Family court bomber found guilty of murders

 

Forty years after an angry father began a Sydney-wide killing spree to win a bitter custody battle, the man known as the 'Family Court bomber' has been found guilty of multiple murders.

Serial killer Leonard Warwick denied launching a murderous rampage in the 1980s targeting the Family Court and its judges as he fought his estranged wife Andrea Blanchard for access to their only child.

The 73-year-old was today found guilty of killing three people including a Family Court judge and injuring 50 others in a series of high profile shootings and bomb blasts between February 1980 and July 1985, the like of which had never been seen before in Australia.

Leonard Warwick was found guilty of multiple murders. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Leonard Warwick was found guilty of multiple murders. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

In the Supreme Court, Justice Peter Garling delivered his verdict on the former firefighter's 24 charges after a nearly two-year trial by judge alone.

But Justice Garling acquitted Warwick of the murder of his brother-in-law, Stephen Blanchard, who was shot in the head and his body dumped in a creek in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park on February 27, 1980.

The judge said there was not enough evidence of a motive for Warwick to kill Mr Blanchard.

Justice Garling said that while the case against Warwick was circumstantial, he was satisfied of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The verdicts were handed down as a white-haired Warwick watched from jail via audio visual link. He had no family or friends in the court because of COVID-19 distancing.

Justice David Opas was shot dead outside his Woollahra home in June 1980 after the Family Court judge made adverse orders against Warwick, Justice Garling said.

Ms Blanchard testified that one month before the judge died, her physically abusive ex-partner told her: "You won't have to worry about him any more, because he won't be there much longer."

Justice Richard Gee took over the case after the death of his colleague and further restricted Warwick's access to his daughter, changing visitation from twice weekly to twice monthly.

About 2am on March 6, 1984, a bomb blast maimed Justice Gee and destroyed his home.

Justice Ray Watson was the third judge to preside over the acrimonious divorce battle and made orders empowering police to take Warwick's daughter from him if he failed to comply with access arrangements.

Leonard Warwick as a younger man.
Leonard Warwick as a younger man.

On the morning of July 4, 1984, the judge's wife Pearl Watson opened the front door of their Greenwich unit and was killed by a bomb.

Mr McKay said Warwick was furious Ms Blanchard had moved away to a secret location with their daughter with the help of Jehovah's Witness members.

Warwick's DNA matched a blood stain found inside a Casula Jehovah's Witness hall he bombed on July 21, 1985, which left congregation member Graham Wykes dead and 13 others seriously injured.

His cases were heard at Parramatta - the only Family Court registry to be bombed in Australia - while a car bomb was found at the previous home of Ms Blanchard's solicitor Gary Watts in February 1985.

Defence solicitor Alan Conolly said his client was granted sole custody of his daughter in 1986, and the bombings were likely orchestrated by a group of other disgruntled Family Court litigants who contracted it out.

Warwick was arrested in July 2015 and his trial began in May 2018 but was plagued by delays as Warwick struggled to fund his defence.

Police raid Warwick’s home in 2015 after his arrest.
Police raid Warwick’s home in 2015 after his arrest.

The former Chief Justice of the Family Court, Elizabeth Evatt, said Warwick's malevolent violence against the court and those connected with it destroyed many lives "and caused deep grief and irreparable harm to his victims, their families and to many of us in the Court. "

She spoke of the shock when the homes of the three judges were attacked.

"The families of David Opas, Pearl Watson and the other victims of Warwick's violence

must have some sense of relief now that he has been brought to justice," Justice Evatt said this afternoon.

"However, none of us who have been so deeply affected by his crimes can ever forget those who were his victims. Nothing can repair the grave harms he has caused to so many."

She thanked NSW Police for their "perseverance in the investigation of these cases"

The Family Court said in a statement today that the events of the 1980s constituted a very dark period in the history of the court.

"Throughout this period, the judges and staff of the court demonstrated enormous courage by

keeping the doors open and continuing to deal with the work required of them in what must have been frightening times," the statement said.

"Hopefully today's outcome provides some relief and resolution for the victims' families and for the many people who were impacted, including current and former judges and staff of the Family Court."

TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION

1979: After five years of marriage Andrea and Leonard John Warwick begin custody battle over one-year-old daughter.

February 22, 1980: Police allege Mr Warwick murdered his brother-in-law, Stephen Blanchard.

February 28, 1980: Stephen Blanchard's body found in Cowan Creek.

June 23, 1980: Family Court judge David Opas, 43, was shot as he answered the door at his unit. It was about a month after Justice Opas reduced Warwick's access to his daughter.

Mid-1983: Justice Richard Gee makes adverse findings against Warwick in custody case.

February 1984: Explosive material molanite stolen from Sydney quarry followed a week later by detonators and fuses from an affiliated site.

March 6, 1984: A bomb explodes on front doorstep of Justice Gee's Belrose home. The blast injured Gee and his two children, Alison, 12, and Richard, 15, narrowly escaped death.

April 14, 1984: The Family law Court at Parramatta is bombed.

July 4, 1984: Justice Ray Watson's wife Pearl is killed as she opens the door to their unit triggering a bomb.

February, 1985: A bomb put in a car outside Andrea Blanchard's lawyer Gary Watt's former home is discovered. Andrea enlists her sister Judy, a Jehovah's Witness, to help to get out of Sydney by joining a Jehovah's Witness congregation on the mid-north coast.

The week of June 12, 1985: Two break-ins at Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Casula.

June 9, 1985: A week after the break-ins, the Jehovah's Witness church is bombed. A massive explosion flattens the hall while 150 men, women and children pray, killing Graham Wykes and injuring 14.

July 21, 1985: An inquest into the bombing of Kingdom Hall found only one link to similar bombings, a then-39-year-old Leonard Warwick.

July 2015: Leonard Warwick arrested. Charged with four counts of murder and attempted murder.

July 2020: Leonard Warwick is found guilty of multiple murders but acquitted of the murder of Stephen Blanchard



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