“The rules of logic are like the rules of mathematics. They are an inherent and immutable property of existence, not opinions.” The Rules of Logic
THE MARIA JAMES MURDER: TWO MURDERERS – PART 2
That headline should read “Police Centimeters Away From Murderer”
Yes, that is one of the murderers talking to police within a couple of hours of murdering Maria James inside. He got away with it through a cover-up and an extraordinary run of luck.
The article below from The Age June 18th 1980 accompanied the photograph above-
In Part 1, we introduced the fact that Allan Hircoe’s testimony to Victoria Police in 2014 made 3 conclusions logically clear:
- Fr Anthony Bongiorno was guilty of the murder of Maria James.
- There were two murderers.
- Given the first two facts, Fr Thomas O’Keeffe was far and away Bongiorno’s most likely accomplice.
The fact that Victoria Police since 2014 could not or would not put these conclusions together and present them to the public raises some important questions. We will be addressing these questions in the following instalments.
This instalment will look further into the logistics of how the murder took place and the movements of the principal characters before and after the murder and what these movements mean. The logistics and the logic behind them will also shore up the case for the three conclusions listed immediately above and that were established in Part 1
What is publicly known about the case is written in ordinary black text.
Where the authors have inserted likely suppositions from the known facts, you will read this in italics.
The italicised text in boxes are explanations using abductive, inductive and/or deductive logic.
For those interested, it might be valuable to read the story through the first time without reading what is in the boxes. This will give you a fairly quick overview which will be helpful. Then go through it again reading it all. The story is quite simple but because there are multiple things happening at once, the choreography and their implications takes some time to master. So take your time!
BEFORE THE MURDER
8:00-8:30 am Maria phones the Thornbury Presbytery
We know that Maria phoned the Thornbury presbytery where Bongiorno and O’Keeffe were living that morning and it was probably around the time of 8:30am as it was before she put Adam on his school bus. She arranged to meet Bongiorno that morning to discuss his molestation of Adam. We know this from Adam’s testimony (Trace ep2).
10:00 am Maria returns home
Maria bought a cake on the way back from seeing Adam off to school saying to someone in the bakery that she was expecting a visitor that morning. Maria went to the bank and was seen returning home around 10 am.
11:00 am Bongiorno is identified standing in front of the bookshop
In the Trace Bonus episode, we hear witness (Louise) say that she saw Bongiorno lingering outside the bookshop at around 11am. Bongiorno walked off towards the city (and St Mary’s) to the south.
|Bongiorno was outside Maria’s bookshop waiting for O’Keeffe to show up.
They had to go into the bookshop together because they needed to lock the door behind them as they would not want their conversation with Maria overheard by a customer. If Bongiorno went in and locked the door behind him, O’Keeffe would not be able to enter the bookshop. If Bongiorno went in and left the door open, a customer may have entered the shop before O’Keeffe arrived. So they needed to go into the shop together while the shop was empty of customers and lock the door behind them.
11:55 am John James returns Maria’s call
Maria phoned her ex-husband, John James, just before Bongiorno and O’Keeffe arrived. She hangs up after asking John’s secretary to ask him to call her back. The priests promptly arrive and by the time John James returns her call, she is engaged in conversation with Bongiorno.
|O’Keeffe had a long standing habit of sneaking around and ‘eaves-dropping’ on people. It is likely that he hid within the shop at first and then entered the residence without Maria’s awareness once Bongiorno had engaged Maria in conversation. O’Keeffe would have been keen to not remain in the shop as he might be seen from the street through the front door. He would also be keen to hear how the conversation was going. Remember he was very adept at moving around without people’s awareness. |
Maria asked her ex-husband to hold the line. She placed the telephone on the table and returned to her conversation. This is odd behaviour to leave a caller on the line unless she wanted John James to hear what was being said without Bongiorno knowing he was being listened to. Unfortunately, their conversation was too far away from the telephone receiver for John James to distinguish the words being spoken. John did, however, hear Maria, give a startled yelp.
This could be explained by O’Keeffe startling her by sneaking up behind her, as was his habit. John shortly afterwards heard a second cry and then silence. He realised something was very wrong. So wrong, in fact, that he left his work immediately to drive to Maria’s shop.
