Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Police arrest alleged police family killer

Alleged police family axe murderer was arrested in Hay.

Police have arrested a grandfather accused of killing his wife and two grandchildren, and seriously injuring his daughter, with an axe in New South Wales.

Officers were searching for 69-year-old John Walsh after the bodies of a woman and two children were found in a home at Cowra in the state's central-west.

He was arrested by officers from the Deniliquin Local Area Command while walking along a street in Hay and is now being questioned at Hay police station.

Police say they received a tip off from a local hotel owner.

Paramedics were called to the scene after hearing reports of the axe attack.

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scippione says the mother of the two children received serious head injuries in the attack.

"The children's mother, a police officer attached to the Lachlan Local area command, was understood to have been off duty when she arrived at the home," he said.

"What happened will be the subject of a homicide investigation, but the senior constable was seriously injured."

The children's mother was taken to Orange hospital for treatment and she is about to be transferred to Sydney.

The attack occurred at a house in Brougham St in the town centre, where the Ambulance Service found the bodies just after 2:00pm AEST.

Cowra Mayor Bruce Miller says the children were aged seven and five.

"We understand that a woman and two children, aged seven and five, have been killed and the mother of the two children has been injured and has been flown to Orange Hospital," he said.

"It's the grandmother of the two children who has been killed and the police are seeking the grandfather."

Terry Lovett, who lives next door to where the attack occurred, earlier said his wife Cheryl was home at the time of the attack and rang the police after hearing screams, and seeing her neighbour covered in blood.

"Cheryl said at about 2:10pm there was screaming and banging at our front door. When I finally got hold of Cheryl, she explained to me what had happened," he said.

"The daughter was covered in blood with a very big gash in the side of her head and the daughter just said, 'Dad's killed mum and the two kids'.

"And she said, 'I wrestled the axe off dad'. By the sound of her, her father had already hit her with the axe and she must have wrestled it from him."

Mr Lovett says he never had any problems with the family.

Axe murders arrest: grandfather held after stakeout

Her father, 69-year-old John Walsh, fled the Central West NSW town in his car, but police caught him in in the Riverina town of Hay at 8.15pm after a stake-out at a motel, when they tricked him into opening his door to get his milk for breakfast.

Senior Constable Walsh had feared he was heading to Newcastle to kill her estranged husband, also a police officer.

Mr Walsh is suspected of killing his wife, Mabel, aged in her 60s, and his grandchildren, a seven-year-old boy and a girl, 5.

"Let's understand here, this man is a suspect in a triple murder and so anyone who has gone to that length is certainly a risk," the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said last night, before the arrest in Hay.

After the break-up of her marriage, Senior Constable Walsh took her two children from Newcastle to care for her mother in Cowra four years ago. She drove daily to work at Parkes police station, where she worked as the Lachlan Local Area Command crime prevention officer.

She was off-duty at the time of the attacks yesterday. She ran to her neighbours in Brougham Street, bleeding heavily from an axe wound to her head. Neighbour Vince Anderson said he and his wife locked their door behind Senior Constable Walsh, fearing the axeman would try to enter.

"The daughter ran from her place, screaming and knocking on the door to get into her house and Cheryl opened the door and let her in and locked all the house up," Mr Anderson said.

"She said that they're all dead in there, and she's got to ring the police and she got on the phone.

"She had big gash in the side of the head where he hit her, too." Mr Anderson said: "I didn't really know them. They kept pretty quiet to themselves. They were pretty quiet people. They didn't come out much."

Another neighbour, Terry Lovett, described his neighbours as a quiet, retired couple who moved to town about 10 years ago from Sydney. "Then a few years ago his son committed suicide ... and then after that, we did notice a bit of change in him. He was a bit quiet and didn't socialise much."

Mr Lovett said Senior Constable Walsh "used to just drop the kids off to the grandparents' place when she was going to work, and the grandparents used to just look after the kids for her ... The only thing I can imagine there is that I got the impression that he may have felt a bit burdened by looking after his grandkids."

Police did not know what triggered the rampage, but one source said of Senior Constable Walsh: "Despite her serious head wound she was conscious and talking to officers." Police had released photographs of Mr Walsh and asked people to watch out for his silver Toyota Avalon sedan with the NSW numberplate YSW 616.

Mr Walsh checked into the four-star Highway Inn Motel in Hay about 6.45pm and appeared calm as he ordered breakfast and went to his room, according to the motel proprietor, John Whitehead. Mr Whitehead said he recognised him from the nightly news, checked the numberplate of his car and called 000.

Police arrived from as far as Ivanhoe and Deniliquin to arrest Mr Walsh. Mr Whitehead - flanked by police - knocked on Mr Walsh's door to announce he had brought up his milk. The police, on either side of the door, made their arrest when Mr Walsh opened the door. He was taken to Deniliquin last night and is expected to be charged there today.

Police confirmed that Senior Constable Walsh's two children were to a serving police officer stationed in Newcastle, who had been on sick report for some time.

"They had been separated for quite some time and she had taken her children back to Cowra to look after her elderly mother," a police source familiar with the family said.

Police would not reveal the identity of Senior Constable Walsh's estranged husband or his rank, but said he had been informed of the deaths of his children and given a police guard. Senior Constable Walsh, who joined the police in 1997, was flown from Cowra by helicopter to Orange Base Hospital in a serious but stable condition. She underwent surgery. She was expected to be taken to Westmead Hospital by road ambulance overnight for further treatment, as bad weather made the journey unsuitable for flying.

Commissioner Scipione said the Cowra killings had left a "tremendous effect" on the police force.

"This is perhaps one of the worst days in the history of the police," he said. "Our sympathy goes to the family, not just the officers that work down in that area, but the ... mother of those children and to their own family.

"The father has been contacted and certainly we're concerned about his welfare because he's lost two children today, and that's a tragedy that's beyond words."

The Walsh family murders stunned the small Cowra community, which has long been haunted by the unsolved axe killings of Kathy Holmes, 28, and Georgina Watmore, 24, whose hacked bodies were found in a house after a small party that ended about 3am on April 15, 1987. The two women, who worked together at the Edgell cannery, were killed after the other party-goers had left. The Mayor of Cowra, Bruce Miller, said yesterday that the community of 10,000 was reeling.

"We do all look out for each other, and any incident that affects children is especially harsh."

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