Walking into a house and finding the bodies of four young girls who had been slaughtered by their father is an experience former Detective Inspector John Warren will never forget.
The officer in charge of what was the Eastern District CIB in 1997, Mr Warren was one of the detectives called to a horrific murder suicide on a farm at Cambridge in June that year.
Peter Shoobridge had slit the throats of his four daughters, before killing himself.
After killing his children, the published poet sent letters to his family and friends, questioning whether he should raise the girls in what he described as a “troubled world”.
Having recently separated from his wife and lost his job, it was reported Shoobridge suffered depression in the lead up to the tragedy.
He took the blood stained letters down to the local shop and posted about 15 of them.
Returning to his home, he chopped off his right hand, and shot himself in the head.
It was believed the hand he removed was the one he used to kill the girls.
When police arrived they found his body near the shed, before going inside and discovering the girls.
Georgina, 9, Sara, 12, Anna, 14, and Rebecca, 18, were all dead.
The girls were each found in separate rooms, and it was believed he killed them one after the other while they were sleeping.
“They probably wouldn’t have realised what was happening,” Mr Warren said.
It was reported, however, that the eldest daughter likely woke up before her father killed her.
She was found with marks on her arms that indicated she had tried to defend herself, but tragically, her attempts failed.
Mr Warren recalled finding the murderer’s hand still on a wood chopping block.
Describing it as one of the worst murders he had seen in his long career, he said it was a completely unexpected case.
“He had come from a fairly well-known family, his wife was a well-known lawyer in Hobart at the time,” he said.
“There was no prior information to suggest there were any problems, he was not known to police until it happened.”
The case made national headlines, with journalists travelling from interstate to cover it.
Shoobridge was labelled the “Tasmanian Devil”.
Former journalist at The Examiner Barry Prismall still remembers reporting on the case.
He was working from the Hobart office when the call came in.
He learned there had been a murder suicide at Cambridge, but that was all the information he had. Arriving at the property he was driven to the house by police.
That was when he was confronted by Shoobridge’s cut-off hand.
After finding out the gruesome details from officers at the scene, he drove next door to interview neighbours and find out more about the family.
That was when he discovered he knew the girls’ mother and their aunt.
“It dawned on me that I had dinner with this woman [the mother] a week prior,” he said.
“It was pretty traumatic, the shock that you actually know the family, and you’ve known them for years.
“It’s bad enough for anyone to try to make sense of it, but when you know them.”
He recalled the police telling him how the eldest girl had woken up right before her father killed her.
“She has had to process the fact that her father is killing them all and she’s next, she’s the last one on the list, probably all in a matter of two minutes,” he said.
“For the other girls who were sleeping, hopefully it was quick, but I just felt dreadfully for the older one.
“I went back to work and I started writing the story … I just had to turn it off.”
It was the second horrific case he had reported on.
A little over a year before, he covered the Port Arthur massacre, when Martin Bryant killed 35 people and injured 23 more.
“I was at the office, I had a little scoop I was working on and got a call that apparently there was a car crash at Port Arthur so I thought I better head there,” Mr Prismall recalled.
“When I got in the car, I got a message on my phone that there had actually been people killed … I worked the next 36 hours straight.
“Looking back at it now, I covered a massacre and then a mass murder.
“I have had enough experience from the two or three incidents when reporting police and court to last me a lifetime.”
It was a similar situation for some of the police officers at Port Arthur, who had to attend the Cambridge murder the following year.
Mr Warren was one of those, having interviewed Bryant.
But it was the Shoobridge case that hit a little closer to home for him.
“It was probably more personal in the sense of being a father and trying to come to grips with what he did,” he said.
“It was just such a horrendous crime, and a very very horrific scene.
“It’s just something that’s not natural and should never happen.”
Beyond the murder at Cambridge and the massacre at Port Arthur, he had been the officer in charge of Launceston CIB when a teenage boy shot his entire family because his parents refused to let him go swimming at the local pool.
Another case Mr Warren recalled was a murder in the ’80s at Perth where a man shot his wife and child in a car before shooting himself.
A similar case at Kings Meadows involved a man killing his wife and his brother and then killing himself.
“There were quite a few double or triple murders during my time,” he said.
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