true crime

Snowtown happened 25 years ago. For South Australians, it feels like yesterday.

When police entered a disused bank vault in the tiny South Australian town of Snowtown in 1999, they had no idea they were about to uncover the country's worst serial killings. 

Eight bodies were found mutilated inside six acid-filled barrels, with investigations leading them to four more bodies in Adelaide. 

With a total of 12 victims and four people charged, detectives had taken down a group of serial killers. 

Now, 25 years later, one of those convicted is getting out of prison and as Jeremy Pudney, author of Snowtown: The Bodies in Barrels Murders told Mamamia's True Crime Conversations, South Australians feel "very uncomfortable".

Because for them, the murders "feel like yesterday".

WATCH: The trailer for the 2011 film based on the true story.

Video via Madman Films

The group's ringleader John Bunting picked victims he accused of being pedophiles, homosexuals, transgender or drug users; all of which he despised. 

He and his accomplices began their killing spree in 1992, only stopping once caught in 1999. Nearly all the victims were friends or family of the group.


As the killings increased in frequency in 1997, Bunting's 'motives' became more and more unclear. It appeared, he just loved killing. 

Robert Wagner was his "muscle" and also relished in the murder and torture of Bunting's selections. Both men were denied a parole date in their sentencing, and will never be released from prison. 

Bunting (left) and Wagner (right) on The Advertiser front page in 2000.

But there were two more members of the gang who were given much lesser convictions and therefore the chance of parole. Much to South Australian's horror - one of those dates is upon us.


Mark Haydon was originally charged with two murders, but in the end he was only found guilty of assisting the killers in covering up seven murders. He helped move the barrels to a number of locations and eventually co-signed the lease on the Snowtown bank vault, but some of the evidence given in court painted a far more sinister picture of his involvement. 

His wife Elizabeth was one of those murdered, and prosecutors alleged that he laughed when Bunting opened up one of the barrels to show him her remains.

Mark Haydon with his wife Elizabeth, who was one of the group's victims. Image: Adelaide Advertiser.

He was due to be released on May 21, 2024, with no restrictions on his movements. His maximum term is expiring and as far as the South Australian justice system goes, that means he's completely free. 


As Pudney told True Crime Conversations, "Recently the parole board decided it's a good idea to give him parole [earlier], in the context of having some facility with which to monitor him by way of parole conditions before his sentence expires." 

As reported by Nine News overnight, parole has already started in the form of day release. A now 65-year-old Haydon has been given exclusion zones across Adelaide he is allowed to visit, but he has to return to the Adelaide pre-release facility at night. He's not allowed to enter licensed premises, talk to victims' families or the media.

Further to this, the state government has launched a legal bid to have Haydon classed as a 'serious offender' so he can be monitored beyond his maximum prison term. 

As Pudney explained, South Australians feel uncomfortable with "the prospect of him being released at all in any way. But in particular with absolute freedom".

As Renee Davies, the niece of murder victim Ray Davies told AdelaideNow, "It makes me sick, I’m scared that he’ll be released into my suburb".

The Snowtown bank where the six barrels full of bodies were stored. Image:


James Vlassakis - the fourth and youngest member of the group - is due for parole in 2026. His mother was dating Bunting and over time he was gradually drawn into helping with the murders. 

After being arrested, he turned on the group and became a star witness for the prosecution admitting to everything. He was charged with four murders; including those of his stepbrother David Johnson and half brother Troy Youde, and the court suppressed the use of his image in South Australia to protect him.  


Pudney isn't confident he will actually be released like Haydon who was the only group member not actually convicted of murder.

"The question is, can someone who has been found guilty of four murders, four serial killings... should they ever be given parole? I am not sure how soon we'll see James Vlassakis free. I know 26 years is his non-parole period, but I think it's going to be a lot longer than that before the community has to grapple with that issue," he told True Crime Conversations.

LISTEN: The news Snowtown victim's families have been dreading. 

But as for Haydon, the parole board has been quite clear in explaining that he has shown considerable remorse, has an understanding of what he did and has done nothing wrong in prison.

"Their only concern with him is whether he can make a meaningful transition back into society because he doesn't know how to function in it. And frankly he didn't function particularly well in it before he got caught up in all of this," said Pudney. 

"Yes, he's remorseful and yes he has served his time, and yes he's rehabilitated. It's just a question now as to whether the community and the victims can accept the fact that time has come." 

Feature image: The Adelaide Advertiser.