$1m reward after mum stabbed 60 times

The man police have spent 44 years looking for, in relation to the murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.
The man police have spent 44 years looking for in relation to the murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.

Victorian police have announced a $1m reward for information leading to a conviction in the brutal killing of Melbourne woman Maria James.

The mother of two was stabbed more than 60 times inside her home, which doubled as her bookshop more than 40 years ago.

The fateful day was June 17, 1980, and on the eve of the anniversary, police have announced a $1m reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Ms James’s death.

Copy picture of Thornbury bookshop murder victim Maria James and her son Mark.
Maria James and her son Mark.
Copy picture. Lake Fyans trip. Thornbury bookshop murder victim Maria James and her son Adam at the Grampians Jan 1980
Ms James and her son Adam at the Grampians in January 1980.

Police say they “still have a number of persons of interest” and have not given up.

“I know many people out there feel enormously invested in getting an outcome for Maria’s family, and I want to assure them that police are continuing to do everything we can to solve this,” homicide squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said.

“Despite a significant criminal investigation, as well as two coronial investigations, we have not been able to identify who Maria’s killer or killers were or their motivation for murdering Maria.

Melbourne woman Maria James was killed in 1980. Picture: Victoria Police
Ms James was killed in 1980. Picture: Victoria Police

“However, this does not mean that we have given up hope that those answers can still be determined or that those responsible can be held to account.”

Ms James lived in the home and second-hand bookshop on High St, Thornbury, with her two sons.

“By all accounts, Maria was a well-liked and respected member of her local community who kept a close-knit circle of friends and was totally devoted to her two boys,” police said.

The man police have spent 44 years looking for, in relation to the murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.
The man police have spent 44 years looking for in relation to the murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.
The man police have spent 44 years looking for, in relation to the murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.
Another sketch of the suspect.

About noon on June 17 she called her ex-husband John James, leaving a message for him to call her back.

She did not say why she wished to speak to him; however, she mentioned someone was in the shop.

A short time later Mr James returned her call and after she answered, Ms James asked him to “hold on” and was then overheard in conversation with someone else.

Coroners Court
Ms James’s sons Adam and Mark at the 2021 Coroners Court inquest into their mother’s death. Picture: NewsWire / Ian Currie

Although the conversation was not clear to Mr James, it was apparent to him that something was wrong.

When Ms James did not return to the call, he left work and went to the bookshop to check on her.

When he arrived he found the front and back doors of the store locked; however, the “open” sign was on display.

A homicide squad detective outside the Thornbury bookshop at 736 High St Thornbury, where owner Maria James was murdered in 1980.
A homicide squad detective outside the Thornbury bookshop.

When he forced his way into the premises, he found his ex-wife in her bedroom fatally injured with more than 60 stab wounds.

She had sustained significant injuries to her head and face, and her hands had been bound.

Soon after locating Ms James, Mr James also discovered that the front door of the shop was now unlocked. This suggested that someone may have been inside the address at the time of his arrival.

Two separate eyewitnesses described a man running away from the crime scene soon after Ms James had been found.

Copy picture. Thornbury bookshop murder victim Maria James answered this telephone and asked her former husband, Fitzroy town clerk, John James, to hang on. He did hang on and heard his former wife being killed. The phone was still off the hook when police arrived. Picture: Supplied
The phone inside the home that Ms James James used. Picture: Supplied

A $50,000 reward in 1980 and coronial inquests in 1982 and 2021 failed to bring to light definitive answers.

The $1m reward will be paid at the discretion of the Chief Commissioner of Police.

The Director of Public Prosecutions will consider, according to established guidelines, the granting of indemnification from prosecution to any person who provides information as to the identity of the principal offender or offenders in this matter.

“If you have information then we want to hear from you, no matter how insignificant or irrelevant you think it is,” Inspector Thomas said.

“After 44 years, Maria’s sons deserve answers and police remain as committed as ever to being able to give those to them.”