Maria was found to have three injuries to her head. The second yelp then silence could be explained by Maria being struck from behind on the head.
|She was struck twice more, perhaps before she was then dragged down the hall to her bedroom away from the window at the rear of the residence. Or she may have ran down the hallway. The door into the shop, which opened inwards into the hallway, would likely to have been closed by O’Keeffe when he moved into the residence. (We know it was closed immediately after the murder because John James and the customer saw the curtains move on the closed door.) If this was the case then it is likely she was caught and was then struck twice more on the head rendering her unconscious or semi-conscious. A third option is that Maria, seeing the door into the shop was closed, opted to run into her bedroom hoping to lock the bedroom door behind her. This is Ron Iddles’ preferred option. |
Whichever way it happened, Maria ended up on her bedroom floor with her hands tied together in front of her and dead from 68 stab wounds. There were wounds to her back and from her upper chest to her groin area. There was blood on her bed and two pillows were on the floor; one by her head and one by her feet. They may have been used to cushion the killers’ knees as they knelt beside her systematically stabbing her front and back. While the number of stab wounds indicate a rage on the part of the killers, there is also a cold calculatedness about the scene, too; a familiarity with what they were doing.
The killers would have been covered in blood. Indeed, Bongiorno was seen with blood on his hands, on an arm and on his face. But O’Keeffe was seen fleeing the shop by a few people and none of them noticed any blood on him. He was seen wearing a white shirt and as he was described as having hairy arms; his shirt sleeves were obviously rolled up. He did not have blood on his white shirt. How could he manage this? There is a possible explanation.
CRIME SCENE – SCHEMATIC OF MARIA JAMES’ HOME
Maria’s bedroom, where her body was found, is the (only) bedroom to the right of the central passage. The large room marked “living” nearest the street at the bottom of the diagram was the bookshop at the time of the murder. The door between the shop/living room and the passageway into the residence had a glass panel and a covering curtain over the glass.
The french doors opening from the now ‘living’ room onto a walkway and the gate from the walkway to the street were not there when it was a shop. The front door opened directly from the center of the shop onto the street. The “Decking” at the rear of the shop was not there either. The window at the rear of the residence was much less in area than shown in the diagram. The smaller window at the time was roughly in line with the passageway. Otherwise, I am reliably informed, the layout of rooms is as it was at the time of the murder.
Note: The toilet and the bath are separate rooms.The bathroom opens onto the hallway and the toilet opens onto the dining area towards the back of the residence.
AFTER THE MURDER
NOTE: The following is speculative but it fits with the information that we have. Conclusions are arrived at logically and the reasoning is demonstrated. The authors are unaware of any evidence pointing to an alternative scenario but this is not to say there might be other possible scenarios. But what we propose fits logically with the confirmed information plus it is in accordance with what we know about the character and behaviour of the murderers.
12:00 pm – 12:30 pm (est.) Bongiorno and O’Keeffe clean up after the murder and John James breaks in through the back window
O’Keeffe and Bongiorno move from the bedroom to the bathroom to clean themselves up before leaving the premises. This may have occurred before or after John James first arrived. One of them, O’Keeffe, is cut and needs to dress his wound. O’Keeffe goes into the bathroom, removes his coat, rolls up his shirt sleeves and begins to clean himself up. Bongiorno, depending on whether John has arrived or not, either waits outside the bathroom door (it is a small room) or finds some place to stay out of sight of the back window.
The Murder Weapon
Ron Iddles says that it is most often the case in multiple stabbings that the killer will cut himself because his bloody hand will slip down the knife and onto the blade. If you look at the murder weapon, you can see how this is very likely to have happened. The knife is designed for slicing and not piercing so the point is not sharpened to easily facilitate this. Pushing this knife through clothing will take some force. There is no hilt or guard to prevent the hand from slipping down on to the blade
|We can deduce quite a bit from the fact that O’Keeffe was seen by witnesses as he fled the scene of the murder without having blood over him. And also the fact that Bongiorno was seen at the presbytery covered in blood. |
O’Keeffe must have cleaned himself up after the murder. To do that he would have had to go to the bathroom. Bongiorno was still covered in blood so we can say he did not go to the bathroom. He, of course, like O’Keeffe would have preferred not to go out into the street covered in blood and so attract attention to himself. It proved critical not to do so, in fact.
The only reason he would not have cleaned himself up in the bathroom before John James arrived would be because O’Keeffe was still in there. So we now know where O’Keeffe was hiding when John James entered the residence.
