TDoR 1997 / 1997 / September / 30 / Michael/Michelle Gardiner

Michael/Michelle Gardiner

Age 19

30 Sep 1997
Snowtown, South Australia (Australia)

Michael/Michelle Gardiner

Michael/Michelle was one of the victims of the serial killings known as the Snowtown murders. They were killed by John Bunting and Robert Wagner sometime in September 1997 (we don't know the exact date).

THE grisly details of Australia's worst serial killing began to unfold yesterday as a court was told how eight mutilated bodies were discovered dumped in barrels inside the vault of a disused bank in a tiny Outback township.

Police who broke into the locked bank vault at Snowtown, a tiny settlement 100 miles north of Adelaide, found putrid human remains, handcuffs and an electric-shock machine. The victims had either been strangled or asphyxiated, Adelaide magistrates' court heard on the opening day of committal proceedings in what has become known as the "bodies in the barrels" case.

Several were found with gags stuffed in their mouths. Others had ropes around their necks. Feet and limbs had been chopped off and there were burns on some of the bodies. A few days after the barrels were found, two more bodies were dug up from a backyard in a northern suburb of Adelaide, bringing the total number of victims to 10.

John Bunting, Mark Haydon and Robert Wagner are accused of murdering 10 people between December 1995 and May 1999. James Vlassakis is accused of five murders. All four refused to enter a plea.

The killings were allegedly carried out as part of a macabre social security fraud. Most of the eight men and two women killed had close associations - including, in some cases, family ties - with those accused of their murder.

Gardiner was reportedly "a cross-dressing homosexual obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness". As Bunting and Robert Joe Wagner strangled Gardiner, they forced him to remain standing until he died.

Michael Gardiner was a 19-year-old gay man who lived around the corner from Wagner in a house he shared with a cousin of Wagner’s defacto wife Vicki Mills, Nicola Zuritta. He sometimes wore dresses and high-heeled shoes.

His openly gay lifestyle made him an enemy of Bunting. Bunting referred to him as “the biggest homo”.

Shortly before his disappearance in September 1997, Gardiner was playing with Wagner’s defacto’s children in his front yard. Gardiner grabbed one of the children and placed his hand over the child’s mouth.

Wagner saw the incident and became infuriated. Whereas previously he had tolerated Gardiner, and would mumble an occasional “Hello”, now he was ropeable and refused to acknowledge his neighbour.

In September 1997, Bunting and Wagner took him to Murray Bridge where they strangled him in a shed, forcing him to stand up each time he collapsed.

Wagner and Bunting staged a robbery at their victim’s home, stealing some of Ms Zuritta’s belongings and convincing her that Gardiner had stolen them in order to pay for a sex change operation.

Gardiner’s body was kept in the a barrel in the shed until it was moved to the Snowtown bank vault.

His body was found by police stored in one of six drums in the bank vault in Snowtown. The body of Barry Lane was also located in the same barrel. One of Gardiner's feet had been removed so the lid of the drum could be closed.

Gardiner's murder is not recorded by in their archive records of transgender murder victims, although that of Vanessa/Barry Lane ( was.

Report added: 14 Mar 2019. Last updated: 13 Nov 2019

Trigger warning

This site contains reports of violence against transgender people, and links to detailed reports which contain graphic imagery.

Please continue with caution.


Get me out of here!