Edward John GIBBARD

 

'Something bad' happened to missing WA man, Coroner says

A man whose car was found abandoned in WA's far north was likely the victim of something sinister after being picked up by another motorist, a coroner says.

A tour boat captain whose car was found abandoned in Western Australia's far north was likely picked up by a passing motorist and had something sinister befall him, a coroner says.

Edward John Gibbard was 52 on December 23, 1976 when he was last seen at the Lake Argyle Inn, where he'd had farewell drinks with his friends Malcolm "Mac" Tweedie and a man who used the alias Allan Huntington.

Mr Gibbard was due to fly to Perth the following day to spend Christmas with his parents, while the pair were about to move to Darwin seeking work.

Hours later, they spotted his empty car about 11km away on a road to Kununurra.

"We were stunned. We were hoping he'd got his flight," Mr Tweedie told the WA Coroner's Court on Monday.

A search was conducted, with an Aboriginal tracker finding a lack of footprints at the scene suggested Mr Gibbard had walked on the bitumen road.

Mr Tweedie said he didn't believe Mr Gibbard, who had served in the British Merchant Navy for 25 years, had wandered into bushland as it would not have cut any time off either walking back to the inn or to Kununurra.

"If you went cross country, unless you were an Aboriginal tracker, there's no question you'd be lost. Nobody would do that," he said.

Coroner Evelyn Vicker agreed with Mr Tweedie and also with Sergeant Stephen Peremjibida, who testified it was "entirely possible" Mr Gibbard obtained a lift and something sinister may have befallen him.

"I do suspect something bad has happened to him," Ms Vicker said.

The court heard he was carrying a fair amount of money including his holiday pay.

It also heard the area had many colourful characters including "unpleasant" publicans who would beat people up, while Mr Huntington would frequently brandish a knife either in boisterous jest with his friends or when challenging fellow pub-goers to a fight.

Ms Vicker said she expected to deliver an open finding but adjourned the hearing for a fortnight in case more witnesses can be tracked down.

"I don't think by any means we're going to solve it," she said.

The initial search for Mr Gibbard appeared to have been thorough but the follow-up investigation was lacking, Ms Vicker added.

Mr Tweedie was also critical of "relaxed" investigating police, saying he'd never even been asked for a statement.

Everyone thought Mr Gibbard "staged a disappearing act", but he said he did not believe that.