THE MARIA JAMES MURDER: Two Murderers – Part 1
This is the second in a series of articles. If you would like to read the background to this murder mystery and perhaps take up the challenge of working out the solution to the murder and read the source material linked to, go back to the first article here. There are resources including diagrams and ‘street scene’ photographs there.
Regardless, this article is written on the presumption that you, the reader, have listened to the TRACE series of podcasts by the ABC. You can access them at this page or through iTunes. Search iTunes for “ABC Trace” and you should have no trouble finding the series. Additional articles can be found here. Spoiler alert ahead!
The podcast series leaves the question, “Who killed Maria James?” unanswered though it implicates two Catholic priests, Anthony Bongiorno and Thomas O’Keeffe as suspects. I propose to show that it was indeed these two priests and it could not be anyone else based on all the information we have.
While I will be referring to much of the material covered in the audio series, there is much that I won’t be and I will presume that you are aware of what I leave out as background and contextual information. You may find placing some of my text in this article difficult to contextualise if you haven’t absorbed the audio programmes first. It is an engaging series and you should have no trouble in following along, the nature of the content notwithstanding. So go have a listen if you haven’t already.
In 2014, Mr Allan Hircoe went to the Victoria Police to tell them he saw a man with blood on him approach the Thornbury presbytery of St Mary’s Parish shortly after midday on Tues 17th June 1980. This was the very time of the murder of Maria James three shops down High St. from the St Mary’s property which included a school, church and presbytery.
Street map of the immediate area
St. Mary’s property bounded by High St, the main thoroughfare through Thornbury, Mansfield St and Rossmoyne St which runs parallel to Mansfield St and the walkway shown behind Maria’s shop at 736 High St across Mansfield St from St Marys property. Click here for a larger, higher resolution picture. Click here for an aerial view of how the area looks today. Note: Building additions to the school in front of the Presbytery were not there in 1980 (See Allan Hircoe’s hand drawn map of the area in 1980 below.)
Mr Hircoe identified that man as Catholic priest, Fr Anthony Bongiorno. From that moment on, Victoria Police should have realised that the cold case murder of Mrs James was carried out by two men and not one. At least three witnesses had seen another man flee from the shop by its front door on High St and run across High St, nearly being run over by a car in the process, and running off down Hutton St to the west; the opposite direction to the St Mary’s presbytery where Bongiorno was seen at the same time covered in blood.
It is impossible for one man to be running away from the crime scene in two divergent directions at the same time. So it is beyond dispute that there were two murderers. That Anthony Bongiorno is one of them should also be beyond dispute. The following lays out why that is.
The First Suspect – Anthony Bongiorno
Bongiorno had blood on one side of his face, blood on one forearm which was exposed by a rolled up shirt sleeve and blood on both hands. He had literally been “caught red-handed” coming from the direction of the scene of the murder less than 100 metres away and at the time of the murder.
Mr Hircoe, an electrician, was working on the front veranda of the presbytery which faced onto Rossmoyne St. He testified that Bongiorno came around the corner of the building from the direction of a grassy walkway between two St Mary’s buildings, the church and the presbytery. The walkway was the continuation of one that was visible across Mansfield St and ran behind the High St shops. One of those shops was Maria James’ second-hand bookshop. There was a gateway from the bookshop backyard onto that walkway. (See maps)
Bongiorno explained his bleeding by saying he had cut himself on some roses or on a wire fence near the roses (Hircoe could not remember which) at the rear of the presbytery building. Bongiorno was later to tell police he was in Coburg at the time of the murder and till late into the afternoon with the Coburg parish priest, Fr Sean O’Connell, a long time personal friend. The immediate problem with this is that Bongiorno was on hand to take Mark James out of class and bring him home earlier in the afternoon. But, of course, there is a much larger problem with the alibi.
Never-the-less, it’s nice to have friends; friends that will lie to the police for you. After receiving Mr Hircoe’s statement, the police should then have known that the alibi furnished by O’Connell years previously was a complete lie.
