The Family Court murders

Sunday July 7, 2013

Reporter: Ross Coulthart
Producer: Mick O’Donnell
Associate Producer: Debi Marshall

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Thirty-three years ago, Trudi Warwick was a little girl at the centre of a bitter custody dispute. Her mother Andrea battled for years, but her father Len defied multiple court orders in an attempt to keep his daughter.

At the same time, with shootings and multiple bombings carried out across Sydney over five terrifying years, the so-called ‘Family Court murders’ became among the most serious unsolved crimes in Australian criminal history. The only common link in each of these seven dreadful acts of terror? Len Warwick.

In this Sunday Night special investigation, Ross Coulthart traces a story that started in Sydney in 1980 when Andrea took her daughter and fled her marital home. When she left Len, Andrea and her baby moved back to her family’s home in Revesby, living with her brother, Stephen Blanchard. The coroner’s court soon investigated fears that Stephen had become a target of Len Warwick’s anger.

On February 22, 1980, Stephen finished work at the Revesby Workers Club and walked home. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, someone crept into the house, without disturbing Andrea, and shot Stephen once in the head with a .22 rifle.

Six days later, on the other side of Sydney, a young couple fishing in Cowan Creek discovered Stephen’s corpse – 11 bricks tied to his body with nylon rope. Andrea told the coroner’s court she had no doubt who’d done it.

Len Warwick’s custody battle in the Family Court continued. Justice David Opas, of the Parramatta Court, reduced Warwick’s access to his daughter.

One night, a few months later, Judge Opas sat down to dinner with his wife and two children in Woollahra when there was a buzz at the front gate. When Opas went to answer it, he was shot at point blank range in the abdomen.

When Police questioned Warwick, he denied he’d been in Woollahra on the night of the murder but refused to say where he was. When they searched his locker at Liverpool fire station, police found newspapers with headlines about the Opas murder.

Two years after the shooting of Judge Opas, Judge Richard Gee became a Family Court Judge at Parramatta. He issued orders against Len Warwick, again limiting his time with Trudi.

Gee and his two children were asleep at home one night in March 1984 when an explosion rocked their house.

Again, there was no physical evidence linking Len Warwick to the bombing – but Warwick was either off duty or had finished work when each of these crimes was committed.

A month after the Gee family bombing, an explosion tore through the Parramatta Family Court – the scene of all the battles between Len and Andrea Warwick. Thankfully, because it was a weekend, no one was hurt.

Then the judge who took over from Judge Gee became a target. Judge Ray Watson lived in harbourside Greenwich with his wife Pearl. One morning, a massive explosion hit their apartment - Pearl Watson was killed instantly, while Ray survived.

Six months on, and yet another attempt to kill someone close to the Family Court: this time, the tenant of a flat in Northmead found a bomb under the bonnet of his Holden. The bomber didn’t realise his real target, Andrea’s Family Court solicitor, had moved from the address.

During this time, Andrea’s sister Judy had joined a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Casula, in south-western Sydney. Len Warwick was living near the church.

One Sunday morning in July 1985, church members arrived at their Casula Hall to find there’d been a break-in. A week later, the same thing: more broken glass, another break-in. That was nothing compared to the final act of terror, on Sunday July 21, 1985: as around 110 worshippers attended Sunday Service Sunday Service, a bomb blast tore through the church. One churchgoer was killed, and dozens more were badly hurt.

In 1986 Len Warwick was named in the NSW Coroner’s Court as the prime suspect for all of the Family Court murders and bombings, but the Coroner Kevin Waller was forced to make an open finding. There just wasn’t enough evidence to charge Warwick.

Now, that former Coroner believes it’s time to put the case before a jury – particularly in light of shocking new ‘coincidences’ unearthed during this Sunday Night investigation that link Len Warwick to the crime.

If you have any information that may help this case, you can call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit the Crime Stoppers website.

An original reward poster from 1984: