June 17, 1980
Around 11.30am, Maria James phones her ex-husband John James. She asks him to come over to the flat adjoining her bookshop in Thornbury, Melbourne, as she is “in a spot of bother”. Maria asks John to hold the line and is stabbed to death while he waits for her to return to the phone.
The Maria James case is Ron Iddles’ first investigation as a member of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad.
In an unusual move, the detectives run their investigation from Maria James’ bookshop.
A worker at the petrol station across the road from Maria’s bookshop tells police he saw a man wearing a blue reefer jacket enter the shop at 9.10am on the day of the murder.
The image of this man entering the bookshop is released to the media and locals identify him as Mario Falcucci.
The detectives visit Mario Falcucci and collect circumstantial evidence, including hayband similar to that used to tie up Maria’s wrists.
A woman says she saw a hairy-armed man run out of the shop on the day of the murder.
A man also reports having seen the hairy-armed man running up nearby Hutton Street and crossing the railway line. The hairy-armed man does not resemble Mario Falcucci.
The detectives learn that Maria had allegedly been having an affair with a Telecom worker. The police track down a Telecom worker who used to buy books from Maria, but he denies killing her.
He commits suicide a few days after speaking to police.
Detective Brian Ritchie asks the parish priest, Father Anthony Bongiorno, if Maria had spoken of her affair in the confessional. The priest refuses to co-operate.
After approximately three months at the bookshop, Ron and the crew return to the office.
They still have at least ten potential suspects, and investigate the Maria James’ murder in between other cases, but it remains unsolved.
Father Anthony Bongiorno is acquitted of paedophilia charges involving three boys aged between eight and ten.
Accepting the evidence that Father Bongiorno was a paedophile, the Victorian government awards compensation to his victims.
Ron Iddles is running a cold case unit at the Homicide Squad and DNA is now an investigative tool. Aware of a pillowcase from the Maria James’ crime scene with the killer’s blood on it, Ron checks the blood against DNA from the living suspects to inculpate or exculpate them. He cannot test the Telecom worker’s DNA as he had been cremated.
Mario Falcucci is eliminated on the basis of DNA.
Parish priest Father Anthony Bongiorno dies.
2006 – 2007
All other living suspects are also eliminated through DNA.
Journalist Keith Moor from the Herald Sun writes an article linking paedophile priest Father Bongiorno to Maria James.
Maria’s younger son, Adam James, reveals that Father Bongiorno had sexually molested him; that he had told his mother; and that she was going to do something about it.
Ron realises Father Bongiorno had a motive for murder: to silence Maria James so she could not reveal his secret.
Ron asks Father Bongiorno’s sister for a DNA sample but she refuses.
Ron seeks permission from the Coroners Court to exhume Father Bongiorno’s body for DNA testing. His request is denied.
After reading an article in the newspaper about Maria’s murder, an electrician comes forward to say he saw Father Bongiorno with blood on his hands on the day of Maria’s murder.
Ron retires from the Homicide Squad.
Victoria Police discover the DNA testing from 2001 was bungled.
The bloodied pillowcase used in the test came from a different crime scene altogether, not the Maria James murder. The exhibit bags had been mixed up.
This means the suspects who were eliminated through DNA are all back in the frame.
The Maria James murder remains unsolved.