Allan Hircoe’s Map
Allan Hircoe’s map showing the bookshop, St Mary’s property and the walkway (lane) behind Maria’s bookshop. ‘North’ is to the left of the drawing. Note: The building marked “Mance” is the Presbytery.
Anthony Bongiorno went through the Corpus Christi Seminary in the same class year as Sean O’Connell, Denis Hart, the current Archbishop of Melbourne and the now world famous Cardinal George Pell. O’Connell provided Bongiorno with his alibi but clearly Bongiorno could not have been in Coburg and at the Thornbury presbytery covered in blood at the same time. Both Bongiorno and O’Connell lied to police and in 2014 police would have been aware of this. Sean O’Connell did not die until Dec 2016. Did Victoria Police question O’Connell regarding his lying to them by giving Bongiorno a false alibi? If not, why not?
Years earlier, had Victoria Police consulted their files after taking O’Connell’s word for Bongiorno’s whereabouts, they would have seen that they were dealing with a man with a record of lying to police. In 1977, just three years before the murder, O’Connell was convicted of harbouring an escaped criminal, armed robber and close friend of Mark “Chopper” Read, James (Jimmy) Loughnan.
Victorian Police Detective Sgt Ron Iddles (R) with Chopper Read (M) and Iddle’s daughter Shae (L).
It’s a small world, after all! Mark “Chopper” Read was a famous, even legendary, criminal figure in Melbourne. His targets were drug dealers and fellow criminals. He was regarded as a modern day bushranger. More on him below in the epilogue to this article.
O’Connell later had his conviction quashed by virtue of a technicality through the judge tightly redefining the meaning of “harbouring”. Clearly the police had O’Connell ‘caught to rights’ and O’Connell, because he pleaded ‘not guilty’, had lied to them. The company you keep!
Back to the presbytery. Mr Hircoe went to fetch a first-aid kit from his truck to attend to Bongiorno, whom he described as somewhat distressed, but when the electrician turned around, Bongiorno had disappeared. Presumably, he had disappeared inside the presbytery. Allan Hircoe then heard a very heated argument in Italian coming from inside the presbytery with a woman’s shrieking voice being the dominant one. He thought it a very odd reaction over some blood on a shirt.
Indeed, it would have been an odd reaction for any woman to be shrieking at a Catholic priest for any reason, especially in 1980. One can only imagine a family member talking to a priest in such a manner. What could spark an outburst of anger instead of care and concern at the sight of a priest covered in blood?
What could it be about? Surely something of major significance. News of a confrontation gone wrong? A needless murder, perhaps? Whoever it was behaved as if she knew quickly what had happened and that it wasn’t good or, more likely, unbelievably stupid! I hope to return to this very odd behaviour in a later instalment.
So far we have an agitated Anthony Bongiorno identified as running from the direction of the very brutal and bloody murder of Maria James with blood on his face, arm and both hands at the time of the murder and later lying to police by giving a false alibi. Plus, we have someone who apparently knew him very well abusing him in no uncertain terms. Added to this, we have in episode 4 of TRACE a woman positively identify Bongiorno lingering outside Maria’s shop that morning around 11am. So that leaves motive.
Did Bongiorno have a reason to kill Mrs James? While apparently nobody thought so at the time in 1980, a motive has since emerged. In 2013 it was revealed that days before Maria James was killed, her second son, Adam, informed her that Bongiorno had molested him.
On the morning of the murder, she asked her elder son, Mark, for the second time in almost as many days, to make sure he looked after Adam should anything happen to her. Mark left for school puzzled that Tuesday morning. Why was Maria afraid something might happen to her? This still remains a puzzle to this day. Clearly, she knew more concerning the context than her sons did – ‘Ndrangheta, perhaps?
Maria then told Adam she was going to phone the presbytery regarding his abuse. Adam said that his mother was agitated while talking on the phone and then took him to his school bus stop and telling him that she was going to see Bongiorno that day.
