Woman saw man bolt from Maria James' home

·3-min read

Lorna Agosta has never forgotten the moment she saw a man bolt out of the home where Melbourne mother Maria James was brutally murdered four decades ago.

Ms Agosta was on her way to the dentist when a "not bad looking" man, perhaps in his 40s, ran out of the Thornbury home where Ms James, 38, was killed in June 1980.

Ms James had been stabbed 68 times, including 38 times in her back and 11 in her neck, with three wounds on her head.

The crime was never solved.

"This is constantly on my mind all the time - for 41 years," Ms Agosta told a new inquest into Ms James' murder on Thursday.

Ms Agosta chose not to make a police statement that week in 1980 as her family lived and worked in the area and she was afraid of possible repercussions.

"I didn't know who this man was and who he would know," she told the Victorian Coroners Court.

"It's been my nightmare ... saying nothing because my family might be in danger.

"It troubles me because perhaps we should have jumped up and down as soon as it happened, but we had children at the local school."

Ms Agosta said the man had olive skin and smooth, slicked-back hair. He slammed the door, ran out of Ms James' home like a "flash" and then nearly got hit by a car.

"The car slammed its brakes and he threw his hands on the bonnet as he ran past," Ms Agosta said.

"He was pretty fit because he could really run."

The woman whose car bumped the man, Jeanette Hodson, asked to speak directly to Ms James' son Mark before she gave evidence at the inquest.

"I've waited 40 years to say how I'm sorry for what happened to your beautiful mother," Ms Hodson told Mark James.

"I hope the coroner can get some sort of satisfaction for you."

Ms Hodson recalled the running man wore a gold ring and that she could read his lips saying "sorry" as he brushed her car.

They locked eyes for a few seconds after she nearly ran him over. But she can't remember what he looked like.

"As much as it's haunted me for all these years, that face has gone from me," Ms Hodson said.

Another driver at the scene, Peter Wilson, said he saw a man running down the street with "blood down his shirt to his waist."

Mr Wilson also said he gave his details to Crimestoppers after the incident but never heard back.

Six main suspects have been identified during the inquest, but only one is still alive - a real estate agent who was having an affair with Ms James at the time of her death.

Other suspects include two priests, Father Anthony Bongiorno and Father Thomas O'Keeffe, who have both since died, and have been accused of molesting Ms James' son Adam on the weekend before the murder.

Ms Agosta said she knew what Father Bongiorno looked like and was sure he wasn't the man she saw.

However, Mr Wilson said he believed the man he saw was Father Bongiorno.

The inquest before Deputy State Coroner Caitlin English continues on Friday.

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