Tiahleigh Alyssa Rose Palmer was an Australian girl who was 12 years old and lived in Logan City, Queensland. She was sometimes called Tia or Tiah. She loved to dance and was the most cheerful person you could meet. “Tia made our world full of happiness,” her friend said.
Even though she had a happy personality, she never had an easy life. She grew up with her mother and lived with her until she was seven years old. Cindy, her mother, was in a very violent and dangerous relationship, and she didn’t want Tia to be a part of it. She put Tia in foster care because she thought that was the safest place for her. Cindy became more and more dependent on drugs and lost her home, so Tia was moved from one foster home to another. She moved in with the Thorburn family in 2015.
Rick and Julene Thorburn made up the Thorburn family. They had two boys: Joshua, 19 years old, and Trent (18). The family had fostered children before Tia, so they knew what to do. Also, Julene ran a daycare centre out of her home. Rick drove a truck for a living. Joshua helped his mother out by working at the day care. The family lived on a farm that was pretty far away from other people. Tia loved the property because it had a pool, a place to run, her bedroom, and horses to play with. Everything looked good.
But in the 10 months she lived with the Thorburns, Tia, who was 12, ran away 10 times and didn’t go to school. Why? Tia was keeping a big secret from everyone, including her birth mother and foster parents. Rick, Tia’s foster father, was very controlling and scary, and Trent, who was 18 at the time, sexually abused Tia all the time. Only one friend knew. She said Trent would do it when no one else was home so he wouldn’t get caught.
In late September 2015, Trent texted his cousin and said that he had sexually abused Tia. He said he thought Tia might be pregnant. Trent says that when no one was home, Tia told him she wanted to have sex with him or she would kill his dog. He told his cousin that he had only slept with Tia because he wanted to keep her in the house. He said that Tia was “a way for my parents to make money.” Trent’s cousin told him he should tell his parents. When Trent didn’t do it, the cousin told the Thorburns what their son had done and that Tia might be pregnant.
When Rick heard what his son had done, he was afraid that his son would get in trouble for it instead of being scolded.
On October 30, 2015, Tia went to school just like she did every other day. Rick says that he dropped Tia off at her school at 8:10 in the morning. He said that he saw her meet a friend and walk into school with them. But Tia never went to school…
A school counsellor called the Thorburn family right before lunchtime to tell them that Tia never made it to her class. Rick didn’t seem too worried, probably because Tia skipped school or ran away all the time. Another interesting fact is that Joshua Thorburn said that on the same day, he was told not to go into his sister’s room. That night, Rick started to post on Facebook to beg Tia to come back.
When Tia’s real mother heard that her daughter was missing, she became very worried. Tia had left before, but she always came back. This time, though, she was gone all day, which was not like her. She was a little girl who always gave in and went home. The police were told Tia was missing the same day she went missing.
The hours became days.
Six days after Tia went missing, the police held a press conference and asked people to tell them anything they knew. Later that day, some fishermen found what looked like the bones of a young girl. The body was dumped by a river, and the only thing on it was a pair of underwear that barely fit around her hips. The next day, Tiahleigh Palmer’s body was found to have been killed. It was hard to figure out what killed the person because the body had broken down.
People wore purple to Tia’s funeral, which was her favourite colour. The Thorburns followed, and Rick was one of the people who helped carry her body to the cemetery. Trent and Joshua were in a dance routine for Tia’s birthday. Tia’s real grandmother said that people at the funeral treated the Thorburns as if they had been Tia’s family for a long time. When their foster daughter died, the Thorburns seemed very sad.
They didn’t know where to begin. At the scene, no proof was found. They didn’t have any ideas about who did this or why. Rick must have become a person of interest at some point, but that was quickly ruled out until a tip came in. Detectives found out about Trent’s text conversation with his cousin. Trent says in this conversation that he just wants to get rid of Tia. Detectives paid attention to this.
In the Thorburn home, listening devices were put in place. One day, it picked up Julene’s voice telling them to “stick to the story” about the last time they all saw Tia. It also shows Rick telling Trent what to say about the sexual abuse to the police. There was also a talk between Julene and Joshua about telling the truth. Each family member told the police the same lie about the last time they saw Tia going to school.
Detectives looked at CCTV footage, which showed that Rick Thorburn did not drop Tia off at school that morning. He drove the usual route to school, stopped for about 6 seconds, and then drove on to do some other things.
After Tia died, the Thorburns never had any more children in their home. But they kept Julene’s home daycare going until around April 2016. It had been 6 months since Tia had died. During this time, it came out that Rick had been charged with sexually abusing two children younger than 12 but hadn’t been given a sentence. These two kids went to the home-based daycare centre. Their rights to daycare and foster care were taken away right away.
Almost a year after Tia died, Rick’s car was sent to a forensics lab to be looked at. The police took the whole family away to question them. While this was going on, more police were looking for Tia’s backpack and uniform on the family’s property.
Rick Thorburn was charged soon after with killing Tiahleigh Palmer.
Rick is thought to have killed Tia by smothering her in her bedroom in the evening, before the rest of the family said they had seen her last. But because her body broke down, it was never possible to know for sure what killed her. His reason for killing was to protect the reputation of his son and family. Rick asked his whole family to leave for a short time before the murder. But Julene also helped hide the fact that her son was having an affair with his foster sister.
Julene said that she did it more to protect the reputation of her family and her son. Even though she didn’t kill Tia herself, she knew about it and did everything she could to hide it. She also told the police that she didn’t know what Rick was going to do when he told her and the boys to leave.
Rick put Tia’s body in his car the day after she was killed. Julene did not contribute. Rick went to the river in a very complicated and planned way to dump Tia’s body. He made sure to take a route that wasn’t being watched by CCTV. He didn’t bring his cell phone either. Joshua and Trent were not at home when Tia was killed or when her body was moved. Rick told his sons that they needed to be out in public places where they could be seen and counted. He told his boys not to ask him any questions and that the less they knew, the better.
Rick sat his sons down after dumping Tia’s body and told them, “Tia is no longer with us.” Julene says that she didn’t understand what he said. Joshua told the police when he was being questioned that he knew right away what his father meant…
So, the whole Thorburn family knew that Tia had been killed, but they never said anything.
When Rick was in trouble, he tried to kill himself by taking too many pills, but he was put in a coma instead. Rick was given a life sentence in prison.
Trent was eventually charged with two counts of perjury, trying to change the way justice was done, and incest. At first, he denied the accusations of incest with all his might, but later he broke down and admitted it. He got 4 years in jail, but he only spent 16 months there.
Julene and Joshua were both accused of lying and trying to change the way justice was done. They agreed to give evidence for the defence. Joshua was sentenced to three months in jail, and Julene got 18 months.
Everyone in the family except Rick is let out of prison.
The State Government of Queensland and the company that took care of Tiahleigh Palmer before she was killed have been sued by Tiahleigh’s mother.
Thorburn’s criminal history has since surfaced, revealing a long list of offenses spanning from 1977 to 1997. Despite his long rap sheet, Thorburn passed a host of tests which allowed him to become a foster father to Tiahleigh in 2014.
“She was put in child safety for her safety and was murdered. There are bigger questions that need to be asked and answer about what’s occurring in child safety in Queensland.”