Ivan Milat smiles in a police car after attending a court in Sydney, Australia, on November 4, 1997.
CNN  — 

The notorious Australian serial killer who inspired the horror film “Wolf Creek” has died after more than 20 years in jail, without confessing to any of the seven murders he was convicted for.

Ivan Milat died early Sunday in Long Bay Hospital at the age of 74. CNN-affiliate 7 News said he had earlier been diagnosed with terminal esophagus and stomach cancer.

Milat was sentenced to life behind bars in 1996 over a series of brutal killings in the Australian state of New South Wales. Known as the “Backpacker Murders,” the seven victims were men and women who were either tourists to Australia or were traveling through the area.

The victims were stabbed, shot or beaten to death, with one decapitated. Their decomposed remains were discovered in the remote Belanglo State Forest, 138 kilometers (85 miles) from Sydney, between 1992 and 1996.

According to Australian media, Milat’s seven confirmed victims were British backpackers Caroline Clarke, 21, and Joanne Walters, 22, Victoria couple Deborah Everist, 19, and James Gibson, 19, as well as German nationals Simone Schmidl and Gabor Neugebauer, both 21, and Anja Habschied, 20. There has long been speculation that there were many other victims who were never found.

The brutality and infamy of Milat’s killings inspired the successful 2005 Australian horror film “Wolf Creek.”

Milat was ultimately identified by 24-year-old British backpacker Paul Onions, who escaped a car when a gun was pulled on him near Belanglo State Forest.

Ivan Milat's house, where items belonging to some of the seven victims were found.

Milat always maintained his innocence despite a wealth of forensic evidence against him. In phone recordings made for the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s “Australian Story” program in 2004, Milat said he was sure he’d be found innocent at trial.

“My basic defense in my trial was that it wasn’t me,” he said. “I don’t know who did it. It was up to them to prove my guilt, not for me to prove my innocence.”

Even up until his death, police tried to elicit a confession. NSW Police said in a statement that officers visited Milat eight times in prison and in hospital in his final days.

“Various strategies were deployed on each occasion, including different combinations of detectives and utilizing recorded interviews with victims’ families as an investigative technique,” the statement said. “No further information was received or provided to police during the interactions.”