Now in 2017, it is beyond any doubt that Anthony Bongiorno was a serial paedophile and this view of him has been held for many years. We accept these days that Catholic priests have many paedophiles amongst their number. Indeed, they are protected from within the church and are even given grand funerals by this same protective clerical hierarchy.
But in 1980, the idea of paedophile priests did not enter the news cycle at all. It went on, of course, and was known by a few police but certainly not all. The average person in the street had no idea of the criminal nature of many priests and the nature of many of their bishops who protected them from the police, the law and the public.
So keeping Bongiorno’s paedophilia quiet was of paramount importance not only to Bongiorno but to other paedophile priests and to the Catholic hierarchy. They all relied on the public’s ignorance of their criminal behaviour to maintain their position of power and privilege, to continue unimpeded in their appalling destruction of the lives of the children in their charge and, very importantly, to stay out of jail.
There was a lot at stake for a lot of privileged people in keeping Maria James quiet. But she was not to be bullied into silence. She was made of sterner stuff and this problem for Bongiorno and his partner in crime must have seemed at the time to have only one logical solution; silence her permanently.
Did Bongiorno have the ability or temperament to kill and to kill in this brutal manner?
Paedophiles are often psychopaths. If you look at the television interview of Bongiorno in 1980 in the month after Maria’s death and if you are familiar with some of the signs of personality disorders, you will notice a certain ‘social tone-deafness’ in Bongiorno’s replies to the reporter’s questions. This ‘social tone-deafness’ is most often associated with psychopaths. They have no emotional connection with other people and their comments can betray this disturbing lack of empathy and connection.
Mark James said in the above program when remarking on Bongiorno’s manner when he informed Mark of his mother’s death, “He was just cold. There was no compassion, there was no empathy, there was nothing in his voice. He was just going through the motions of doing something and it just didn’t feel right.”
All this means that Bongiorno was very unlikely to feel any empathy at all for Maria’s plight and to be totally consumed with his own protection instead. It is reasonable to expect him to have gone along with the murder but would he have initiated it? I think a lot would have depended on his influences; the company he kept.
The Second Suspect – Thomas O’Keeffe
Which brings us to the other priest resident at the Thornbury presbytery at the time, Fr Thomas O’Keeffe. Very recently, Adam James has identified O’Keeffe as also molesting him though he had not previously told anyone including his mother. But at the time O’Keeffe could not presume that Adam would remain quiet regarding his own abuse of Adam. O’Keeffe, as well as Bongiorno, had a very personal reason for ensuring Maria James’ silence and permanently if necessary.
This man was certainly a psychopath. He was certainly a violent paedophile and he certainly had ‘form’, as they say. A witness had told police in 1997 that he and O’Keeffe had been present at at least four murders during satanic rituals. O’Keeffe in a previous assault had threatened the witness at knife point in exactly the same way that led to Maria James’ death. O’Keeffe was also seen to emotionally explode at the time of this previous assault in a rage described as “demonic”. He engaged in torture of his victims. And Victoria Police had been informed of this as far back as 1997. It was in their files.
Fr Anthony Bongiorno had been regarded as a suspect possibly as early as ’98 and certainly by 2007, and if police had looked at their own files regarding his boss and housemate, Fr Thomas O’Keeffe, he would have surely been included as a suspect. It would seem that Victoria Police did not consult their files in the case of O’Keeffe just as they did not consult their files regarding Fr Sean O’Connell either at that time or at any time since. This is doubly strange as retired homicide detective, Ron Iddles, has himself said many times, regarding cold cases, “The answer is in the file”.
The murder of Maria James has been officially described as ritualistic and involved torturing the victim before death. All these behaviours were attributed to O’Keeffe by other victims at other times. All this is detailed in episode 3 of the Trace podcast series. The man had ‘form’. He certainly had the ability to carry out the murder of Maria James in exactly the way it unfolded.
In the interests of full disclosure, Thomas O’Keeffe was known to me, the writer, and I feature in Episode 3 of Trace. I am James Shanahan. I am not to be confused with other writers at this site, specifically Winter Patriot a.k.a. Winter or WP, or McJ or newjesustimes a.k.a. NJT or Admin.