Why did O’Keeffe go first in the bathroom and not Bongiorno? The reason is because O’Keeffe had cut himself during the stabbing of Maria and so he had a bleeding wound which would take priority. It needed to be bandaged.
Leaving aside the recent story from the police about the ‘bungled DNA sample’ because it is highly questionable and going back to the original and most probably correct story that they had the blood of a male from the murder scene, we can say that one of the murderers cut himself. That being the case, then the one with the bleeding wound would be the one to enter the bathroom first to clean himself up and bandage the cut.
O’Keeffe left the shop without blood on him while Bongiorno left covered in blood.
So we know that O’Keeffe was the one who used the bathroom. Therefore he is the one with the wound and therefore the blood sample the police have/had is O’Keeffe’s.
It was only after the Trace Podcast’s Rachael Brown started looking for ways to secure a DNA sample of O’Keeffe and was then offered clothing items of O’Keeffe’s deceased twin brother that the police announced that the DNA sample that they had was from another case. Thus a match with O’Keeffe’s DNA was scuttled.
We will return to the police’s strange utterances and behaviour surrounding the issue of DNA samples mysteriously appearing and disappearing in a later instalment.
12:15 pm (est.) John James arrives at the bookshop
Suddenly there is a banging and rattling at the front door of the shop. Bongiorno goes down the hall and peeks through the curtain covering the glass panel in the door from the residence. John James and another person see the curtain move. John then runs to the side street (Mansfield St), down the back walkway and into the backyard and up to the back door of the residence. The door is locked. Bongiorno obviously is hiding inside somewhere out of sight.
John James runs back and forth between the front and back doors a few times. During this time, John makes a call to the shop from a neighbour’s phone. As he would have run past the Real Estate office on the corner and the shop in between that and Maria’s shop appears unoccupied, it is reasonable to assume John called from there. Maria’s phone was engaged as the receiver was still ‘off the hook’.
Somewhere during this time Bongiorno hides in the toilet still covered in Maria’s blood. Presumably O’Keeffe did not want Bongiorno in the bathroom with him (it is a small room) and he hurriedly dresses his wound and continues to clean himself up.
12:30 pm (est.) John James enters the residence
Finally, John James breaks a window in the rear of the residence, climbs in and immediately goes to the back door to unlock it and leaves it open in case he needs to run out in a hurry. He moves slowly down the hall to Maria’s bedroom to find her dead on the floor.
12:32 pm (est.) Bongiorno flees out the back door
While John James is staring at Maria’s dead body, Bongiorno leaves his hiding place in the toilet and flees out the open back door which is opposite, through the back gate into the walkway, across Mansfield St, through the church property and around to the front of the presbytery to find himself covered in blood and facing Mr Allan Hircoe.
|Bongiorno would have been able to leave the residence without being seen because the toilet door faces the back door and both would be out of the line of sight of John James who is down the hallway. The rear gate would also be out of sight from the hallway. |
Bongiorno had to have left via the back door. The only way he could leave through the front door would be after John left via the back door. In which case Bongiorno would have run smack bang into John as he rounded the corner into Mansfield St. Besides, only one man was seen leaving the shop by the front door and that man did not have blood all over him. Further, a witness (Laura – Trace Bonus Ep) who knew Bongiorno, identified the man fleeing from the front of the shop as not being Bongiorno.
Alternatively, if he followed John out the back door, Bongiorno would have been taking a huge risk that John James would not look behind him or stop and go back.
To cut through the church property as he did, and for all of the above reasons, Bongiorno could only have left via the back door and the safest and obvious time to do that would have been while John James was still in the residence. The only room Bongiorno could do that from without being seen is from the toilet.
The toilet door faced the open back door and out of the line of sight from the hallway.
If Bongiorno was somehow hiding in another room, it would make much more sense for him to leave via the front door with O’Keeffe after John James had left the premises through the back door. But only one man left via the front door so he didn’t do that. We are then left with the only possibility being that Bongiorno was hiding in the toilet and left via the back door and while John was still in the premises.
12:35 pm (est.) O’Keeffe flees out the front door
We can also say with confidence that O’Keeffe was not in the toilet with him because he would have left at the same time with Bongiorno. But he didn’t. Instead, we know he left via the front door. So O’Keeffe and Bongiorno were hiding in different rooms. Indeed, we have already placed O’Keeffe in the bathroom. We can also say that O’Keeffe was still in the bathroom when John James entered the premises because if he wasn’t, Bongiorno would have availed himself of the opportunity to enter the bathroom and clean himself up even at that late time. So Bongiorno was in the toilet and O’Keeffe was in the bathroom. It is reasonable to assume that both the toilet and bathroom doors had locks on them.
