A legal loophole allowed a psychopathic father with a long history of violence and abuse to access and buy guns before shooting his two teenage children dead.
John Edwards, 67, killed his daughter Jennifer Edwards, 13, and his son Jack, 15, in West Pennant Hills in Sydney’s north-west on July 5, 2018 in a double murder-suicide that shocked Australia.
Over the years, Edwards had applied for several gun licences but was rejected because of numerous convictions for malicious damage and assault.
He then came across a loophole, the NSW Commissioner’s Permit, which allowed people who’ve been rejected for gun licenses access to pistols and rifles.
After shooting his children 14 times in the chest and head, Edwards returned to his rented home in nearby Normanhurst and took his own life, leading his estranged wife and the children’s mother Olga to tragically do the same five months later.
John Edwards (right) killed his daughter Jennifer and his son Jack (left) in 2018. His estranged wife and the teens’ mum Olga (second from left) took her own life five months later
Olga (right) was just 19 when she became John Edwards’ (left) sixth wife in 2001
An inquest ruled last week the deaths of Jennifer and Jack were preventable after their father discovered the loophole to access and buy guns, despite apprehended violence orders being issued against him by three former partners.
UK criminologist David Wilson specialises in the the study of so-called ‘family annihilators’ and believes Edwards set himself on the path to murder long before that fateful night in 2018.
‘John Edwards was not a nice old bloke who was a bit broken by the break-up of his sixth relationship. John Edwards was a killer,’ Mr Wilson told 60 Minutes on Sunday.
‘With family annihilators like this, they reduce their family to simply possessions that they own. They’re part of their chattel.
‘And that was the overwhelming thing that I felt meant that he annihilates Jack and Jenny to punish Olga, because she was the one that he felt most proprietorial over, that their offspring were simply his chattel. He owned them.’
Edwards’ former partner Stacey (pictured) broke a two decade-long silence to question why he was granted various gun licences, despite his violent and abusive past
John Edwards (pictured as a young man) set himself on the path to murder long before he killed his two children Jack and Jennifer, an expert claimed
The program also exposed yet more of Edwards’ patterns of abuse, subjecting his wife, former partners and children to years of torment.
Ten years into his marriage to Olga, she complained to her GP that her husband was controlling, even demanding she wear shorts skirts and kept her hair long.
The abuse also turned increasingly physical, particularly to Jack, who was nearly strangled on a family holiday.
One of Edwards’ former partners also broke her silence for the first time in more than two decades to question why Edwards was able to access firearms, despite his violent and abusive past.
WHAT IS A ‘COMMISSIONER’S FIREARMS PERMIT?’
Anyone can apply for the permit if they intend to possess or use a prohibited weapon for a purpose not covered by an existing Prohibited Weapons Permit.
They only have to prove they have a ‘genuine reason to possess or use the weapon’.
It costs just $127 to apply and if granted lasts for five years.
If a person secures a Commissioner’s Permit, a gun club can legally train them to use hand guns, even if they have ticked ‘yes’ to red-flag questions – including whether they’ve been subject to a domestic violence order.
‘If the police had told me this man’s applied for a gun licence, I would’ve told them “don’t give it to him”,’ Stacey told the program.
‘I have no hesitation in knowing that he could kill someone.’
Stacey also recalled her fears for her own life where she was threatened by Edwards at his home while trying to escape their relationship in 1998.
Looking back on the ordeal, Stacey believes she’s lucky to be alive.
‘I went through the front door, the front door was deadlocked, and I was thrown into a wall and over a heater. Pushing, throwing, pulling hair. Telling me I’m gonna die,’ Stacey recalled.
UK criminologist David Wilson (pictured) described John Edwards as a ‘family annihilator’ – a psychological term for someone who views their children as possessions
Jack Edwards (pictured) was 15 when his life was abruptly cut short by his father – and died bravely protecting his little sister
‘I did not think I was going to come out of that house alive.’
When asked why she feared for her life she replied: ‘Because he told me that he had a gun ant that he was going to kill me.’
‘He told me that I wasn’t going to go and be with someone else.’
Edwards threatened, bashed and held Stacey captive for seven hours before she tricked him into believing she’d stay with him if he allowed her to go home.
She fled to the closest police station.
Edwards was charged with assault but the case was later thrown out of court.
Two years later, Edwards met a teenage Olga online, who became his sixth wife the following year in 2001.
Olga (pictured) told her GP that her husband was controlling, even demanding she wear shorts skirts and kept her hair long
John Edwards followed his 13-year-old daughter Jennifer (pictured) home before shooting her and her brother Jack dead as they cowered together under a desk
After being rejected from one gun club, Edwards was accepted at another club in western Sydney armed with character references from a friend and his cousin Michael.
‘He wanted us to sign a letter for him as good character so that he could get a license to take Jack shooting,’ Michael recalled.
‘Nothing wrong with that. We didn’t know anything of his past. So we thought, “yeah, that’s fair enough”.’
Michael now regrets writing the character reference for his cousin.
‘I wished to hell I never would’ve signed it. I wished to hell he never would’ve got a license, then everything would’ve been totally different, I hope.
NSW Police Police Commissioner Mick Fuller admitted the force had failed Olga and her children and is determined to not let a similar tragedy reoccur.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller admitted police failed Olga (second right) and her children Jennifer (left) and Jack (right). Pictured second left is John Edwards
‘The systems, the processes, the people let Jack and Jennifer and Olga down, absolutely, and I am sorry for that,’ Commissioner Fuller said
‘We have to take responsibility for their deaths.’
