When two young backpackers went travelling together, they found themselves in a living nightmare.
I￼t started as a holiday highlight – a road trip from Adelaide to Melbourne, taking in the sights of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. But for backpackers and new friends Lena and Beatriz, what began so happily quickly became like something out of a Hollywood horror movie.
After meeting in a hostel, Lena from Germany and Beatriz from Brazil, both 23, decided to travel the well-trodden route together. Advertising for a lift on the classified website Gumtree, a seemingly friendly stranger named Roman Heinze, 59, offered them a ride.
It was February 9, 2016 and the road trip started innocently. Standing at 198cm tall, Roman was an imposing figure but was amiable, quiet and didn’t do anything to alarm the young travellers. Beatriz even filmed part of their drive, everyone all smiles and excitement. On the first day, Roman took them to isolated sand dunes in Coorong National Park and they set up camp on a deserted beach known as Salt Creek.Then he suggested he and Beatriz look for kangaroos while Lena took a nap.
Wildlife was far from his mind though, and once out of sight, he pulled out a knife, tied up Beatriz with rope and subjected her to a terrifying sexual assault. Their seemingly mild-mannered driver had turned into a monster. ‘[He said] either you make it easy or I’m going to break your arm,’ Beatriz told 60 Minutes. ‘He ripped my bikini and started trying to kiss me and lick me.’
Alone in a remote spot kilometres from anybody, Beatriz feared he would kill her. ‘I imagined my mum coming there to see my body,’ she says. ‘I just thought it was really unlikely for me to survive.’ But at the same time, a rush of determination and incredible strength saw her fighting for her life. Still bound, she managed to trick Roman into taking her back to camp.‘I had to convince him that I was on his side,’ she says. Cleverly, Beatriz pretended to be compliant and even suggested they go back to the tent together where they could be more comfortable.
Her attacker bought her act, but just as they were approaching the camp he seemed to get cold feet. ‘And that’s when I screamed for Lena,’ Beatriz remembered. ‘I had just one chance… and then he started punching me.’ Miraculously Lena, who was dozing in the car, somehow heard her name above the wind and the waves. Groggily getting up, her own nightmare was about to begin. She found her friend naked with Roman standing over her and her first instinct was to get angry. That gut reaction saved them both.‘I shouted at him something like “leave her alone, get away from her”,’ she told 60 Minutes. His reply was chilling. ‘I just wanted to try her,’ he said.
Lena raced back to the car to try and get her phone but it was too late. Roman Heinze was now after her and he was armed with a hammer. The first smash to her head left Lena bloodied. Three more blows followed. Then he jumped into his four-wheel drive to chase the girls. After managing to untie her friend, Lena and Beatriz decided to split up to have the best chance of survival. Heinze had Lena in his sights and chased her for nearly a kilometre, intent on running her down. Bumping her at least four times with his bull bar, each time she pulled herself up. Then, with super-human strength, adrenaline coursing through her veins, she managed to haul herself up onto the bonnet of the car and then up onto the roof.
Furious, Heinze tried to get her down and when he failed, started driving maniacally, desperate to dislodge her. The terrifying stand-off continued until, incredibly, Lena convinced him to throw away his weapons before she’d get down. Bleeding heavily from the wounds in her head, she climbed back into his car.
Meanwhile, a group of fishermen had already rescued Beatriz. Then a second group spotted Lena’s bleeding body lolling out of Heinze’s car as he drove back towards their camp. When he stopped, Lena jumped out, knowing she had to get to the group. ‘I pretty much just ran away… he didn’t come after me,’ she said during their TV interview.
Shockingly, her injuries were so bad the fishermen weren’t even sure if it was a man or a woman coming towards them. But she was alive, a miracle after what she and Beatriz had been through. Later that day Heinze was found in his car on the beach and arrested.
In May 2017, Roman Heinze, 61, was found guilty in South Australia’s Supreme Court of six offences, including aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault, indecent assault and endangering life. He was sentenced to 22 years behind bars. As for the two brave backpackers who survived the ordeal, incredibly they haven’t been put off travelling and are now bonded forever. ‘She saved my life,’ Beatriz says of Lena. And for her part, Lena can even see some good coming out of what happened. Talking of the strength and energy which kept her fighting she says, ‘I’ve found out about myself that I’m able to do something like that in a really difficult situation.’