In my view, O’Keeffe is very likely the man seen running from the front door of the shop and across High St and then to the west down Hutton St. While no positive identification has been made yet, the police identikit drawn from descriptions by witnesses could easily be Thomas O’Keeffe, to my eyes, at least. I knew the man when he would have been in his early 30’s.
The circumstantial evidence against O’Keeffe is in one sense weaker than the case for Bongiorno in that he has not been positively identified in the area of the crime at the time of the crime. One witness to the ‘running man’ seen outside the shop described him as 40 to 50 years old. Another witness said he was definitely not Bongiorno as she knew Bongiorno. These two witnesses can be heard on the TRACE series episode 4. The next two witness descriptions do not come from any published material and unfortunately I am not at liberty to identify the source(s ). So take it as you will.
Jeanette Hodson/Hodgson, the driver who nearly ran over the running man, identified him from a photograph twenty years later as Peter Keogh a local criminal and who was later found guilty of a similarly brutal murder with a knife of a young woman, Vicki Cleary, in 1987. Keogh would have been 31 or 32 in 1980 though.
The railway employee who saw ‘the running man’ at the railway crossing down Hutton St when shown a photograph of Keogh said it definitely was not Keogh. The man he saw was older 45-50 and stouter than Keogh. Keogh at that time was quite lean and muscular. The railway man got a good look at the running man while Jeanette Hodson got a very brief look at him. O’Keeffe was 49 at the time.
Added to this is my own opinion. I knew O’Keeffe in the early 1960’s. There are three photos of him that I have seen, one from an earlier period and two taken much later. None of them capture the man that I knew. Oddly enough, the police drawing does. The hairline is clearly too low and the eyebrows aren’t quite right but the intensity that I knew has been captured. Take that for what it is worth!
So we don’t have a positive identification of O’Keeffe in the vicinity of the shop immediately before of after the murder but we do know he was in the general area that morning because he lived around the corner 100 metres away. He most probably was at home when the call came from Maria James for Bongiorno early that morning and therefore would have had knowledge of what was wrong. So, while we cannot place O’Keeffe at the shop, we can place him nearby that morning.
Fr Thomas O’Keeffe (L) Police Identikit Drawing of suspect seen fleeing the bookshop (R)
The photograph on the left (courtesy of ABC Trace) was taken when O’Keeffe was approx 25yo and he was approx 50yo at the time of the murder when this drawing on the right was made.
As was pointed out at the beginning of this essay, two murderers were present. It could not be the work of a solitary murderer because two men were seen fleeing the murder scene at the time of the murder and running in opposite directions.
A possible alternative was suggested at the end of TRACE episode 4 to explain the man seen running across High St. This speculative suggestion, made without any basis, was that the running man might have been a friend or someone else who entered the shop, walked through it to the residence behind looking for Maria and stumbled upon her dead body and then fled in panic.
While this is highly implausible given the time frame, it is not impossible. But ‘the panicked friend’ would have had to be in addition to the murderer fleeing from the front door i.e. there would have had to have been two men fleeing via the front door, one after the other as well as Bongiorno fleeing out the back door. (The logistics of this will be further explained in the next article). Somebody, after all, would have had to open the front door from the inside to allow ‘the panicked friend’ to enter the shop in the first place before he could run out again.
The front door had to have been opened from inside the shop and the person who did this had to have been in the shop before John James entered it through a rear window. This was so because Mr James had checked the front and back doors a number of times and both were locked at each time.
The ‘panicked friend’ possibility does not take away the necessity of two murderers but merely adds to the number of characters involved and without any basis or evidence to support the idea of introducing a new character.
Connecting the dots
So, we have an overwhelming case against Bongiorno as one of the two murderers involving very damning circumstantial evidence.
He had motive (to keep his paedophilia quiet)
He had opportunity (Maria James had arranged to meet him that morning).
He was seen outside the shop earlier at 11:00am approximately.
He was seen covered in blood arriving at the presbytery from the direction of the murder scene at the time the murder took place less than 100 metres away.
