true crime

Charlene Warrior's family doesn't agree with how the police say she died.

Content Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article, contains images and names of people who have died. It also includes descriptions of possible suicide. 

On September 18, 2021, Theresa Newchurch got a text message from her sister. 

"I hate this, literally the saddest sh*t ever," it read.

Charlene Warrior was in Bute, 90 minutes north of Adelaide, to collect her one-year-old daughter from her ex-partner. But they'd been fighting about custody. Earlier that evening, she'd called Theresa from a park bench in town crying.

"I need to get back to Adelaide," she told Theresa. 

The next day, there was silence. 

Worried, Theresa reached out to the ex. He replied a day later telling her he woke up and Charlene was gone. 

Watch the trailer for True Crime Conversations. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Two days later Theresa says she reported her sister missing. Police dispute that, they say they didn't learn about Charlene's disappearance for another nine days. They officially started searching for her on October 1.

Charlene's body was found by a local man out for a walk on October 3, 2021. She was in a tree only 100 metres from the house in which she'd been staying and 200 metres from the Country Fire Service (CFS) shed where authorities had launched a full-scale search. 


As Doug Smith, Indigenous Affairs reporter for The Advertiser and host of the podcast Dying Rose told Mamamia's True Crime Conversations, "She was in plain sight".

"The tree was half hanging over a paddock, half hanging over someone's front yard. So where she was found I could almost throw a stone from the CFS shed and hit that tree."

Within 24 hours the police ruled that the 21-year-old died by suicide and had likely been in that tree since her disappearance, with her autopsy report suggesting she died on or around September 20. But her family don't agree. They don't see how that's possible given how obvious her final location was. They believe she was likely placed in the tree after her death.

They travelled to Bute themselves for answers, and as Theresa told Dying Rose, she had a conversation with a local shopkeeper and CFS volunteer who insisted "she wasn't there [in that tree] the day before [she was found]".

Listen to Charlene's story. Post continues after the podcast. 

The family doesn't understand why the police didn't take any witness statements from them, the ex, or anyone else in town before ruling Charlene's death non-suspicious. 

They don't understand why her body was removed from the tree so quickly. Or how she could have been there for two whole weeks unnoticed. 

They don't understand why they weren't updated on the case, and why they kept getting fobbed off when they called for information.


As Doug explained: "The police, in their eyes, haven't done a proper investigation."

"When I read the police report it really made it seem like this was a depressed, young Aboriginal girl who was a drug user and had reason to kill herself. I didn't see it that way. She was trying to fight for her daughter," he said.

But as an Indigenous man himself, Doug is not surprised by how Charlene's family has been treated.

"I am not saying this doesn't happen to non-Indigenous families as well, I know it does. It just happens to Indigenous families a majority of the time because statistically, we are the most disadvantaged. We are living in a lower socio-economic when these types of things happen to Aboriginal people in their community and we try and seek help from police we never really get it," he told True Crime Conversations.

As the Dying Rose podcast discovered, Charlene's family isn't the only one in the Indigenous community currently grappling with this reality. Their investigation looks at how authorities have reacted to the deaths of six Aboriginal women and girls. In many of the cases, their deaths were deemed suicides when their families insist there are unanswered questions. 

Many of the women were also in alleged domestic violence relationships at the time of their deaths, something their families say wasn't even considered.

"It wasn't hard to find the six families, they're everywhere," said Doug. "A lot of First Nations families are experiencing this."

Right now there is an inquiry being held into missing and murdered First Nations women and children in Australia.  


The inquiry hopes to investigate what we can change to better address violence against this community, with murder rates for Indigenous women eight times higher than for their non-Indigenous counterparts.

In WA, the state's police have refused to appear at the inquiry. In NSW, the head of the force denied any racism in its ranks. 

What Dying Rose has uncovered, overlays another issue entirely. Not only are Indigenous women experiencing higher rates of murder, suicide, assault and family violence. Investigations into their deaths are leaving their families with more questions than closure. 

"The police aren't listening to First Nations families," Doug told True Crime Conversations. "I don't see them actually doing anything to address that at all."

Change is needed on a societal level. On a governmental and authoritative level. But in the meantime on an individual level, Doug says we can help by amplifying these women's stories. By saying their names, and sharing their faces. 

Her name was Charlene Warrior. Her family is still waiting for answers. 

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: Supplied.