O’Keeffe could only have left the shop/residence through the front door after John James had left via the back door to go and phone the police otherwise he would have been seen by John. O’Keeffe would have had to walk past him.
CRIME SCENE – ANNOTATED SCHEMATIC OF MARIA JAMES’ HOME
Bongiorno (in blue) leaves first out the back door after John James (in orange) has moved down the hallway to Maria’s bedroom. John James leaves next returning up the hallway and out the back door. O’Keeffe (in green) leaves last out the front door immediately after John James has left the residence.
|It has been suggested that O’Keeffe could have left while John is breaking through the back window but he would have had to emerge from his hiding place in the bathroom and move into the relatively well lit kitchen area and then into the hall and also into John James’ line of sight all the way. The window at the back of the house (incorrectly described as the kitchen window) was in a direct line with the hallway. |
The hallway would have been dark if he had managed to get into it without John seeing him somehow, but once the door into the shop was opened, light from the shop would have highlighted his figure and silhouetted it against that light. O’Keeffe would have been seen.
We would also have to accept that O’Keeffe quietly closed the internal hall/shop door after himself but yet flung open the front door as he raced through it. That door either slammed open or shut, probably open. Either way, John James would have heard it.
If the hall/shop internal door was open when John James came down the hall he would have noticed it because it was closed earlier. If the front door to the street was open when John James came down the hall, it is highly likely that John would have noticed it because of the street noise. John’s hearing would have been on high alert. High St is a very busy thoroughfare as it is a major traffic route. There are trams as well.
People, especially women, tend to leave doors as they find them. When John James returned to the front of the shop from phoning the police, he found the front door open and a woman customer inside. It was a cold, showery, blustery day. It is far more likely that the woman customer found the front door open rather than closed. Not many people open a closed door on a day like that and leave it open.
So O’Keeffe was still in the residence and specifically in the bathroom when John came down the hall.
He could not have left the bathroom to follow Bongiorno out the back door because he would have had to step into John’s line of sight from the hallway. He could not even afford to poke his head out to see where John was. He was trapped in the bathroom and would have had to wait till he heard John walk past the bathroom and out the back door.
Once John James leaves via the back door to phone for the police from a neighbours (probably the Real Estate agency again), O’Keeffe has a very short time to make his getaway. One wonders what would have happened if John had decided to ring the police from the phone in the residence.
O’Keeffe would have been aware that John had gone from the front to the back a few times and he would not know if he was going to go around to High St in front of the shop again. If O’Keeffe hesitated, he could not know where John would be but if he left straight away he would know John was not out the front, at least. But he had a very limited time; seconds would count. So he raced from the front door and sprinted across the street without even looking for traffic and down Hutton street which was away from the safety of the presbytery but more importantly it was also away from the danger of running into John James.
12:45 pm (est.) O’Keeffe ducks under boom gates at Hutton St. train station
O’Keeffe could have circled back to the presbytery by running down the access lane behind the shops (unnamed street just visible in the photograph) or by going down Stott St further up Hutton St and back around to High St but further south and away from the shop. But he didn’t. We know this because a railway employee saw him duck under the operating boom gates past Stott St. He was going somewhere else. But where? Where would he find safety?
Click on photograph for full resolution. North is to the left of the picture. The two parallel white lines either side of the tracks to the left of the roadway and the boom gates are the painted white edges of the railway platforms. They extend up to the roadway.
|First question is, “Why would he draw attention to himself (which he did) by ducking under a railway boom gate in operation? There was no one pursuing him on foot. There must have been a train approaching because the gates were in operation and Thornbury station is very close to the crossing. |
So the only reason to risk being noticed would be to catch that train. It must have been a north bound train as well. A south bound train could be caught without having to cross the tracks. (Note for North American readers – cars, trams and trains all travel on the left in Australia. So a north bound train would be to the west and on the far track from High St but closest to the camera.)
So what is north of Thornbury station that might provide a place of safety?