He gave a false alibi to police as to his whereabouts at the time of the murder.
And he had observably psychopathic behaviours.
Bongiorno was literally ‘caught red-handed’. Fr Anthony Bongiorno had participated in the murder of Maria James. There are no alternative plausible explanations for the evidence against him.
If there was a plausible alternative explanation, why did Bongiorno find it necessary to lie to the police as to where he was at the time of the murder?
Common sense and the evidence itself tells us that Bongiorno was one of the murderers and I find it hard to accept that there would be a jury in the land who would not convict him on that overwhelming circumstantial evidence. People have been convicted for murder on far less evidence.
Despite the relative weakness of the lack of a positive identification, the case for O’Keeffe is stronger than for Bongiorno in one crucial manner:-
He had been witnessed at other bloody and brutal murders involving knives.
He had a history of this behaviour and it had been acknowledged by no less an authority than the Catholic Church in the person of Mr Peter O’Callaghan QC, the church’s legal representative in these matters.
It was also acknowledged subsequently by then Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell (TRACE episode 3).
O’Keeffe also had motivation. In 2015, Adam James revealed that he had been abused by O’Keeffe as well as by Bongiorno.
While Adam had not mentioned his abuse by O’Keeffe to his mother, O’Keeffe could not assume that he would not do so in the near future. So he had just as much reason as Bongiorno to keep Maria quiet and permanently quiet if necessary.
We have already described his ability to carry out such a murder and he very probably had the opportunity as well. After all, he lived with Bongiorno just around the corner from the James’ shop/residence .
It would seem highly likely that he knew of the problem of Maria James accusing Bongiorno that morning of paedophilia. He was ‘Jonny-on-the-spot’ as an accomplice that morning.
Where else would Bongiorno find an accomplice with motive and ability at such short notice?
There are simply no other suspects that come anywhere near these two acknowledged paedophiles and there are simply no other pairs of suspects as there would need to be to give any alternative version any credence at all. No other two suspects have shared motivation, ability and opportunity and a shared interest in the outcome of silencing Maria James.
Bongiorno could not have been reasonably ruled out as one of the murderers in 2015. There was far too much evidence against him and there still is. The case is overwhelming. O’Keeffe may possibly be ruled out but only by replacing him with a man of similar motivation and interest in the outcome: similar character and history; similar connection to Bongiorno and been on hand that morning. That doesn’t leave a lot of people.
Allan Hircoe, the electrician, has suggested O’Keeffe may have been another man he saw at the presbytery shortly before noon that day and therefore not at the murder scene. But there are two major problems with that identification. Mr Hircoe described the man at the door of the presbytery as a priest because he had a priest’s black trousers on and was wearing a flannelette shirt and braces over the top. He also described him as looking somewhat like the then Premier of Victoria, John Cain.
I knew O’Keeffe and he was meticulous in his grooming and dress. It would have been completely out of character for him to be seen dressed in a flannelette shirt and braces. He also had a full head of jet black hair whereas John Cain had a thinning head of sandy brown hair. Hair colour is a strong identifying characteristic. It is very unlikely that the man Mr Hircoe saw was Thomas O’Keeffe. Fr. Sean O’Connell, the man who gave Bongiorno his false alibi for that day is a much more likely candidate.
Who looks more like John Cain? O’Keefe or O’Connell? Unfortunately, there are no better photographs of O’Connell available. (During the research for this article, we came across evidence that information regarding Sean O’Connell was being scrubbed from the net).
Police have now thrown a few old suspects or ‘persons of interest’ back into the new investigation because their having been ruled out on DNA evidence is no longer valid, they say. But none of these men can be said to have had a co-conspirator. They are all presumed to have been loners as far as this murder investigation is concerned. Looked at critically, none of these persons of interest have had any evidence brought forward linking them to the murder of Maria James that day.
