Murder suspect 'frightened' of police

·3-min read

Peter Keogh asked his girlfriend to pick up some clothes when Maria James was murdered because he thought the police were after him and was "too frightened" to go home.

Ms James, a 38-year-old mother-of-two, was stabbed 68 times around midday in June 1980 at her Thornbury home and bookstore.

A new inquest into her death has identified Keogh, who died in 2001, as one of six main suspects.

In evidence on Thursday the sister of his former girlfriend, Judy McNulty, said Keogh asked his partner to get him clothes from his Northcote flat, at the time of Ms James' murder.

"He was too frightened to go home," Dorothy Haynes, Ms McNulty's sister, told the Victorian Coroners Court.

"He wanted the flat checked out and he wanted some clothes, because he couldn't go home.

"The whole situation ... to ask to check out if the police were at his flat looking for him - it's pretty unusual, a pretty strange thing to do."

Ms Haynes said Ms McNulty, who was in a relationship with Keogh from 1979 to 1981 and died in 1994, was nervous and apprehensive when they both went to her boyfriend's flat.

Ms Haynes recalls they made this trip between 1pm and 3pm and believes it happened on the day Ms James was murdered.

And while Ms McNulty originally provided an alibi for Keogh, Ms Haynes said she found this confusing as her sister always thought her boyfriend at the time had killed Ms James.

Ms Haynes rang police in 1982 and told them she believed Keogh had killed Maria James and that he was a former butcher who liked "knives and women".

Ms Haynes on Thursday also said Keogh had once attacked Ms McNulty with a knife and would have been able to murder Ms James as he worked night shifts at a pastry factory in Fairfield when she died.

But counsel representing the James family, Adrian Anderson, said there remains no rock solid proof that Keogh had ever met Ms James or knew about her bookshop.

"From your knowledge of Peter Keogh and his relationship with your sister, do you have information that goes to that question?" Mr Anderson asked Ms Haynes.

"No, the only thing I can say is that my sister was convinced it was Peter Keogh," she responded.

Keogh stabbed his ex-girlfriend, Vicki Cleary, to death outside the kindergarten she worked at in 1987.

And the inquest has heard Ms Cleary told her boyfriend at the time of her death, Christopher Wheeler, that Keogh had threatened her with the words "I'll do to you what I did to the woman at the bookshop" when they were still together.

Other men suspected of killing Ms James include Father Anthony Bongiorno and Father Thomas O'Keeffe, both accused of abusing one of her sons.

Former detective Ron Iddles said he believed Father Bongiorno, who was seen by an electrician with blood on his hands near Ms James' home, was the number one suspect.

"I think he had the motive, the opportunity and the means," Mr Iddles said.

He described the evidence linking Keogh to the murder as "speculative" and "hearsay".

Mr Iddles conceded he could have followed up more of these links in the years before Keogh's death but said he would have been running at least 30 investigations by himself.

"We didn't have a cold case team ... I was the only one," he said.

"I've done the best that I can to give this family some resolution."

The inquest continues on Monday.

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