Search for answers in 40-year mystery
A police picture of O'Neill during the hunt for the body of one of his victims.

The Coroner has launched an inquiry into the suspected murder of a Kimberley boy whose family believe he was abducted by a notorious child killer in 1974.

James Patrick Taylor disappeared from Derby on August 29, 1974, after going to a local shop to buy soft drinks and lollies. A witness later told police he saw Jimmy, as he was known to his family, getting into a grey ute driven by a white man.

Years later, Jimmy's family saw a television documentary about James Ryan O'Neill, who had been in jail in Tasmania since murdering a nine-year-old boy in February 1975.

The documentary revealed that O'Neill was living in Derby in 1974.

In 2011, _The West Australian _revealed that Jimmy's family believed O'Neill had abducted and murdered Jimmy and two weeks later members of the police special crime squad went to Broome to speak to Jimmy's mother and sisters.

Yesterday, Deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker opened an inquest into Jimmy's disappearance.

It will continue in Derby in October.

O'Neill's former wife, who spoke on condition that her new name would not be revealed, said O'Neill could have murdered Jimmy in 1974. "It's very possible given what I know now, given what he was like," she said.

She said O'Neill would never admit his guilt.

"He was diagnosed as a pathological liar . . . he believes his own lies," she said.

"You could only speculate on how many children he has murdered. He was a calculating murderer, a suppressed paedophile . . . I couldn't rule out anything anywhere in Australia. My only hope is he dies before he gets let out of prison."

O'Neill, who was born Leigh Anthony Bridgart, left a trail of sexual assault allegations behind him as he moved across Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1971, as Bridgart, he skipped bail in Melbourne and moved to the Kimberley after being arrested and charged with 12 counts of abducting and indecently assaulting four boys.

There, he met the barmaid who would become his wife, telling her he was Jim O'Neill, a Melbourne accountant. They married within a few months.

"I thought I had found the love of my life," she said.

"He asked me to marry him and I did . . . it was the stupidest thing I ever did in my life. I didn't know he was on the run and wanted in Victoria."

In June, 1974, the couple moved to Derby. While O'Neill drifted between jobs, his wife worked full-time.

She said she had no idea what O'Neill did while she was at work. But she said he struck up a relationship with another young boy whom he would take on overnight camping trips.

"I didn't understand it . . . I just thought 'He gets on well with kids'," she said.

In November, the couple moved to Tasmania. On his way to pick up his wife and newborn son from hospital in February 1975, O'Neill abducted nine-year-old Ricky John Smith.

The boy was taken to remote bush and murdered.

Weeks later, O'Neill did the same to nine-year-old Bruce Colin Wilson. He was eventually arrested in May 1975 after trying to entice another group of children into his car.

O'Neill's wife filed for divorce soon after he was jailed for the term of his natural life for the murder of Ricky Smith. She also fought his attempts to be allowed prison visitation rights with his son.

She now believes having a young, pregnant wife was just a front that allowed O'Neill to avoid suspicion.

Jimmy's family was yesterday relieved that the Coroner had decided to hold an inquest.

Previously, they had been upset that police had written off Jimmy's disappearance as a case of a young boy having "gone walkabout".

Aboriginal Legal Service of WA director Peter Collins said the ALS would represent Jimmy's family at the inquest.

"ALSWA hopes that the inquest will provide some much-needed answers about his disappearance as well as providing James' family with a modicum of closure," he said.

O'Neill is in jail in Tasmania and has been refused parole several times. His lawyer did not return calls from _The Weekend West _ yesterday.

'You could only speculate on how many children he has murdered. He was a calculating murderer.' " *James O'Neill's *former wife

The West Australian

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