Outback manhunt for thrill murderer ends in gunfire

June 19, 1987
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PERTH, Australia -- A man dressed in jungle fatigues was killed Friday in a blazing gunbattle with special forces, ending a 10-day manhunt across the vast Australian outback for a West German tourist suspected of murdering five people for thrills.

Sgt. Alan Bickford said police received a tip about a vehicle parked under dense scrub in a deserted area near Fitzroy Crossing, 1,800 miles north of Perth, that matched the description of a jeep seen in the vicinity of three of the slayings.

The vehicle was spotted by a helicopter pilot who was flying over the wilderness to track cattle.

Bickford said special forces of the Western Australia Tactical Response Group armed with rifles, handguns and tear gas were flown in. As they closed in on the four-wheel-drive Toyota jeep, the suspect jumped out of the vehicle and opened fire with a high-powered rifle.

He said police returned fire and the man was killed. He declined to provide further details of the shootout.

A Sydney television station reported late Friday night that police were fairly certain the dead man was Josef Schwab, 26, who arrived in Brisbane from West Germany on April 23 and rented a white jeep from Avis Rent-A-Car. Avis confirmed Friday the vehicle had been missing for a month.

Police held news conferences simultaneously in Kununurra, 400 miles northeast of Fitzroy Crossing, and in Perth to announce the dramatic end to the huge manhunt across an isolated area a third the size of Europe.

A large number of people gathered at the Kununurra police station congratulated Bickford as he closed the news conference with the comment: 'I believe this man is the person we have been seeking for the five killings in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.'

The German was the main suspect in the slaying of two men at Turkey Creek in the Northern Territory last week. Their naked bodies were found buried in a shallow grave and their vehicle had been burned, police said.

Police did not say why the German tourist, who was in the area at the time of the slayings, became a suspect. They said he drove across the state border into Western Australia soon after the murders.

At the Pentecost River, 200 miles from Turkey Creek, he also was a prime suspect in the shooting deaths of a young couple who planned to marry next month and a friend. The bodies of the three victims were stripped naked and thrown into the river and their car also burned down, police said.

Earlier, a detective in Darwin described the murderer as 'a thrill killer ... who would want to go out in a blaze of glory.'

'The worrying thing is that there may be twice as many bodies lying in barren gullies -- bodies that may never be found,' he said.

Police had believed that in order to find a passable road track and fuel, the killer would have to either travel through aboriginal land or take a route where police had set up roadblocks.

Only hours before the shootout, Bickford feared his quarry had eluded the manhunt. Senior police were making plans to leave the area. The roadblocks were being lifted, the search scaled down. One of the aboriginal trackers helping police in the search suggested he had fled south. Fitzroy Crossing is in the southwest.

A major concern had been that isolated mining communities and cattle stations might not have heard of the killings although the Royal Flying Doctor Service had been broadcasting warnings to those areas. Hundred of tourists had taken refuge in small towns.

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