So if you, the reader, took up the challenge laid down in the previous instalment and picked Bongiorno as the murderer, give yourself one point-
Or if you picked O’Keeffe as the murderer, give yourself one point –
And if you picked both Bongiorno and O’Keeffe, give yourself two points –
Plus a bonus third point for realising that there had to be two murderers.
Though the police should have known there were two murderers since 2014, the public have only been introduced to that possibility now in 2017 by Rachael Brown’s TRACE podcast. It is only through her investigation that we know of Allan Hircoe’s eye witness evidence. Police, on the other hand, have known about it from 2014 and have seemingly done nothing with this crucial information since then. And they persist in this to this day.
Bongiorno should not have been ruled out as a suspect by the police in 2015. There is just too much evidence against him and nothing exculpatory in his favour.
Though the DNA ‘evidence’ has never ruled against him, it can not be said to have ever been in his favour, either.
– We (and this includes former detective, Ron Iddles) do not know how the police could have obtained a sample of Bongiorno’s DNA to clear him without digging him up (which should have been done long ago – certainly by 2014 if not 2013 or even in 2007).
– We know and the police know, or absolutely should know, that there were two murderers. So if Bongiorno’s sample did not match the (pre-bungled) DNA sample the police had, this did not prove he was not THE murderer but only not THAT murderer. He could still have been the OTHER murderer.
Then (between TRACE episodes 3 & 4) when there is pressure to have O’Keeffe’s DNA tested (and why don’t we dig up Fat Tony while we’re at it), Victoria Police confess that the sample of DNA that they have is from another case. You can’t help bad luck, I s’pose.
Because of this ‘bungled DNA evidence’, Victoria Police are now proposing to go back and reconsider all the old individual suspects as noted above. Go back to ‘square one’ , in other words, and perhaps we can look forward to waiting another 37 years. But, again, we now know, and the police should now know, that there were two murderers and the only two suspects who could possibly be linked together are Bongiorno and O’Keeffe. All the other ‘persons of interest’ need an accomplice to be considered a suspect.
So ruling out Bongiorno through DNA evidence in 2015 should not have been possible because police should have known since 2014 that there were two murderers and therefore the DNA sample could have been of the other murderer. This is not rocket science. Someone has some ‘splainin’ to do!
The fact that police now claim the sample they had all along came from another case doesn’t change the logic in the preceding paragraphs and does not excuse them for ruling out a man who should clearly have not been ruled out whether or not the DNA sample was subsequently the correct one.
But in some respects, the issue of “the DNA sample” is a red herring. Victoria Police have ‘hijacked’ the TRACE story at the last minute with their ‘mea culpa’ concerning their incompetence in keeping track of historical exhibits. Plenty of murder cases have been solved without DNA evidence. Talk of the bungled DNA sample seems to be distracting everyone from the rest of the substantial amount of incriminating prima facie evidence against Bongiorno and O’Keeffe. And perhaps that is its purpose.
The cases against Bongiorno and O’Keeffe are circumstantial but they present a complete picture. Legally speaking, a circumstantial case needs to be rebutted rather than dismissed by a possibility here or a possibility there. A rebuttal requires an alternative and convincing case to be made that accounts for the known facts. This ‘alternative case’ is conspicuous by its absence. Therefore, the case against Anthony Bongiorno and Thomas O’Keeffe stands and does not need any DNA evidence to do so.
Should Victoria Police, sometime in the future, produce DNA evidence that clears both O’Keeffe and Bongiorno, then I think the first issue to address will not be the priests’ innocence or guilt but the issue of the credibility of Victoria Police.
In the next instalment, we will reconstruct the likely logistics of the murder accounting for the facts that we know surrounding the brutal death of Maria James.
To be continued –
Epilogue and Authors’ Note
This investigation into the murder of Maria James is far more than a “whodunnit”. Her murder provides the starting point for a whole network of connections between what would, at first, appear very unlikely people. We found a cast of priests, satanists, criminals, judges, politicians and police connected in ways you would not expect.