Well, the next station is Bell and not far across the road from Bell station is Immaculate Heart College. This school is now run by the Christian Brothers and is called Parade College but in 1980 it was run by the Marist Brothers and the principal was one Mr Gregory Coffey, a serial paedophile who offended from the early 70’s well into the ’90’s.
I think it reasonable to assume that O’Keeffe knew Coffey and knew that he was a paedophile and perhaps was even a member of his satanic cult. This would be a place of safety and by far the closest safe (Catholic) haven.
The map below is from 1982. Immaculate Heart College (a.k.a. Marist Brothers School/College or Marist Brothers Preston) is seen in the upper right and Maria’s shop and Thornbury station are seen in lower left of the map.
Mid afternoon Sometime before school closure Bongiorno picks up Mark James at Immaculate Heart School
Now it just so happened that this is the school that Maria’s elder son, Mark, was attending. And it just so happened that the police asked Bongiorno later that afternoon (instead of the father, John James, who was there and hardly a murder suspect) to go and collect Mark James from this same school and inform him of his mother’s death. Three policewomen were sent to pick up Adam James from his school. Why was Bongiorno asked to pick up Mark James? And who suggested it?
Why not John James or even one or two of the three policewomen? Why didn’t one of the policewomen go with Bongiorno?
We know that when Bongiorno collected Mark, he also went to see this paedophile principal. Coffey had a rap sheet a mile long!
The smirking Gregory Coffey
From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald Jan 13th 2013 we have this quote:-
“Brother Gregory Vincent Coffey, who pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent assault against two students in 1976 and 1977 at Immaculate Heart College in Preston”
So this guy is convicted of sexually assaulting two students under his care while employed by the Marist Brothers. What do you think his Marist Brothers bosses do? Fire him? No, you would be wrong if you thought that. They kept him on and promoted him to vice principal the next year in 1978. In 1980 they promoted him from vice principal to principal and he is now running the school. How is this not a paedophile organisation masquerading as an educational organisation?
The usual excuse is that people didn’t understand the damage done to children ‘back then’. But that is simply not true. Up until 1954, it was a hangable offence in Victoria to rape a child. People knew exactly the gravity of the crime and the danger the paedophile posed to the community. So how should we view the magistrate that let repeat offender Coffey off with a slap on the wrist? How do we view the Marist Brothers?
|I think it is very likely that O’Keeffe was in this paedophile principal’s office and that Bongiorno took him a change of clothes and brought him up to speed as to what was happening with the police. |
It would have been a simple matter to arrange. A phone call to the Thornbury presbytery would be all it would take. O’Keeffe would have been busting to find out what was happening with Bongiorno and if the police suspected either of them. O’Keeffe likely made another phone call; to the cathedral.
It is worth noting here that the police went to the presbytery to see the parish priest. They saw the assistant parish priest instead. Given that we know Bongiorno had just murdered Maria, don’t you think he would have preferred that O’Keeffe, as the senior priest, would have seen the policeman instead (if he was there)? But O’Keeffe wasn’t there, that’s why Bongiorno had to talk to the police.
The cops were questioning Bongiorno about hearing Maria’s confession or maybe the killer’s confession without luck. But where is the senior parish priest and why aren’t the cops questioning him, too? Or, at least, you would think the police would be appealing to him about Bongiorno’s intransigence. He’s not there, that’s why. And no one seems to be asking where he is or remarking on his absence.
We know that around this time in 1980, there existed a group of very corrupt policemen within Victoria Police that covered up the crimes of the Catholic priesthood. These crimes included multiple child rapes. This group has been called “The Catholic Mafia” and followed the dictates of the Catholic hierarchy. This has been admitted to by none other than the current Chief commissioner of Victoria Police, Graham Ashton.
Denis Ryan, former policeman and a campaigner for priests to be charged with their crimes, told the Royal Commission into sexual abuse, “The common law of the police force was not to charge a priest, short of murder.” It would seem that this did not hold true in the case of Maria James. Why would it stop short of murder, anyway, considering the heinousness of the crimes that were routinely being covered up?
The usual drill for a priest in trouble was to make a call to the cathedral offices and before too long the arresting police officer was told by his superior to release the priest. Often one or two priests would turn up at the police station to escort their brother priest away from the clutches of the law.
From the above article linked in the box immediately above:-
“When he was arrested (for sexually assaulting six boys – ed.) the priest rang a bishop and by the time the detectives had taken him to the watchhouse a senior policeman was waiting.
