Maria James was a single mother living in the Melbourne suburb of Thornbury in Australia. On June 17, 1980, she was found murdered in the back room of her secondhand bookshop, the Open Book. The case remains unsolved, and it has haunted the Australian community for over four decades.
The Murder Scene
The discovery of Maria James’ body in her bookstore shocked the small community of Thornbury. She had been stabbed 68 times with a kitchen knife, and there was evidence of sexual assault. The killer had also smashed the back of her skull with a heavy object, and her blood was found all over the room.
The investigation into Maria James’ murder was flawed from the start. The initial crime scene investigation was not thorough, and crucial evidence was lost. Police also failed to follow up on leads and potential suspects, including the man who had sexually assaulted Maria’s son just months before her murder.
Over the years, several suspects have emerged in the Maria James case. One of the most prominent was Father Anthony Bongiorno, who had been counseling Maria’s son at the time of her murder. Bongiorno had a history of sexual abuse, and he was later convicted of abusing three other boys. Another suspect was a local man who had been seen arguing with Maria in her bookstore just before her murder.
In 2018, the ABC launched a podcast called Trace, which aimed to uncover new leads in the Maria James case. The podcast focused on the role of Bongiorno and his possible involvement in the murder. It also uncovered evidence that the initial police investigation had been compromised by corruption within the force.
The DNA Breakthrough
In 2020, over 40 years after Maria James’ murder, there was a major breakthrough in the case. DNA evidence found at the crime scene was finally matched to a suspect. The suspect was not Bongiorno or any of the other previous suspects, but a man named Christian Porter. Porter had died in 2008, but the DNA evidence had linked him conclusively to the murder.
The discovery of the DNA match has brought some closure to Maria James’ family and the community of Thornbury. However, questions still remain about the police investigation and the possibility of other suspects being involved. The case has also raised broader questions about corruption within the police force and the need for better systems to prevent wrongful convictions.
The murder of Maria James remains a tragic and unsettling chapter in Australia’s history. The flawed investigation and the subsequent search for justice have highlighted the need for a more thorough and just approach to solving cold cases.