TALES: Couple shot dead and set alight
THEY were a young couple, newly married and very much in love.
Their happiness, however, was very short-lived as on the Sunday night of July 15, 1951 the burnt bodies of Don Warner, 19, sawmill worker and his wife Orma Jean, 17 were found in their Wyan home, 40kms out of Casino.
A neighbour, Athol Lyons was riding home when he saw the house alight.
When the fire was out Warner's body was found on a bed and his wife's body near the door.
As police investigated the tragedy, they arrested First World War veteran and assistant stock inspector at Busby's Flat, William Henry Abbott.
The married man was charged with the double murder of the teenage couple and an inquest was held on August 16.
As the inquest took place, 24 witnesses were called up and x-rays were submitted which showed shot-gun pellets in the charred remains of the couple.
X-rays were used for the first time in the history of coronial inquiries in New South Wales and showed 46 pellets in the bodies of the victims.
One of the witnesses, Thomas William Hoult, stated he had heard five shots fired when he was passing Warners' home.
Mr Abbott was handcuffed during his hearing and Casino Court house was packed to overflowing during the whole of the proceedings and some even tried to get a better look when the x-rays, obviously a novelty, were displayed.
The coroner heard that the dead couple and the accused weren't on the "best of terms"
"I know that Orma did not like Abbott," witness John Mcdonald, a sawmiller from Wyan, said.
The accused had been a frequent visitor to the Warners' home but Orma had described him as a "filthy-minded cow".
On the night in question Abbott confessed he had gone over to their place and after a short conversation Warner told Abbott to clear out and threatened to 'clout him'.
Abbott punched him in the belly and Warner seemed to dive for Abbott's gun, leaning on the veranda.
"When Don was hit, Orma came out screaming," Abbott had confessed.
Although Abbott said he tried to help Warner, he grabbed his gun when the injured man stood up.
Mrs Warner jumped in front of him and Abbott fired automatically and she hit the floor.
He then fired at Warner and both of them were dead.
"I thought that if I set the house on fire I'd be able to cover it up," Abbott said, so he did by spraying kerosene on a bedspread.
Mr Abbott, a distinguished conduct medal recipient and a POW during the second world war, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Don and Orma Warner are buried in the Casino Memorial Cemetery.
- 'Pars and Personals', The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, Tuesday, July 17, 1951, Page 2.
- 'Wyan tragedy inquest on August 16', The Northern Star, Thursday, July 26, 1951, Page 4.
- 'Two charges of murder', The Newcastle Sun, Thursday, July 26, 1951, Page 1.
- 'Teenage couple's inquest today', The Courier Mail, Thursday, August 16, 1951, Page 5.
- 'X-ray films at Wyan inquest', The Northern Star, Friday, August 17, 1951, Page 4 and 8.
- 'Casino Inquest Evidence', Queensland Times
- 'Dead man intended to send wife away', The Northern Star, Saturday, August 18, 1951, Page 5
- "I knew I could handle him", The Sun, Tuesday, August 21, 1951, Page 1