‘Bizarre’ police mistakes in bookshop murder slammed

Frances VinallNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Police made shocking errors in their investigation of Maria James’s murder including losing key evidence and comparing suspects’ DNA with DNA from the wrong murder, a court has heard.

Mrs James was found stabbed 68 times in her bedroom behind her Thornbury bookshop on June 17, 1980, in a case unsolved for 41 years.

There are six men a Coroners Court of Victoria inquest considers persons of interest in the brutal murder, including late priest Father Anthony Bongiorno.

Mrs James had discovered Fr Bongiorno was abusing her 11-year-old disabled son, Adam, and planned to confront him, the court has heard.

Copy picture. Lake Fyans trip. Thornbury bookshop murder victim Maria James and her son Adam at the Grampians Jan 1980
Camera IconThornbury bookshop murder victim Maria James and her son Adam, pictured the year of her murder. Credit: News Corp Australia
Undated. Maria James murder suspect Father Antonio Bongiorno
Camera IconLate priest Father Antonio Bongiorno is a person of interest in a coronial inquest into Maria James’s death. Credit: Herald Sun

Lawyer assisting the court Sharon Lacy said on Wednesday she wasn’t “raising a conspiracy theory” but asked a key witness if he knew of other cases with “errors of that magnitude”.

Sergeant Rodney Jones, who manages stored evidence at Victoria Police, said he hadn’t.

“It’s bizarre,” he said. “It is very unusual.”

Key evidence including the clothes Maria James was wearing when she was killed remain missing.

Her green jumper, jeans and undergarments were taken for forensic analysis on the day of the murder then disappeared from police records, the court heard.

A bloodstained quilt from the crime scene was mislabelled and discovered in storage this year.

A pillow from a separate murder was added to evidence from Mrs James’s case and DNA tested to rule out potential suspects, including Fr Bongiorno.

The Family of Murdered Mother Maria James
Camera IconMark and Adam James have never given up hope in getting answers on who killed their mother 41 years ago. Nicole Garmston Credit: News Corp Australia

“Of all the exhibits from the crime scene of Maria James, the one that is used to find the sample of the offender, is the one that doesn’t belong to the crime scene,” Ms Lacy said.

“It simply seems extraordinary.

“It is so unusual that, perhaps, you might ask questions about it?”

Sergeant Jones said he was “very proud of management of exhibits and it appals me that there’s a lack of accountability”.

He said there did not seem to be a common police officer involved in each bungle and said it was extremely unlikely that the missing evidence would be found.

Trying to track the evidence in the cold case “has consumed me”, he said.

Maria James was stabbed 68 times behind her Thornbury bookshop in 1980. Coroners Court via NCA NewsWire
Camera IconMaria James was stabbed 68 times behind her Thornbury bookshop in 1980. Coroners Court via NCA NewsWire Credit: Supplied

Along with Fr Bongiorno, the court is looking at: convicted killer Peter Keogh, who lived in the area and had a history of attacking women; Peter Macevski, who was Mrs James’s married lover in 1980; priest Thomas O’Keeffe, who lived with Fr Bongiorno; Mario Falcucci, who argued with Mrs James the morning of the murder; and Telecom worker Lyle Perkins.

Mr Macevski is the only living person of interest.

The inquest continues on Thursday.

Originally published as ‘Bizarre’ police mistakes in bookshop murder slammed

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