John Verhoeven was a junior police officer in Sydney in the early 1980s when he overheard some shocking information about the death of Warren Lanfranchi.
John Verhoeven was a junior police officer in Sydney in the early 1980s when he overheard some shocking information about the death of Warren Lanfranchi.

Rookie cop’s shocking discovery

Warning: Confronting content

JOHN Verhoeven was a junior cop in the NSW police at a time where parts of the force were acting like the Wild West. He went in there to make a difference, but quickly learned things weren't as clean, or clear-cut as he'd hoped.

Below is an extract from a new memoir Loose Units, by John's son Paul, detailing the moment John eavesdropped on some fellow junior officers, and realised just how bad things were within the force.



He recognised one of the voices: a friendly cadet named Ben whom he'd chatted with in this very locker room twice since coming back. Ben was a probationary constable who, like John, had been out in the field for a number of months. He was in his early twenties, was bald, and was built for running through walls, but he was nice enough. And his friends were grilling him on Lanfranchi. It was all anyone was talking about at the time, so initially John thought nothing of it. He listened as they ran through the same details he'd heard over and over already.

Warren Lanfranchi, a low-rent criminal piece of shit, was on the way to a robbery in North Sydney, and he was hiding down by the back seat of a car being driven by two other crims. The car came off the ramp up towards North Sydney station, and a highway patrol motorcyclist pulled the car over for a traffic matter, not sure what. But he didn't know - obviously - that Lanfranchi was lying in wait in the back with a sawn-off rifle trained on him. Ben was getting more and more hushed as the story progressed; his friends listened with rapt attention.

John strained his ears to keep up, and flattened himself against the cold lockers.

The gun, explained Ben, didn't work properly. Misfired. 'The pin didn't come down on the bullet, who knows?' he whispered. 'Either way, the cop sees this, they lose their shit and they piss off in the car. Warren was a scumbag, but he was protected by Roger Rogerson. Rogerson may have used him for various things, called in favours, I'm not clear on the specifics.'

There was a pause. It had gone quiet; John thought for an agonising stretch that he'd been caught eavesdropping. He briefly considered sneaking out, but he'd heard the magic words. Roger Rogerson.

Then Ben continued, measuring every word. 'Here's the thing, though - I was on probation with a partner of Rogerson's. And I was there when the two of them were talking one night, they obviously didn't think I was nearby listening in -' The irony, John thought, tensing every muscle in his body '- and Rogerson said he'd decided trying to shoot a police officer was crossing the line. Said it was "personal". So these two organised to meet Lanfranchi in an alleyway, and shot him. I heard the call later on, confirming it had gone down. It was f**ked. It was … it was f**ked.'

The story was over, and John had moments to come up with a story of his own as to why he was sitting perched behind a wall of lockers, clearly listening in on a very dangerous piece of inside information. He heard the three young men standing up to leave and quickly did the first thing that occurred to him.

He crouched down holding his towel in place, and slid underneath the row of benches. Three pairs of feet padded past, and off outside. Once he was certain they were gone, he crawled out and swore to himself. That was too close.

Not long after that, John was at the city morgue doing some routine work, and the pathologist, who'd taken a liking to him during probation, gave him a mysterious look and stopped him briefly outside a small, dark room. 'Won't believe who we've got in there,' he said. 'Warren Lanfranchi.' He looked like a cool uncle who was about to let his nephew ride his Harley while the parents weren't watching. And remembering the information he'd purloined in a state of semi-undress not long before, John didn't miss a beat and immediately took a swing, asking if he could have a quick look. The pathologist shrugged, nodded, and swung open the door.

There was Warren Lanfranchi, naked, on the slab. John noted the entry wound on his forehead, one to the side of his head, and one in the chest. But what really drew the eye was what the late Lanfranchi was doing with his right hand.

John knew Rogerson was a detective, and he still harboured a kind of romanticised ideal of being one. But he was fast figuring out what types of people can end up working as detectives. John considered this fact as he stared at what lay in front of him.

The dead hand of Lanfranchi was wrapped firmly around the dead penis of Lanfranchi.

After he was shot - but before he'd, well, stiffened - someone had carefully wrapped his hand around his dick. A clear as day f**k-you to the guy. Very, very personal. Safe bet, John thought to himself, it was the same guy who shot him.

A guy who thought it was personal.

Paul F. Verhoven spoke with his dad John about his life in the NSW police force.
Paul F. Verhoven spoke with his dad John about his life in the NSW police force.


Paul Verhoeven and his dad, John, take a deep dive, Princess Bride style, into the seedy, violent underbelly of 80s policing. The book Loose Units is available now.