine.

What she decided to do next took extreme courage and desperation, but it was the move that ultimately saved her life.

"When he turned around the next time and was facing me with with the car, I thought, 'okay, I have to do something, because I can't keep on going'," she said.

"I ran towards the car and just jumped on the bonnet, and I was holding myself on the antenna of the car, and then pushing myself up on the bonnet, and then straight, going on to the roof, because I thought, 'OK, I'm safe on the roof. He can't get on the roof,'" she added.

Heinze drove at full pelt down the beach trying to shake her off, before eventually bogging himself.

He hung his head out the window and asked his injured, terrified victim: "Can you hand me the shovel?"

Lena managed to negotiate with him over the shovel - demanding he let her back in the car, give her something to stem her head wound, allow her to take her bag, and drive her back to the road.

"I only come off the roof if you throw away your weapons," she yelled at him.

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A recreation by Channel Nine of Lena on top of the roof.

He agreed, and was starting to panic at this point. He had no idea where Beatriz was - as far as he knew she'd already reached help.

She hadn't. Beatriz was still crouching, shivering in the dunes of Salt Creek when she noticed there were other cars coming down the beach getting ready to leave the area near to where she was hiding.

Still naked she ran out in front of them and flagged one down. The young family inside quickly came to her aid, giving her the clothes off their backs.

Beatriz begged for them to help her find her friend. They searched but couldn't see her and wanted to get the young, injured woman help. But as they left the beach another group of campers arrived and they quickly updated them about the second missing woman.

The closest police were subsequently alerted and they started the two-hour journey to Salt Creek.

In the meantime, the owner of the local roadhouse rounded up some locals and started searching for Lena, who by this point was sitting inside Heinze's car, injured and fading.

"She's watching him like a hawk," explained Sean.

After clocking the search party cars Heinze tried to drive away, but Lena got their attention and they gave chase. He eventually, once again, bogged his car.

"I calmly looked at him, I got out of the car, I opened the back door and took out my bag and said, 'I'm leaving I'm going to them now,'" Lena told 60 Minutes, to which he replied: "Stay, we can work this out."

The description of what happened next is one that Sean Fewster says will never leave him.

"Lena's walking towards her rescuers, it's getting dark. She was so covered in blood her rescuers couldn't tell whether she was male or female, what colour her skin was, her hair was or her clothing was. All they could see was a dark bloodied humanoid shape," said Sean, after hearing the recollection during Heinze's trial.

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Lena rescue
One of Lena's rescuers told Nine they couldn't even see what the colour of her skin was through the blood. Image: 60 Minutes.

"This is one of my favourite cases I've ever covered. My reason being, it's two incredible women who completely outwit, outlast and outsmart a predator," he added.

Some of the search party managed to apprehend Heinze that day and he was arrested by police who shortly arrived at the scene.

It was later revealed that Heinze was a twice-married father-of-five - chef turned carer for his elderly father - who seemed perfectly respectful on the surface, but was secretly trawling Gumtree for young, single backpackers who were looking for places to go.

He was a collector of violent, bondage pornography, who the judge remarked, was waiting for his opportunity.

Heinze was convicted of multiple counts of assault, attempted rape, sexual assault, and violence. He was jailed for at least 22 years.

In sentencing, the judge ruled that he was an inhuman, primitive, sex-obsessed predator.

Four years later, not much is know about how Lena and Beatriz are, apart from their 60 Minutes interview in 2017.

Sean does know that Lena chose to remain in Australia and continue travelling. Beatriz went back to Brazil, but struggled in crowds and public places after her ordeal. As far as the court reporter is aware, she remains with her Australian boyfriend.

Feature image: Nine.

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