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FROM the VAULT – Bomb Outrage Shocks Sunshine Coast Community

On Monday morning, 5 August, 1974, Detective Sergeant 1/c Kevin L. Dorris, Nambour Criminal Investigation Branch, received a tip from an anonymous male caller regarding a quantity of heroin concealed in a cupboard of an unoccupied house at 60 Sixth Avenue, Maroochydore. Later that day, Det. Dorris and another police officer went to inspect the house, property of Heinz Otto Gartner, but finding it locked, refrained from entry until further inquiries had been made.

At about 1.00pm on Wednesday, 7 August, 1974, Heinz Otto Garnter, Maroochydore, accompanied by his daughters, Merrilyn Ruth Gartner, 3 years and Lisa Michelle Gartner, 2 years, entered an unoccupied dwelling at 60 Sixth Avenue, Maroochydore for the purpose of investigating an open window.

The girls went to play in and explore the house. In the process Merrilyn opened the cupboard, this set off a large explosion which killed her instantly. The damage to the house indicated a high order detonation. A set of louvre windows and hardwood floorboards were broken out and shattered. The walls and the roof, being further away from the blast, had relatively lesser damage. Merrilyn’s body was recovered outside in the yard below. Lisa also received severe injuries during the blast but responded to treatment and was recovering well.

Investigating Detectives at the scene.  Image courtesy of The Sunshine Coast Advertiser, 1974.

Investigating Detectives at the scene. Image courtesy of The Sunshine Coast Advertiser, 1974.

Forensics identified the bomb as a home-made device comprising of an empty gallon paint tin, sticks of gelignite, an electric detonator attached by wiring to a 9 volt battery together with 2 inch fibro roofing screws and nails. It was estimated the cupboard was booby trapped on Sunday night for Detective Dorris to find the following morning.

On 15 August, Commissioner Whitrod issued a $20,000 reward for information that will lead to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of Merrilyn Ruth Gartner. In addition, the Government was prepared to facilitate a free pardon to any accomplice, not being the person who actually committed the crime.  Following a swift and rigorous investigation by Detective Inspector Jack Sporran and a team of detectives from Brisbane Criminal Investigation Branch, two suspects were identified; Peter Vivian Wardrop (27) and Gary Thomas Taylor (24), both known to the police.

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The trial began on 28 April, 1975, the accused, Peter Vivian Wardrop, a salesman, pleaded not guilty to a charge of having murdered Merrilyn Ruth Gartner. There was no doubt that Wardrop was involved in the local drug scene. The Crown alleged during the trial that Wardrop was obsessed with hatred for Det. Dorris, as he was losing thousands of dollars in cannabis sales. He had the motive to kill Detective Dorris, and the necessary knowledge. The bomb concerned was built following instructions printed in a magazine Wardrop had access to while he was an inmate at the Nambour Watch House. Following 39 trial days, testimonies of 76 witnesses from the Crown, the jury of six men and six women after over five hours of deliberation found the accused guilty. Wardrop took the verdict calmly. A year later, he filed an appeal but was convicted for a second time. In response to the life sentence, Mr. Gartner issued a statement to the press saying that Wardrop could have been jailed for 50 years, but it wouldnt have brought our little girl back.

The second man charged with Merrilyn’s murder, Gary Thomas Taylor, was found hanged in his cell in the Brisbane Jail remand section on 13 December, 1974.

In 1989, the State Cabinet decided to release Wardrop from jail and deport him to his native New Zealand while barring him from returning to Queensland under threat of re-committal to jail. On 8 November, The Courier Mail quoted Merrilyn’s father, Mr. Heinz Gartner, saying it is better to string up these guys its cheaper than keeping them in jail.

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This information has been provided by the Queensland Police Museum from the best resources available.  The article was written by Museum Volunteer and Crime and Policing Historian Dr Anastasia Dukova.

The Police Museum is open 9am to 4pm Monday to Thursday and 10am to 3pm on the last Sunday of the month (Feb-Nov) and is located on the Ground Floor of Police Headquarters at 200 Roma Street, Brisbane. Contact: E: [email protected]

“FROM the VAULT – Bomb Outrage Shocks Sunshine Coast Community” by the Queensland Police Service is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.5 Australia Licence. Permissions may be available beyond the scope of this licence.
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