Inquest set for Vic mum's cold case death

·2-min read

A fresh inquest into the unsolved murder of Melbourne mother Maria James will begin in September, more than four decades after her killing.

The 38-year-old was stabbed 68 times in the home attached to a Thornbury second-hand book store where she lived with her two sons, Mark and Adam, just 13 and 11 at the time.

Her June 1980 murder was the subject of a coronial inquest two years later which found she was murdered by an unknown person.

Ms James' former husband had phoned the shop shortly before she was killed.

He heard a discussion, Ms James speaking loudly and a scream before rushing over. He arrived 15 minutes later and discovered her body.

Two years ago after changes in the law, the emergence of fresh evidence and admissions from police about bungled investigations the case was re-opened.

On Tuesday Deputy State Coroner Caitlin English revealed the scope of the new inquest, which includes a witness list of more than 30 people. Six of those witnesses have died.

Three weeks of hearings are scheduled to begin on September 6.

Counsel assisting, Sharon Lacy, said the inquest would be broken into two parts, firstly examining the cause and circumstances of Ms James' death and the identity of the person who caused her death.

Secondly it will examine the adequacy of the 1980 to 1982 investigation by Victoria Police including their management of exhibits and analysis, and lessons and changes to police practices since then.

It's believed Ms James intended to confront Catholic priest Anthony Bongiorno about the abuse of her youngest son on he day she died.

Detectives believed they had a DNA profile of her killer from a bloody pillow case, which was used to rule out Bongiorno and other suspects. But the case actually came from a different crime scene.

A coronial brief prepared by homicide detective Leigh Prados is more than 2000 pages long and includes statements from upward of 100 witnesses and 130 exhibits.

Evidence before the inquest also includes historical audio recordings of conversations and police interviews, and a contemporary interpretation of the original forensic pathology reports from the time of Ms James' death.

Ms Lacy said statements had also been taken from original homicide investigators in the case, though Ms English was told they did not include top detective Ron Iddles.

Further evidence about blood pattern analysis and internal police reviews has also been sought ahead of the inquest.

The inquiry was re-opened after Ms James' sons pushed for a fresh look into the case.