Joseph Schwab, a German citizen, arrived in Northern Australia in the spring of 1987 on a tourist visa. On June 9, 1987, Schwab began a killing spree where he would claim the lives of 5 people from the greater Kimberley area, Northern Territory, Australia.
Timber Creek Murders
On June 9, 1987, Marcus Bullen, 70, and his son Lance Bullen, 42, had been camping and fishing with their wives near the Timber Creek area of the Victoria River not too far from Kimberley, Northern Territory.
The two men had left their wives at their camp to scout for a better camping/fishing spot. During their exploration, a single gunman armed with a rifle confronted them. They made the two men lie face down in the dirt by their car. They were both shot in the back and died instantly. The gunman then removed their clothing and dragged them to a high-water mark of the nearby soft sand river bed. The gunman placed their clothing into their car, drove it a short distance off of the rural road and set it on fire. When the Bullen men did not return, their wives notified the Kimberley Police Department. Police began searching the remote area, where they discovered the victim’s burned-out car. They continued searching the greater area and found the location of the crime scene. Police found spent shell casings from a .223 hunting rifle, and clear boot prints, which they made a plaster cast of. Further investigation led police to the discovery of the victims in two shallow graves on the sandy riverbank.
Roadblocks were implemented, and they brought in an aboriginal tracker. Investigators found no motive for the murders, so they surmised it had been a thrill killing. A Bolo (Be On The Lookout) was issued. No other clues or evidence was found.
The Pentecost River Murders
On June 14, 1987, Julie Ann Warren, 25, her partner Phillip Walkermeyer, 26 and their friend Terry Bolt, 36, were camping on Pentecost River, west of the town of Kununurra. The trio had spent the day fishing. When the other fisherman in the popular fishing spot left, the trio started packing up their campsite, as well. The departing fisherman witnessed a man dressed in camo and driving a white Toyota 4-Runner. When they were alone, the man opened fire on the unsuspecting trio, striking them multiple times and killing them. The victims were stripped of their clothes and rolled into the Pentecost River, where it was assumed that the native river crocodiles would eat them. The killer placed their clothes and camping stuff into their car and drove it a short distance away. He set the car on fire to destroy any evidence. Thick black smoke was spotted by a truck driver who was passing the river access entrance. Initially, he thought it was a campfire, but couldn’t determine the exact spot of where it was coming from. The truck driver witnessed (in his rear-view mirror) a white vehicle leaving the camping area. He moved over into the right lane to let the vehicle pass him. The truck driver watched a white Toyota 4-Runner with red stripes and Queensland plates pass him erratically. He made a mental note of the incident.
When Warren, Walkermeyer and Bolt didn’t show up for work the next day, a concerned co-worker drove out to the campsite he knew they were at. Prior to reaching their campsite, he found their burnt-out car and called the police. Investigators searched the area for clues about the missing trio. All three victims were found floating in the Pentecost River. Investigators processed the crime scene. Spent gun casings were collected as well as boot prints. Investigators quickly piece together the similarities between the Timber Creek murders and the Pentecost River murders. They determine they are looking for a serial killer.
Police held press conferences to advise the public to be vigilant as they search for the suspect. The Western Australia Police Tactical Response Group (WAPTRG) arrived to assist in the investigation and the manhunt. Residents of rural Australia began openly arming themselves. Bush pilots searched wilderness for anything unusual. One helicopter pilot, Peter Leutenegger, spotted a vehicle that was being hidden under a camouflage cover. He notified the police. The WAPTRG team was dispatched to the area. They discovered the vehicle, and a man dressed in camo. The man initiated a gunfight with police, that resulted in him losing his life with 2 gunshots to the chest. No officers were injured in the altercation.
Investigators processed the scene and the gunman’s vehicle. They located the gunman’s boots, which they determined to be a match of the boot prints from both murder scenes. Police identified the camping gear that was discovered in the back of his vehicle as belonging to the victims of both crime scenes. The vehicle was identified as a Toyota 4-Runner that had been rented 2 months earlier from the Brisbane Airport. The gunman’s passport and tourist visa were found which identified him as 27-year-old German tourist, Joseph Schwab, who was visiting Australia on a tourist visa.
Joseph Thomas Schwab was born on November 25, 1960 in Starnberg, West Germany. At 15-years-old, Schwab became a member of a shooting club in Pocking until his first trip abroad in 1981 at 21-years-old. In June 1981, he arrived in Adelaide, South Australia on a work visa. He found work as a cabinet maker.
Schwab joined the Southern Cross Pistol Club in Torrensville, South Australia. While he was in South Australia, he frequently participated in the recreational hunting of wild pigs. Schwab returned to West Germany in 1984. He worked as an armed security guard from 1985 to 1987. During this time, Schwab was arrested several times for forcibly entering a passenger car, theft from a restaurant, and breaking and entering apartments.
In March 1987, Schwab traveled from Munich, West Germany to Brisbane, Australia via Bangkok. He arrived in Brisbane, Australia on April 18, 1987. Six weeks later, he committed his first murders at Timber Creek.
Piecing Together the Series of Events
After many weeks of investigation, detectives could piece together the series of events of Joseph Schwab. He had arrived in Australia 6 weeks before the first murders at Timber Creek. They determined Schwab had rented the Toyota 4-Runner and purchased hunting rifles once he arrived. Investigators discovered in his rental car a .223-caliber Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, a .308 SAKO bolt-action rifle, a .22-caliber Brno bolt-action rifle, a Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. They believe that he initially intended to hunt wild pigs and/or feral animals, but at some point, hunted people. No clues or patterns were discovered in Schwab’s background that defined him as a killer. Investigators determined Schwab snapped one day and began randomly shooting people with no discernable motive. Detectives believed that stripping his victims was an act of anger and burning their belongings and vehicles was to destroy any evidence of his crimes.