I am in my late 50s now, but back some 25 years ago, I became friends with a German couple back in Australia. It’s this time in my life that defined how I decided to live the rest of my life.
It’s been many years since I have had to recall every detail in this story but I’ll do my best to remember as much as I can as it’s a story worth sharing, which I think you’ll agree.
It was the early 90s. I had just finished high school in Kent, England, and I wanted to travel the world. I worked at a video store – these are probably not around anymore, but many of you may remember what they are. If you don’t, it was a store where you could come rent video tapes such as movies, TV shows and even console games, because we didn’t have the internet to download, or if we did, it’d be too slow.
I worked at this store after school and on weekends so I could make some money, but later worked full-time after finishing school so I could make a bit more money and start my holiday dream. I had posters in my room of all the places I wanted to visit. They were Thailand, Bali, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
I remember being obsessed with wanting to travel, researching each of these countries, understanding their cultures, knowing their languages and planning exactly where I wanted to go when I got there. I also worked out exactly how much things would cost me, so I worked and saved money to fund my trip, as well as a little bit more in case I needed it.
Working at a video store wasn’t a high-paying job, so I planned to hitchhike and stay at sharehouses and backpacker inns. If only AirBNB and Uber were around back then.
Fast forward to my trip. I had a wonderful time in Thailand after staying in Phuket, a relaxing time in Bali as well as a stint in Singapore before reaching Australia. I landed in Perth from Singapore where I spent a few nights at a Backpackers Inn in the heart of the city. I checked out the city, Northbridge, Kings Park and visited the Quokkas in Rottnest Island. It was a pleasant trip and I felt very welcomed by the locals.
I bought a cheap car from a used car yard which I paid for in cash for $500 It was a Toyota Corolla and I wish I could have brought that car back with me in England as I had some great memories. It took me across the Nullarbor to Sydney in 3 days.
In Sydney, I ended up at the Backpackers’ Inn at Kings Cross. This is where I met a German man and woman who I’d later call my friends, Gabor Neugerbauer and Anja Habschied, both were in their early 20s, as was I. The three of us got along really well as my grandparents were German who came to live in England. Gabor and Anja were both German, so they taught me German and we spent a lot of time together.
During the day, we travelled around Sydney and nearby towns, and during the night, we engaged in sex. We shared stories, smoked joints together and drank together. There is nothing we didn’t share but sadly, our time together was limited. I still had to New Zealand on my horizon before I travelled back to England and my close friends had planned to visit Adelaide and Darwin before returning home to Germany.
We promised to keep in touch. Because I had planned out where I was going, I had the numbers of where I was going to be so I gave this to them in case they needed help. I also gave them my number at home so we could keep in touch in Europe. I sold my car for $400 to a fellow backpacker and caught a plane to Auckland. It was December, 1991.
After being there a few days, I never heard from Anja or Gabor. I felt sad, down and depressed. I felt like we had become very close friends so much so that it impacted me heavily when they didn’t call, like they promised. It was time for me to move south to Christchurch. After arriving, I never received any calls or letters there either.
I phoned home and spoke to my mother. I hadn’t missed any calls or received any letters back at home. What should have been my dream holiday and the best experience in my life turned out to be one of the saddest, loneliest times in my life. I checked back with the residence in Auckland if any calls had come for me, but nothing. Of course not.
At that point, I realised that Gabor and Anja would never contact me again. Why would they? They were a happy couple, I was the third wheel and used for a bit of fun while they were on holiday. They probably just used me for my car. Accepting this harsh reality, I tried to enjoy the rest of my holiday, and you know what? I did. New Zealand was a beautiful country with friendly people and beautiful landscapes.
When travelling through the grassy mountains, I thought to myself that they should film a movie here one day. Peter Jackson must have read my mind. I travelled back at home to England and returned to normal life. I started studying in college but kept working at the video store.
Every moment I had spare was spent thinking about Anja and Gabor, and the good times we had only to be quickly ripped away by the feeling of how they abandoned me. My gut felt like it was ripped out and I lost my appetite every time my mind drifted on it. It severely affected how I connected with people romantically after that.
One day it got too much for me. I needed closure, so I called the number the couple had given me. An old German woman answered. I spoke to them in the little German I knew from my childhood and what I had learned in Australia. The conversation went a little something like this:
Hallo. Ich heisse Sam. Ich suche Gabor. Darf ich ihn sprechen? (Hello, I’m Sam. I’m looking for Gabor. May I speak to him?)
Nein. Gabor ist nicht hier. (No, Gabor isn’t here).
Bleibt er in Australia noch? (Is he in Australia still?)
The woman was becoming unsettled over the phone, I could hear it in her pauses and how the tone of her voice changed when she then proceeded to ask how I knew he was there and if I knew anything. I told her I didn’t but that we met in Australia while on holiday a year ago or so.
She paused. I had to ask if she was still there. She then proceeded to tell me that Gabor and his girlfriend went missing around Boxing Day, 1991 – days after I had left to New Zealand. My heart sank into my chest. The suffocating feeling of abandonment I exirienced moments before the phone call and changed to feeling sadness for loss. I missed them so deeply but their family and friends in Germany must have felt a sorrow greater than I could have ever imagined.
The woman on the phone was Gabor’s mother. I offered her my condolences and tried to be optimistic, telling her that I was sure they’d show up because Australia is a big country and is full of friendly people. How wrong I was.
In 1993, some years later, I sat down in the evening after a long day’s work to watch the news as I did every night. The first picture I saw next to the newsreader’s head was a picture of Gabor and Anja with the subtitle ‘Bodies found’. I froze as I stared at the TV. Chills came down my arms and across my back. They remained there as if the room had dropped 20 degrees celsius.
As the news presenter went on with the story, I learned why Gabor and Anja never called me. They hitchhiked to Adelaide, but were picked up by a man, then taken to a large, dense forest in New South Wales. Gabor was shot in the dead 6 times and was barely unrecognisable. Anja was also shot but she was decapitated and her head hadn’t been found. Officials identified the bodies by personal belongings scattered throughout a camp near the forest. Sadly, other bodies were found in the same forest and the person responsible for their deaths was the same person. He had not yet been caught or identified.
I met my German wife a year later. We have been together for 20 years.
I know now if they made it to Adelaide, they would have called me.