He told the investigators he required a brief of evidence before the priest could be charged. They countered that they had enough to lock him up immediately. The senior man ordered they release him and complete the brief for review. When they did it was not authorised and the priest was never charged.”
“When the priest was arrested on the day before Good Friday, he made one phone call – to Archbishop George Pell.
‘By the time we got the priest back to the station, a QC had already rung to say he was representing him and told him to make no comment,’ said one of the investigators.”
It would be extraordinary if O’Keeffe and/or Bongiorno did not make that call to the cathedral office. And it would also be extraordinary if someone in the church hierarchy did not then telephone someone senior in the ranks of the police to put the fix in and send the message down the line. Where would that line end?
An obvious choice would be the head of the Homicide squad as they were the squad that would be carrying out the investigation. At the time, the head of the homicide squad was Inspector Paul Delianis, known amongst his colleagues as “The Golden Greek”.
Delianis had not long taken over the job from his previous post as head of the notorious Armed Robbery Squad. The ‘Armed Rob Squad’ was a household name in Victoria during the 1970’s. I know; I was there in the 70’s. It was so bad (there were many rumours of Squad members forcing criminals to carry out armed robberies on their behalf) that the squad was broken up and it’s members were dispersed throughout the force and throughout Victoria (reminiscent of the Catholic Church’s behavior); dispersed, that is, except for Paul Delianis “and one or two others”, which is very curious.
We will hear more about Paul Delianis from McJ in the next instalment which will detail some of the endemic, even ubiquitous, corruption, including murder, throughout Victoria Police during the last half century and particularly during this time of the 70’s and 80’s. Corruption that let the Catholic Church get away with its own murder (metaphorically speaking, of course!)
Epilogue and Authors’ Note
For those who have had quite enough ‘darkness’, I suggest you do not continue reading. For those that have had quite enough darkness but are drawn like moths to a flame to understand this brutal murder and what it means, read on.
(BTW, it is a natural desire to understand such catastrophic events for our own (and our children’s) future survival. It is an unconscious drive within most of us. Of course, this is then combated by our universal sense of revulsion and horror at someone, whom we might identify with, even as just another human being, being treated in this literally inhuman manner. This all sets up an inner conflict and stress. So you might be experiencing this.)
We know why Maria was killed now and by whom but we don’t know why she was killed in this particularly brutal and bizarre manner. Dismissing it as an act of rage doesn’t quite explain it. Certainly rage was evident but there seems to be more to it. As was said earlier, there is a certain cold calculation involved.
The spontaneous ‘rage’ does not explain why Maria’s hands were bound with her being either unconscious or dead. It does not explain why Maria was apparently in fear for her life. She twice said to her elder son, Mark, to look after Adam should anything happen to her; once a couple of days before her murder and again on the very morning of her murder.
Maria’s murder was initially described as a ritual killing by the police and then later this was dismissed. The authors believe it was indeed a ritual killing; one that was not only satanic but had distinct Italian elements to it.
Maria was born to Italian parents from Calabria, Italy. The Italian immigrant community was plagued by an organisation, also from Calabria, called the ‘Ndrangheta (pronounced with the emphasis on ‘drang’ as in – en-DRANG-geta) – the Italian Mafia, the largest criminal organisation in Australia (if you leave aside some prominent institutions).
But first, let’s construct a possible scenario of the murder that accounts for all the puzzling aspects of the killing and then offer an historical explanation for the ritualistic elements of it.
O’Keeffe surprises Maria with his sudden appearance but she is still not intimidated with now two priests trying to face her down. O’Keeffe sees the kitchen knife in its ‘stay-sharp’ scabbard on the bench and removes it from its scabbard. At this point, O’Keeffe has decided to kill Maria. We can say this because he has participated or been present at many killings involving knives and other blades (Trace Ep 3). He’s not messing around and has no inhibitions.
But if O’Keeffe simply wanted her dead, why didn’t he stab Maria in the heart there and then, or more messily, slit her throat and quickly leave via the back door and down the walkway to the St Mary’s property? Simple . . . for a man of O’Keeffe’s abilities. From the beginning, though, it seems he had other plans.
Maria runs down the hallway and seeing the door to the shop closed (it opens inwards) decides to go into her bedroom which has a lock on it (Trace Ep 1). O’Keeffe and Bongiorno are too close behind her though and enter the bedroom with her. Maria flings herself onto the bed followed by one of the priests and is stabbed multiple times in the back.
