'No star suspect' in Vic woman's murder

·3-min read

No one stands out as a "star suspect" four decades after the unsolved brutal murder of Melbourne woman Maria James, a former police officer has told an inquest.

Ms James was stabbed 68 times, including 38 times in her back and 11 in her neck, with three wounds on her head, at her Thornbury home in June 1980.

A new inquest into the cold case murder has identified six suspects, but only one is still alive.

"I can't provide a name I would consider a star suspect," former detective senior sergeant Rowland Legg told the Victorian Coroners Court on Wednesday.

"To me no one stands out more than anyone else."

Two of the six main suspects are now-deceased Catholic priests Father Anthony Bongiorno and Thomas O'Keeffe, both accused of abusing one of Ms James' sons.

Allan Hircoe, an electrician, earlier this week told the inquest he saw blood on Father Bongiorno's hands when he did some work at the priest's church, near Ms James' home, on the day of her murder.

Another witness, Jan Sharp, described seeing a man dressed in black priest robes standing outside Ms James' residence, which was also a bookshop, that same morning.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Sharon Lacy, asked Mr Legg - now a private investigator - whether the two priests were considered suspects during the early 1980s.

"I suppose they were considered," Mr Legg responded.

"Anyone who knew her, we would consider. Would they do this? Why would they do this?

"(But) I wasn't really taken with Bongiorno. There was nothing that suggested he or the other priest (Father O'Keeffe) was involved."

Ms Lacy then asked the former police officer if Catholic priests, generally speaking, would have been subject to less scrutiny from investigators around the time of Ms James' murder.

"If a suspicion was raised, they wouldn't be treated any differently," Mr Legg said.

"They would be treated like any other person as a suspect ... even a police officer would be treated the same."

Mr Legg also said Ms James' ex-husband, John James, could not think of anyone who would want to kill the mother of his children.

"We established they were still very close ... and he didn't have any suspects at all," Mr Legg said.

Another suspect identified at the inquest is Peter Keogh, who in 1987 stabbed his former partner Vicki Cleary to death outside the kindergarten where she worked.

Authorities searched Keogh's home in August 1980, but did not seize anything, according to police records.

Keogh was dropped as a suspect after his then girlfriend - who died in 1994 - said he was with her at her Fairfield home on the day Ms James was murdered.

Police concluded there was "no evidence" Keogh knew Ms James and that no further investigation was required.

However, the woman's sister contacted police in February 1982, according to a diary entry made by Mr Legg, and said a description of the murder suspect she heard on radio "sounds like Peter Keogh".

"He is my sister's boyfriend and has threatened her with a knife," the woman said, according to Mr Legg's notes.

The inquest before Deputy State Coroner Caitlin English continues with former homicide detective Ron Iddles expected to give evidence on Thursday.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting