|Date of Birth:
|At time of disappearance
- Eric was last
seen at Kalang in November 1997. He had recently moved into the area and
left all belongings behind on the night of his disappearance. There are
grave concerns for his welfare.
A SYDNEY man who vanished more than 28 years ago was likely murdered or buried
illegally after dying from a heroin overdose, a coroner found.
Eric Warburton was 26 years old when he disappeared some time after 1987.
However, he was not reported missing until the following year because his drug
habit had led to him drifting apart from family and friends.
Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame last week handed down her findings into Mr
Warburton’s disappearance, saying police at the time had failed to conduct a
“sustained or targeted investigation”.
The inquest heard the mother of one of Mr Warburton’s associates had written to
police in 2002 saying her daughter Linda Verguiza had confessed she had been
involved in disposing of his body after an overdose in 1991.
A former partner of Ms Verguiza also told police in 2010 she had told him her
former partner, John Green, had “chopped up” Mr Warburton’s body, set it on fire
and planted a tree on top of his ashes.
However, Ms Grahame found Ms Verguiza’s testimony at the inquest, where she
claimed to have no knowledge of his death, was “unimpressive” and said she “did
not have a plausible explanation” as to why she had confessed to knowing what
Ms Grahame found Mr Warburton had died but was not able to determine a cause of
“If his death had been a simple overdose or sudden natural death, his body would
most likely have been discovered,” she wrote.
“Eric may have been the victim of foul play or he may have overdosed and those
around him made a decision to dispose of his body.”
Three decades after he vanished, coroner rules Eric Warburton died
but how he met his end remains a mystery
BY ALL accounts Eric Warburton’s life was squalid and tragic. Brought up in
broken home, by the age of 14 he was living in squats in Sydney poisoning
his body with drugs.
But if his life was bad, his death was worse with claims he was chopped up,
burnt and a tree planted on the site he was buried.
Yet, the fact he had vanished wasn’t even reported for a year. It seems no one
Even when Eric’s disappearance was made official, it took police a relaxed
quarter of a century to investigate why he vanished. It seems no one cared.
The investigation took so long many of the key witnesses have simply died,
meaning it’s unlikely anyone will ever be held responsible.
NSW Deputy Coroner Harriet Grahame found that, on the balance of probability,
Eric died in November 1987. She was particularly scathing in her assessment of
the NSW Police saying there was “no excuse” for letting the investigation linger
on for 25 years.
Rumours abound how Eric, an itinerant originally from Armidale in northern NSW,
But almost all the theories involve foul play. One was the he had been given a
“hot shot” of heroin, another that he had been taken away by a car never to be
seen again, a third that he was collateral damage in a battle between graziers
What is known is by the mid-1980s, Eric was living in a shack in Kalang on the
NSW mid north coast. He would often score heroin from a man named John Green in
nearby Bellingen. At the time Green was in a relationship with Linda Rooney,
later known as Linda Verguizas.
In August 1988, Eric was reported missing to the police. He had not been in
contact with friends, his bank cards had not been used and his Centrelink
payments had been untouched for more than a year.
Infrequent public appeals were made to locate Eric, but very little occurred on
the case for more than a decade. Then, in 2002, a letter arrived from a woman
called Rosemary Carter claiming her daughter, Verguizas, had confessed to
disposing of the body.
“Linda told me John [Green] and his mate had been out drinking at the pub … and
they got back late and all had a hit of heroin.
“This mate of John’s went unconscious and Linda tried CPR on him. She said she
begged John to take him to Bellingen hospital but he wouldn’t,” Carter wrote.
“Linda told me John then gave her some other drug to calm her down and he buried
him. “Whether they both buried him, I don’t know, she wouldn’t give me his name,
but she definitely knows where he is buried”.
Carter continued to write to police with more details but died in 2004 before a
full statement was taken.
In 2010, a former partner of Verguizas’, Peter Gibson, said she had told him
Eric has been given a “hot shot”, a lethal dose of heroin.
In 2015, Gibson elaborated further saying Verguizas had admitted to being
involved “in getting rid of Eric Warburton’s body. John Green was very thorough.
He chopped him up, burnt him and planted a tree on him”, Gibson recounted.
The same year Susan Verguizas, said that her one-time daughter-in-law had told
her son, Angey, that she had knowledge of two missing people that has overdosed
and “were buried in the bush”.
Green “vigorously denied all knowledge” of Eric’s disappearance, the coroner
“He described the allegation that he was involved in the disappearance as
‘f**king weird’. He suggested that Linda might have ‘gotten pissed’ and told her
mother ‘some sh*t’,” Ms Grahame states.
“Unfortunately, by the time of the inquest, John Green was dead and the veracity
of his account and his memory of surrounding events could not be tested.”
This just left Verguizas, who multiple people connected to Eric vanishing. While
admitting she knew Eric, on every occasion she has denied any knowledge or
involvement in his disappearance.
She had “only met him a couple of times” she said, she couldn’t even remember
what he looked like and was only aware he was missing due to “talk around town”.
At the inquest, she denied telling her mother, ex-husband or Gibson she was
involved in covering up Eric’s death.
She had no “real explanation” for how her former mother-in-law could have been
told this story if not from her, the coroner remarked.
“Her testimony on this was unconvincing.
“She said her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness who ‘worried and panicked’. If she
had said anything like that, it would only have been to ‘get attention’. She
suggested that her mother may have “had Alzheimer’s coming on”.”
Ms Grahame concluded Verguizas was an “unimpressive witness”.
“At the conclusion of her testimony the Court retained considerable suspicions
in relation to her knowledge of events.”
The coroner said procedures surrounding missing persons had improved
considerably since Eric vanished which meant the lack of action seen would be
unlikely to happen today.
Eric’s transitory nature and lack of family and friends may have meant there was
less pressure to solve the case. Nevertheless, “that is no excuse to place the
investigation of Eric’s tragic disappearance at the bottom of a busy work
schedule,” Ms Grahame said.
As for what came of Eric, the coroner said given there were no credible
first-hand accounts or body to examine, it was unlikely the events that led to
his death would ever fully be uncovered.
But, she said, “there is suspicion that there is something more sinister at
play. Eric may have been the victim of foul play or he may have overdosed and
those around him made a decision to dispose of his body.
“While there are suspicions arising from Linda Verguizas’s evidence, it is
impossible to know with any degree of certainty what actually occurred.”
Given the change in procedures at NSW Police, the coroner had no