Somewhere from Maria seeing the knife in O’Keeffe’s hand to being stabbed on the bed, she is struck three times on her head. Maria is now face down on the bed either dead or dying. There is blood all over her quilted bed cover (which mysteriously disappeared later from police custody – see video at 7:58).
O’Keeffe and Bongiorno lift Maria’s body off the bed by grabbing her hands and feet (the easiest way to move her) and put her on the floor beside the bed placing two pillows at her head and feet to kneel on.
They then proceed to stab her multiple times from her upper chest to her groin area. They now bind Maria’s hands in front of her (the police and the Coroner agreed she was bound while either unconscious or dead). It would make sense to tie her hands after they had finished stabbing her torso. Given that there are two of them, the priests would find it easiest to move her by grasping her by the wrists and ankles. Tying her hands before moving her would only make this more difficult. The only reason for tying her hands afterwards (or at all) would be for ritual reasons.
If she was tied up to restrain her, either then or earlier, we would see evidence of bruising from struggling. She would also much more likely to be tied with her hands behind her. It would be easier and make more sense to do this with a conscious and struggling woman – pin her down on the floor while they tie her hands behind her. Maria was not the type of person to quietly submit. No bruising on Maria’s wrists tells us this didn’t happen. So she was tied up after she was dead. Therefore, again, Maria could only have been tied up for ritual reasons and not for reasons of restraint or for moving her.
Maria was found with her right leg bent under her left leg which was straight out. From Trace Ep1, 15:15 – Maria James is described as lying face up with “her right leg tucked up behind her, her wrists are bound and rest on her stomach”
If she was picked up from the bed by her feet, her feet would be put down beside each other. So this placement of her right leg behind her left leg was deliberately done. In the process of ‘staging’ Maria’s body, the murderers were probably interrupted by John James’ arrival given the time constraints.
Bongiorno peeks through the internal door’s curtain to see John James at the front door, announces to O’Keefe that they have trouble and O’Keeffe bolts for the bathroom . . . and the rest is covered in the report above.
The image of someone killed with their hands bound and one leg bent under the other is that of “The Hanged Man”. Usually, but not always, the hands are tied behind the back but this would be too awkward in Maria’s case. Also the leg is bent at a distinct angle to the straight leg. Usually, but not always, it is the left leg that is tucked behind the right. The other leg is straight because that is the one the whole body is being hung from.
“The Hanged Man” is most often known as a Major Arcana card in the Tarot and it has a few meanings in that context. But it also has a lesser known and distinctly Italian criminal context and meaning. It is the sign of the traitor. In Italy, in days gone by, it was how a traitor was killed and whom you wanted to leave as a message to others. To terrorise them, in other words.
The Hanged Man (XII) is the twelfth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks. It is used in game playing as well as in divination.
It depicts a pittura infamante (pronounced [pitˈtuːra iɱfaˈmante]), an image of a man being hung upside-down by one ankle. This method of hanging was a common punishment at the time for traitors in Italy.
So it is an act of vengeance against the victim and also a warning to others in the community.
The Hanged Man was originally named The Traitor. It can also be read as a necessary sacrifice. Another interpretation is the devil or satan because it symbolizes reversal. It forms the outline of the reverse alchemical symbol for sulphur – a downward pointing triangle beneath a cross.
So how do we get from the Italy of centuries ago to a Thornbury, Melbourne bookshop in 1980?
“The Traitor” would be part of Italian folklore passed down through the generations. It would be unthinkable that modern day ‘Ndrangheta would be unaware of it.
The ‘Ndrangheta came to Australia with the Italian immigrant influx after WW11 and set up shop in Melbourne at the wholesale fruit and vegetable market where is still exists to this day. Anthony Bongiorno worked at his father’s ‘fruit shop’ which seems to have consisted of a stall at the wholesale market before training to be a priest. The wholesale market and the produce farms were the main supply channel for marijuana from the swinging sixties onwards. All settlement for all business at the market was done in cash.
ABC 4Corners show did an excellent two part TV report on the ‘Ndrangheta in 2015 – First part and Second part
The Bongiorno family did get rather rich rather quickly in one generation. The Bongiorno family have not been connected to the ‘Ndrangheta, as far as I know. I’m sure they were remarkably good at buying and selling apples and oranges.
