News State Victoria Trace podcast subject Maria James’ murder case reopened by Victorian coroner

Trace podcast subject Maria James’ murder case reopened by Victorian coroner

Mark James pushed to reopen the inquest into his mother's death. Photo: ABC RN/ Jeremy Story Carter
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The Victorian Coroner has reopened the investigation into the 38-year-old cold case of Maria James, whose murder was the subject of the ABC’s Trace podcast series.

Ms James was stabbed to death at the back of her Melbourne bookshop in 1980.

Acting State Coroner Iain West said on Friday that he would set aside the finding of a 1982 inquest that found Ms James was murdered by “a person unknown”.

Ms James’ two sons, Mark and Adam, who were 13 and 11 at the time of her murder, on Friday received the news they had been aching for.

“When my lawyer phoned me I started crying,” Mark James said.

“It’s been a long road. There were times I thought I might never get there, there’ve been obstacles all along the way.

“So to get this news, it’s such a joyful moment.”

The breakthrough follows a series of revelations in the ABC’s first true-crime podcast, Trace.

The podcast revealed Ms James had discovered her younger son Adam was being abused by the local priest, Father Anthony Bongiorno.

She was set to confront the priest the day she was murdered.

A witness had seen the priest around the time of the murder, covered in blood.

But police eliminated him as a suspect in 2015, and would not say why.

Mark and Adam James have been pushing for a new investigation for years. Photo: ABC News/Jeremy Story Carter

Adam James told Trace he was also molested by a second local priest, Father Thomas O’Keeffe, who had a history of sadistic abuse.

Neither of the priests was interviewed by police at the time of the murder.

Mark James has thanked Trace listeners for their phenomenal support.

“It does seem miraculous in a way,” he said.

“Mum’s up there in heaven looking down and a bit of divine influence in there, combined with all of the effort of the people involved, it’s just fantastic, it’s such wonderful news.

“It’s been long years pushing for this to get this outcome.”

Maria James holds her youngest son Adam, as older son Mark sits beside her. Photo: ABC

Former detective Ron Iddles took on the case as a 25-year-old homicide squad recruit, and said news of the fresh investigation was a fantastic result.

“This is great for Mark and Adam who’ve been asking for a new inquest as a result of new information that’s come forward,” he said.

“There’s no such thing as closure but there can be answers, and this may provide answers and ease the pain they’ve been carrying around for 38 years.”

Mr Iddles also commended the power of podcasting.

“Historically, Victoria Police relied on rewards, and some selected media [for case breakthroughs],” he said.

“But the world is changing, and when a podcast gets more than three million downloads, that is a new initiative that needs to be seriously looked at as a way of solving unsolved cases.”

In a startling development in July last year, Trace revealed the DNA sample on a pillow that police thought was the killer’s was actually from a completely different crime scene.

This embarrassing DNA bungle meant police never had the killer’s DNA to begin with, putting everyone back into the frame.

It also raised serious questions about how the rogue pillow found its way into Ms James’ evidence bag.

The ABC can now also reveal Victoria Police has launched its own official review of the cold case.

This will be separate to the coronial investigation announced on Friday, and the fresh inquest that is expected will follow.

The James family’s lawyer, Naty Guerrero-Diaz, said she was thrilled for the brothers after hearing the coroner had answered their plea to re-examine the case.

“It has been a very long road for the family to get to this point,” she said.

“Although there’s still a long way to go, the family can move forward from today with the knowledge that they are a step closer to getting some answers.

“Given Ms James was murdered, I expect the coroner will now go on to hold an inquest.”

More to come.