Queensland mass killer, 56, could walk free from jail within weeks

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One of Australia’s worst mass killers, 56, could walk free from jail in weeks – just 20 years after he burned 15 backpackers alive by setting fire to their hostel

  • Robert Paul Long given life sentence with 20-year non-parole period in 2002
  • Long torched the Childers Palace Backpackers hostel with 88 people inside
  • Drifter lit the fire just after midnight while many in the hospital were sleeping
  • Convicted in 2002 of killing 15 people but of the murder of only two Australians 
  • Eligible for parole two decades after the horrific fire rocked town of Childers

Robert Paul Long - who carried out one of Australia's most horrific mass killings - could be freed in weeks two decades after burning 15 backpackers alive at a rural hostel

Robert Paul Long – who carried out one of Australia’s most horrific mass killings – could be freed in weeks two decades after burning 15 backpackers alive at a rural hostel

One of Australia’s worst mass killers could be freed from jail in a matter of weeks just 20 years after he burned 15 backpackers alive at a rural hostel.

Homeless fruit picker Robert Paul Long received a life sentence with a 20-year non-parole period after starting a fire in the Palace Backpackers hostel in Childers 300km north of Brisbane on June 23, 2000.

The drifter, now 56, lit the fire in a bin in the lounge of the hostel just after midnight while 88 people were inside, having spoken earlier that evening of his desire to ‘bash’ a backpacker. 

He was convicted in 2002 of killing 15 people, but found guilty of murdering only two of the victims – Australian twins Stacey and Kelly Slarke. 

Firemen examine the Palace Backpacker Hostel on June 23, 2000 after Long torched the building by lighting a fire in a bin

Firemen examine the Palace Backpacker Hostel on June 23, 2000 after Long torched the building by lighting a fire in a bin

Pictured: The gutted interior of the Childers hostel. Long is eligible for parole almost two decades after he torched the 100-year-old building

Pictured: The gutted interior of the Childers hostel. Long is eligible for parole almost two decades after he torched the 100-year-old building

A fireman is pictured running from the scene of the fire in the early hours of June 23, 2000

A fireman is pictured running from the scene of the fire in the early hours of June 23, 2000

The lawyer who represented the killer Terry O’Gorman said police only levelled two murder charges against Long in case he was acquitted – at which point he could then be charged with murdering the other victims. 

The attorney-general called for Long to spend a minimum of 25 years in jail but the appeal was refused.

Almost two decades after he torched the 100-year-old building – reducing it to a charred wreck –  Long is eligible for parole.

The fire also killed seven backpackers from Britain, two from the Netherlands, another Australian and one each from Ireland, South Korea and Japan.  

The regional mayor of Isis Shire – which covered Childers at the time – said he hoped Long could stay behind bars for the rest of his life.

‘It’s not something you expect to happen particularly in a small country town like this but it keeps bringing back the fact that without Robert Long, this would have never have happened,’ former mayor Bill Trevor told 9News.

Pictured: A painting of the 15 young backpackers who died in the fire which was unveiled in the restored Childers Palace Memorial

Pictured: A painting of the 15 young backpackers who died in the fire which was unveiled in the restored Childers Palace Memorial

Police officers inspect the top floor verandah of the Palace Backpackers Hostel on June 25, 2000

Police officers inspect the top floor verandah of the Palace Backpackers Hostel on June 25, 2000

Survivors of the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire join each other on stage and embrace during a memorial service for the 15 victims in Childers two days after the fire

Survivors of the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire join each other on stage and embrace during a memorial service for the 15 victims in Childers two days after the fire

‘l’ll truly never understand how someone could do what Robert Long did and particularly wait downstairs to make sure the place was on fire. 

‘It’s one of the most despicable acts that I think another can do to a human being.’ 

Long had fled the scene of the fire but five days later was tracked down by police – who he lunged at with a knife.

An officer shot him in the ear – at which point the murderer mistakenly said: ‘I’m dying anyway, I started the fire.’

His confession was scrawled down on a $10 note by a police officer as he had nothing else to hand. 

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