But in any case, Anthony Bongiorno would very likely be aware of the killing method of “The Traitor” because he worked in the market amongst these criminals. The ‘Ndrangheta’s first victims are their own ethnic brethren through extortion and intimidation. So word would spread amongst the Italian community about this and many other practices of the Mafia.
Maria, being of Italian immigrant parents and having lived in a community of many Italians would also have known a lot about the ‘Ndrangheta and their behaviour. It would be self preservation for this community to share what they knew about these predators between each other.
Did she connect Bongiorno with the ‘Ndrangheta and was this the source of her fears for her life? It would seem the most logical reason and, in fact, there has been no other reason proffered to account for her fear; for how the body was staged and for why all the stab wounds and the manner that they were inflicted.
Was the method of killing meant to be a message to others whom Maria might have talked to in the Italian community? From circumstantial evidence the authors have, it seems that Maria did talk to at least one person; apparently not an Italian. So why not others? Is this why others have not come forward in 37 years.
There’s lots of possibilities connected in the above scenario. It is by no means anywhere near certain . . . but it is feasible. It fits with what we know about the circumstances of the murder and the character and thinking of the murderers. It is the only explanation that we have so far that accounts for all the known facts despite how bizarre it may sound. But this murder, and everything else surrounding it, is nothing if not bizarre.
So, we shall finish up this investigation as we started it with a saying about logic. There is a principle in logic and philosophy known as “Occam’s Razor” and it is this; the simplest explanation (of all the explanations) that fits all the known facts is the most likely to be the truth.
Note – “the simplest explanation” does not mean the most familiar one.
The above Epilogue was published with Part 2 when it was first put up but no sooner had I published it, I came across extra information that was at first confusing and that may have contradicted the murder scenario that I had proposed. Just when you think this case can’t get more bizarre, it does!
So I removed the Epilogue until I had sorted this issue out. I have now been better able to understand this new information and it does not, in my opinion, call into question my proposed murder scenario. I have now reinstated the original epilogue as it was and will simply add this new (to me) information.
I came across this article written in 2014
which briefly described how Maria had been held down using, of all things, a potato masher from her kitchen against the side of her face. There was a picture of the masher in another article from 2017 and also, I was later to realise, a picture of Maria’s face underneath the masher. It was obviously a Coroner’s picture that had been released by the police.
The picture can be viewed at this page if you need to see it. There is no added information in this article regarding the potato masher, just the picture (which is quite strange to my mind).
I am confident now that the masher was used on Maria, not so much to restrain her because the picture indicates that she was already dead, but to brand her for some symbolic or occultic reason.
These satanists, and O’Keeffe at least was definitely a satanist, may be insane at some level but at another level they are highly rational. Whatever they do, they do for a reason. However mad it might be, there is always a reason. In that sense, they are more rational than most ordinary people who operate so much more randomly or unthinkingly in their daily lives. While we just live a lot of the time, they are constantly plotting and manoeuvring.
I am no forensic pathologist but my reasoning for thinking Maria was dead before her face was pressed down with the potato masher is that the outline of the marking on her face from the masher is very sharp against her otherwise pasty looking skin. The implement has obviously been pressed down very hard and has broken the capillary veins forcing blood up to the surface layer of skin.
Had her heart been pumping, blood would have flowed through the broken capillaries and into the surrounding skin causing bruising and discolouration and the sharp outline seen under the masher would be lost. So this, like the tying of her wrists which showed no bruising, was done after Maria was dead and for the same ritual or symbolic reasons.
A possible reason for this deliberate marking, and it is only a guess, is that some women in these cults are actually branded with a hot iron. It is done as a mark of ownership either to the cult leader or to satan or to both. Perhaps our two mad satanic priests thought they were exerting ownership over Maria and her life for themselves or for satan. But who knows? (Be sure to read the added information in McJ’s comment below Speaking of ritualistic killing)
To move on to a slightly less gruesome aspect of this appalling tragedy, a reader asked a very good question regarding O’Keeffe’s missing coat. McJ and I have both addressed this issue in the comments section and it may be of interest to read. This issue of the coat and other issues were not included in the article so as to try and keep the story manageable and comprehensible. But we are more than happy to address any issues if readers have queries regarding the many puzzling and bizarre details involved with this case.
The next instalment, The Role of Psychopathy, can be read here