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Leslie James (Les) Bardwell (1916–1995)

by Tim Prenzler and Lisa Jones

This article was published:

Leslie James Bardwell (1916–1995), police officer and forensic scientist, was born on 1 April 1916 at New Farm, Brisbane, eldest child of English-born Ernest James Bardwell, French polisher, and his Queensland-born wife Caroline, née Jonas. Les attended Hamilton State School before proceeding to the Central Technical College, Brisbane. In 1940, when he was in the final year of studies towards a diploma of industrial chemistry, Police Commissioner Cecil Carroll—seeking to recruit a trained scientist to the fledgling technical section of the Criminal Investigation Branch—encouraged him to join the Queensland Police Force. He was appointed as a constable in December. On 10 January 1942 he married Rene Lilla Fairs King, a stenographer, at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Brisbane.

Initially posted to Roma Street police station in the city, Bardwell spent a short time on the beat before being transferred to the technical section. His work included conducting ballistic tests, chemical analyses, photomicroscopy, and handwriting examinations. He travelled to crime scenes across Queensland and regularly provided expert witness testimony in court, including in some of the State’s most notorious murder trials. From 1945 he relieved as officer-in-charge of the section, taking on the role permanently in 1959. Having been appointed as a detective constable in 1947, he rose through the ranks to become an inspector in 1968.

A strong feature of Bardwell’s work was his personal involvement in cases. Describing himself as a ‘field forensic scientist,’ he did not confine himself to the laboratory, believing it was important to have ‘first-hand contact with the aftermath of crime and violence’ (Bardwell 1994, ix). One of the more challenging tasks he faced was disarming explosive devices. In 1955 he defused bombs left in the ruins of a city medical surgery after Karl Kast shot dead two doctors and then triggered an explosion. Five years later he disabled a bomb following a foiled hijack attempt on a passenger flight into Brisbane.

While Bardwell was self-taught in a variety of technical aspects of forensic science, he also undertook training courses. He studied motor mechanics to assist in his investigation of traffic collisions, and he became a member of the Brisbane Pistol Club and a kangaroo shooter to gain proficiency in the use of a range of firearms. In 1959 and 1965 he had recommended the formation of a squad of specialist police equipped to deal with crisis situations. It was not until late 1966 that he was instructed to set up an emergency squad and a further year and a half before the unit was operational.

The Sunday Truth described Bardwell as ‘an acknowledged expert in scientific crime work all over Australia’ (Richards 1963, 19). He received several police commendations for his work and was awarded the BEM in 1972. Yet he was often outspoken and sometimes critical of police management decisions. A talented sportsman, he had won the public service golf trophy in 1947 and represented Queensland police at interstate pistol shooting competitions. After retiring in 1976 he became a senior director of a private security firm, Guardian Security Service Pty Ltd. Law firms also employed him as an investigator. In one complex case his re-examination of ballistic evidence led to the release (1989) of Douglas Rendell, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder in 1979.

Bardwell was characterised as a genial man—a non-smoker and a teetotaller who rarely swore. Survived by his wife and their daughter, he died on 23 March 1995 in Wesley Private Hospital, Auchenflower, and was cremated.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Bardwell, Les.No Stone Unturned: Stories from Thirty-Six Years at the Forefront of Forensic Science.’ Unpublished manuscript, 1994. Queensland Police Museum
  • Cleaver, Allan. ‘“Back-room Boys” of the C.I.B.’ Courier Mail, 9 October 1948, 2
  • Cumming, Stuart. ‘Honours Come for Scientific Detective.’ Sunshine Coast Daily, 16 April 2016, 6
  • Hansen, Peter. ‘Quiet Nights and End of Career for a Top “Cop”.’ Courier Mail, 5 February 1976, 3
  • Queensland Police Museum. Service History: Leslie James Bardwell
  • Richards, Ron. ‘Safebusters Are His Biggest Risk.’ Sunday Truth, 7 July 1963, 19
  • Telegraph (Brisbane). ‘Plan Aids Police.’ 27 July 1976, 7

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Tim Prenzler and Lisa Jones, 'Bardwell, Leslie James (Les) (1916–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 April, 1916
New Farm, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


23 March, 1995 (aged 78)
Auchenflower, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lung)

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