Coroner investigates disappearance of Burnie man in 1969

Sanderson Falls at West Ridgley. Picture: File
Sanderson Falls at West Ridgley. Picture: File

On February 15, 1969 a wood mill worker named Ernest Henry Woodward embarked on a fishing trip from which he would never return.

The Burnie man was hunting for fresh water crayfish near Sanderson Falls at West Ridgley with his brother and brother's father-in-law.

But some time after 10am Mr Woodward vanished without a trace except for a sock, lunchbox and wallet later found by a search party.

Fifty years later, how and why Mr Woodward disappeared remains unknown.

Even the details of exactly what happened that day are hazy, with the explanation above suggested by fragments of evidence, police reports and statements that had not been lost over time.

But a coronal investigation led by Simon Cooper in 2019 found one thing was certain: Mr Woodward died on or after February 15 near Sanderson Falls.

"Whilst I am satisfied that Mr Woodward is dead I am unable to make any further finding as to the particular circumstances of his death," Mr Cooper wrote in his report.

While Mr Woodward was reported missing to police in 1969, he was not brought to the attention of the Coroner's Office until 2019.

"Even then, Mr Woodward's case was only reported because Mr Woodward's daughter contacted the Coroner's Office to enquire about erecting a plaque to commemorate her father's life (and death) but had been apparently advised that she required a death certificate," Mr Cooper wrote.

"The coroner does not issue a death certificate as such ... but a coroner can make findings, which will enable the registrar to issue a certificate."

Mr Woodward's body was never found, however, Mr Cooper said there was "ample evidence to conclude he is dead".

This evidence includes the fact the coroner was unable to find any trace of him in a broad range of government agencies, including the Tasmanian Electoral Commission, Medicare and all state and territory police information holdings.

Finally, I note that were he still alive, Mr Woodward would be 103 years of age.

Simon Cooper

"I think it reasonable to conclude that it is unlikely he has survived to that age at all, let alone without coming to the attention of any authorities in the 50 years since he was last seen.

"For all these reasons, I am satisfied to the requisite legal standard that Mr Woodward is dead."

Mr Woodward was born on August 21, 1916 on King Island.

He married a woman named Elvie and had four children but was separated at the time of his disappearance.

He worked as a lathe operator at a wood mill and lived at 22 Nelson Street, Burnie with three of his children.

Apart from a copy of the original missing person report and covering subject report, all documentary material relating to Mr Woodward's disappearance have been lost by Tasmania Police.

"I convey my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr Woodward," Mr Cooper wrote.

This story 50 years on, coroner looks into man's mystery disappearance first appeared on The Advocate.