‘I’m saying to you, he should never have had a gun and the fact he had a gun is our fault… I can give you an ironclad guarantee that that can’t happen again.’
The tragic murders of Jack and Jennifer led to firearm reforms in NSW, but Commissioner Fuller admitted there is shame that it took the tragedy for such changes reforms to be implemented.
‘As the Commissioner and I’m the gatekeeper for the Firearms Act, yes, it does. Now, I’ve got to take responsibility for that, but I changed the leadership immediately, we changed the structure to ensure this can’t happen again, but will I have regrets about these deaths? Yes, I will,’ Commissioner Fuller said.
John Edwards shot dead his daughter Jennifer (left), 13, and son Jack (right), 15, in West Pennant Hills in Sydney’s north-west on July 5, 2018
NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan on Wednesday found police failed to make reasonable inquiries after the children’s mother Olga reported instances of Edwards’ abuse and stalking in 2016 and 2017.
Gun registry staff, in the job without any formal training, then failed to recognise Edwards’ long pattern of domestic violence when granting him the permits and licence to shoot and buy pistols and rifles.
The coroner could not be satisfied Edwards initially started gathering permits in order to murder his children.
But she said he’d formed that intent by April 2018, when he acquired his second pistol.
Her voice wavering at times, the coroner said it was unquestionable the deaths of the children and their mother’s December 2018 suicide had caused unbearable suffering for many.
‘However, to describe this as a tragedy is to import a sense of inevitability that nothing could have been done to change the outcome,’ she said.
NSW Coroner found the deaths of the two teenagers who were killed by their father John Edwards (pictured) was preventable
‘Instead, the evidence before this court plainly reveals the deaths of Jack and Jennifer were preventable.’
Among her 24 recommendations, Ms O’Sullivan has called for the process allowing people to shoot guns on-the-spot to be abolished, police officers’ training to include more on domestic violence and regular audits of police reports to ensure they comply with best practice.
Despite the NSW Police’s overhaul of the gun registry in response to the deaths, the coroner said more was needed to address the ‘serious, systemic failures’ present until July 2018.
She also called for better information sharing between the registry, police and Family Court to verify answers given by applicants, including whether they were subject to family law proceedings.
Gun clubs that interacted with Edwards in 2016 and 2017 adhered to their obligations, the coroner found.
But she recommended a new law forcing gun clubs to tell the registry when they refuse someone membership and give reasons.
Unlike other inquiries, the coroner cannot extend her inquiry and recommendations to address community-wide issues if they don’t relate to the deaths in question.
‘Notwithstanding, the deaths of Jack and Jennifer serve as a stark remainder of the broader systemic problems that face too many women and children every day,’ the coroner said.
Commissioner Fuller released his public statement on behalf of NSW Police shortly before 60 Minutes aired on Sunday night.
‘We see some 150,000 victims every year come forward to report family and domestic violence,’ it went on.
‘Half of all homicides in NSW are domestic and family violence related. We have more police and more training than we have ever had in this space.’
‘Whilst we have made significant changes to the systems and processes, 15 recommendations made primarily for the NSW Police Force have been rectified.’
Anyone in need of support can contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.
Flowers and tributes are seen in West Pennant Hills following the deaths of sibling Jack and Jennifer Edwards in 2018
A TIMELINE TO TRAGEDY
2000 – John Edwards connects with teenager Olga online. By the time he travels to Russia to meet her, a three-year AVO has just been put in place to protect one of his former partners and several other former partners have made allegations of abuse.
2001 – Olga, then 19, moves to Australia to marry Edwards, then 50. She soon has two children to Edwards: Jack (b. 2002) and Jennifer (b. 2004)
2010 – NSW Firearms Registry rejects Edwards’ gun licence application after he falsely declares he hasn’t been the subject of an AVO in the preceding decade.
2014 to 2016 – After years of controlling behaviour against Olga, Edwards begins turning attention to Jack. Olga later reports multiple occasions of Edwards physically hitting the boy
March 2016 – Olga and the kids leave Edwards and Family Court proceedings begin. Edwards tells Hornsby police Olga may make ‘false allegations’ against him.
December 2016 – Edwards applies for a gun training permit with Ku-ring-gai Pistol Club.
December 2016 – Olga reports Edwards’ abuse of Jack and Jennifer to local police.
February 2017 – Edwards attends Olga’s 6am yoga class. Yoga studio learns he’s been to the premises about 15 times. Police file error-riddled report and take no further action.
June 2017 – Edwards granted rifle license. Pistol license granted soon after.
October 2017 – The financial planner buys his third rifle in as many months.
April 2018 – He purchases a semi-automatic pistol to go with a revolver he bought in March.
July 2, 2018 – Edwards hires from Avis Car Rentals in Hornsby.
July 4, 2018 – Edwards collects his pistols from St Marys Pistol Club, closing the door to his gun locker so hard it jammed and needed repairs.
July 5, 2018 – The 67-year-old drives hire car to Pennant Hills train station, follows his daughter home and shoots his children dead. Takes his own life shortly afterwards.
December 2018 – Olga takes her own life
Source: Edwards family coronial inquest