Police officer Bernie Johnson admitted to his girlfriend Carolyn that he’d murdered brothel madam Shirley Finn, the Perth Coroner’s Court heard today.
CSIRO scientist Craig Klauber told the inquest that in the late 1980s, Carolyn Langan, then a colleague and close friend, came to him at work one day distressed.” She told him Bernie had confirmed to her “that he had killed Shirley Finn.”
“She was serious,” Dr Klauber told the court. “I think she told me that because she was a little bit frightened.”
“I think the implication was if something happened, I needed to tell someone.”
Bernie Johnson was the chief of Western Australia’s Vice Squad when Ms Finn was shot four times in the head at point blank range in June 1975.
He died a year ago, aged in his 80s.
Dr Klauber told the inquest that another time Carolyn “came into the office, pale and upset” saying Johnson had held a shotgun to her face. “She didn’t elaborate why.”
“My advice to her was that she had to leave Bernie…I said, ‘you really should leave Bernie for your own safety.’”
“She said, ‘Bernie’s not going to hurt me.’ .. but her body language said something else. She was clearly very frightened.”
Asked whether he considered going to the police about these incidents, Dr Klauber repleid, “It never occurred to me to do that, probably because of my friendship with Carolyn.” Besides, he added, “Bernie was still alive; if you go to the police, who do you go to?”
At the same time, he said, “I was 100 per cent convinced she was telling me the truth.”
Dr Klauber said he’d met Bernie Johnson several times with Carolyn and felt threatened by him.
One time, the officer approached him and said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but whatever you think you’ve heard is wrong”.
Johnson had also approached him at a party, referring to a person in hospital – supposedly after a suicide attempt – saying “If you’re going to do a job like that, you’ve got to do it properly.”
“Those words, I took to be a threat,” Dr Klauber told the court.
He said he had contacted the Corner’s Court, wanting to testify after seeing Carolyn Langan give evidence at the inquest last July.
He had been upset at her testimony: “It disturbed me, the denials she made and the information she left out.”
Further, he had decided to come forward after seeing Shirley’s daughter Bridget crying in the court.
Dr Klauber said he had gone with his friend Amanda Marzo to her mother Joan’s house in December 1989 and during a conversation, discovered Joan had also been in a relationship with the married Bernie Johnson.
Upon telling Joan Marzo he did gold research at the CSIRO, she began talking about $300,000 worth of gold at a property in Gidgegannup.
“I said, ‘who owns the property?’ She said, ‘Bernie Johnson.’ I said, ‘I know Bernie.’ At which point, Joan’s face changed dramatically. She took me to another room.”
He said, “Joan was determined to get as much information about Bernie as she possibly could; my impression was she wasted to arm herself with information about Bernie.”
For a couple of hours, he said, she began talking to him about the officer: “corruption, drugs, mass kllings, that kind of stuff,” and that she suspected Johnson was involved with Shirley Finn’s murder.
Dr Klauber said he later agreed to Joan Marzo’s request to go to a restaurant with her daughter Amanda to watch her handing an envelope to a man named Blood, apparently a policeman.
“It all seemed a bit bizarre and over the top,” Dr Klauber said.
“One wouldn’t even write this up as a script.”
Dr Klauber told the inquest it was his understanding that Joan had first met Bernie through his wife Christine Johnson, who she knew.
He said when he later told his friend and colleague, Carolyn, that he’d met another woman who knew Bernie, she became upset.
Carolyn told him that she and Christine Johnson – with whom she appeared to have a friendly understanding – would pay a visit to Joan’s husband Leo and alert him to her relationship with Bernie. Carolyn said they would “‘stitch up Joan,’” Dr Klauber told the inquest. “That’s a very memorable phrase.”
This later occurred, causing Joan’s daughter, his friend Amanda, to become upset with him for talking to Carolyn.
Carolyn later moved to Tasmania for a year and when she returned, he lost contact with her.
Joan Marzo, now Joan Wilson, then took the witness stand but said she had no recollection of ever meeting Craig Klauber.
Asked by the counsel assisting the Coroner, Toby Bishop, “Do you remember him coming to your house?” She replied, “I’ve never met him before.”
Toby Bishop: “Are you certain of that?”
Joan Marzo: “I’m positive.”
Asked about her relationship with Bernie Johnson, she said , “I only went on a few dates.” She was unsure when exactly she dated him but said it was when she was no longer married and he was separated.
Asked if she knew he worked for the police force, she replied, “I can’t remember. I think he was retired.”
Asked, “Did Bernie Johnson ever tell you about gold being buried at his Gidgegannup property?” She replied, “Never.”
She also denied knowing a person named Blood or ever meeting him to give him an envelope.
She did, though, recall Christine Johnson once came to her former husband’s surgery.
The inquest resumes on Wednesday and on Thursday Carolyn Langan will again be called to give evidence.