Let us start from the outer edges with the innocent but remarkable picture seen above of former detective Ron Iddles with Mark “Chopper” Read. Read was a colourful figure, to say the least. He was sentenced to 14 yrs in prison for mounting a judicial bench while court was in session and holding a shotgun to the head of the presiding judge in an effort to have his friend Jimmy Loughnan released. The judge, Bill Martin, was heard to utter, “Won’t someone get this bastard off me?” Loughnan repaid the gesture later by stabbing Read. Nice.
Loughnan leapt over the wall of Pentridge Prison in 1977 and into the yard of Catholic priest, Sean O’Connell, who helped him to escape. This is the same priest who gave Anthony Bongiorno a false alibi and had personal connections to current church leaders.
Loughnan moved in the same milieu as Peter Keogh, another local criminal. Keogh was found guilty of stabbing to death another woman in 1987. He was also a suspect in the murder of Maria James at one point and was being questioned again about his alibi when he died apparently of suicide (unusual for a psychopath) in 2001 on Mansfield St; the street between where Maria lived and where Bongiorno and O’Keeffe lived.
The link goes from Keogh to judges and their criminal offspring, to a coroner and then on to another policeman uttering strange platitudes that circles back to Maria’s murder. Two of the judges have links to Bongiorno’s court cases in 1995 and one of these also has a connection to his funeral.
There are connections to two currently alive and very public priests – one very much loved and one very much hated.
There is a connection to a priest and satanist currently sitting in jail. Victoria Police know all about him. He and his history are in their files, too.
There are connections to some very dead priests. As well as Thomas O’Keeffe and Anthony Bongiorno, we have convicted paedophiles, Kevin O’Donnell, Victor Rubeo and Peter Searson for starters. These men were also satanists and police have received statements attesting to their violent behaviour and satanic practices. It’s all in the files.
O’Keeffe and Rubeo have connections to a satanic cult in Ballarat. And it circles back again. Before his death in 2011 on the eve of another court appearance, Victor Rubeo worked part-time (unofficially after having been convicted of paedophilia) at St Paul’s parish in Coburg . Sean O’Connell (close friend of Church figures in high places, Bongiorno and other criminals) was still the parish priest at St Paul’s in Coburg and officiated at Rubeo’s funeral there.
There are connections with Monsignor Day (serial paedophile) in Mildura and Bishop Mulkearns in Ballarat and the persecution of former policeman, Denis Ryan. Ryan was hounded out of the police force by a group within the Victoria Police back in the 1970’s that he called, “The Catholic Mafia”. All this was officially recognised by former Police Commissioner, Mick Miller, and current Police Commissioner Graham Ashton in 2016.
Denis Ryan wrote a book detailing corruption surrounding the paedophilia within the Catholic Church and the roles of the police and the legal system in allowing it to continue. His book is called, “Unholy Trinity”.
If this “Catholic Mafia” was still in existence in 1980 and is still in existence in 2017 (and why wouldn’t it be?), wouldn’t it be a fair question to ask, “Did they compromise the original Maria James investigation and would they have an interest in continuing to compromise the investigation now?”
(I wish to stress that I have had NO indication that former homicide detective, Ron Iddles, has done or said anything improper at any time over the years of this investigation. Rather, it is other police officers that have come to our attention).
There are also senior Victorian politicians, past and present, who have inserted themselves in odd ways into this murder investigation of Maria James.
The connections seem to spread out forever and then repeatedly circle back again. Not all the connections involve illegal behaviour, of course, but much of it is very odd and often very questionable.
And at the centre of this extensive and complex maze of corruption is Maria James, a mother who wanted nothing more than to protect her sons and had the courage to do so in the face of great danger.
By asking her elder son, Mark, to look after his younger brother, Adam, should anything happen to her, did Maria sense that she was up against much more than one short, fat paedophile priest? That she was up against something far larger and far more sinister?
At the beginning of the TRACE series, journalist Rachael Brown said she had found the case involved far more than police realised. That was certainly true for some police but it seems that this case involves far more than Rachael realised, even then. And much of it was already “in the files” of Victoria Police and had been for many years.
Part 2 of The Maria James Murder – Two Murderers can be accessed here.