Legend cop Ron Iddles shares theory in Maria James inquest

Frances VinallNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Limited

One of Australia’s best police officers has shared his theory on who killed Maria James: a paedophile priest she planned to confront about abuse of her son.

Maria James’ murder on June 17, 1980, was Ron Iddles’ first case as a homicide detective and one of the few he hasn’t solved — against his reported conviction rate of 99 per cent.

In a Victorian coronial inquest into her death on Thursday, Mr Iddles nominated Father Anthony Bongiorno as the likely killer.

Mr Iddles took a statement from Mrs James’ son Adam, who was 11 when his mother was brutally murdered, in about 2011.

n33mm303 Detective senior-sergeant Ron Iddles is investigating the death of Ringwood resident Elizabeth Membrey, murdered in 1995. He is pictured at Warrandyte State Park, where police searched abandoned mine shafts for her body.
Camera IconNinety-nine per cent of homicides Ron Iddles has investigated ended in convictions but his first case remains unsolved. Credit: News Limited
Maria James was stabbed 68 times behind her Thornbury bookshop in 1980. Coroners Court via NCA NewsWire
Camera IconMaria James was stabbed 68 times behind her Thornbury bookshop in 1980. Coroners Court via NCA NewsWire Credit: Supplied

“His allegation is of sexual assault,” he said.

“Adam at some stage had heard his mum talking to the presbytery and he thought she was talking to Mr Bongiorno.”

On the morning of the murder, Mrs James had told the local newsagent she was expecting a visitor and the presence of teacups at the crime scene suggested she knew the killer.

“Then, on my leaving the homicide squad, an electrician had just come forward saying that he saw a priest covered in blood,” Mr Iddles said.

“Then you have a new witness who gave evidence in the inquest of seeing Mr Bongiorno at the door of the shop at 11 o’clock on the day of the murder.

“I think he’s got the motive, I think he’s got the opportunity and I think he’s got the means.”

Father Anthony Bongiorno is a person of interest in the 1980 murder of Maria James.
Camera IconFather Anthony Bongiorno is a person of interest in the 1980 murder of Maria James. Credit: Herald Sun

Fr Bongiorno died in 2002.

There are six persons of interest in the murder: Fr Bongiorno; Mario Falcucci, who argued with Mrs James the morning of the murder; convicted killer Peter Keogh, who lived in the area and had a history of hating women; Mrs James’ married lover in 1980 Peco Macevski, who is the only person of interest still alive; Telecom worker Lyle Perkins; and priest Thomas O’Keeffe, who also abused Adam James and lived with Fr Bongiorno at the church.

Fr Bongiorno had an alibi — another priest named Sean O’Connell, who said they were having lunch.

But Mr Iddles had doubts about Fr O’Connell’s truthfulness.

Fr O’Connell had been charged with harbouring a fugitive and fraud — unrelated to the murder — and failed to internally investigate allegations of sexual assault against his friend Fr Bongiorno, Mr Iddles said.

The inquest continues on Monday.


Earlier on Thursday, the court heard from Dorothy Haynes, the sister of Judy McNulty, who was the girlfriend of another person of interest, Peter Keogh.

Ms McNulty, who has since died, was the alibi for her violent boyfriend.

Keogh was a monster who was convicted of fatally stabbing a later girlfriend, Vicki Cleary, in 1987 and had a history of violence and sexual violence, including attacking Ms McNulty with a knife, breaking into a woman’s home and attempting to rape her, and sexually assaulting girls, witnesses have told the court.

Keogh lived in the same area as Mrs James’ bookshop, but his girlfriend told police that he was with her at the time of the murder.

She wasn’t and she actually thought Keogh was responsible, her sister told the court.

“She was terrified (of Keogh),” she said.

On the day of the murder, Keogh asked his girlfriend and her sister to go to his home and see if police were there, as well as pick him up some fresh clothes, the court heard.

Copy picture. Lake Fyans trip. Thornbury bookshop murder victim Maria James and her son Adam at the Grampians Jan 1980
Camera IconMaria James and her youngest son Adam, pictured the year she was killed. Credit: News Corp Australia
The Family of Murdered Mother Maria James
Camera IconMark and Adam James have never given up hope their mother’s murder 41 years ago could be solved. Nicole Garmston Credit: News Corp Australia

He said this was because police suspected him for everything that happened in the area.

“To come and check out if the police were at his flat and looking for him there — that was pretty unusual, a pretty strange thing to do,” Ms Haynes said.

Ms McNulty went as far as to ask her sister to call police and suggest Keogh, her sister said, even though she had told police she was his alibi.

She was too scared of him to call police herself, Ms Haynes said.

Two of Ms McNulty’s sisters called police nominating Keogh as a suspect.

But they never heard back, the court heard.


Mr Iddles recalled that Mrs James argued with local resident Mario Falcucci about “weird sex killings” magazines the day she was stabbed.

About 9.30am, he wanted her to buy some bizarre magazines from him for the bookshop and they got into a heated disagreement: “Detective magazines that all have stories about weird sex killings,” Mr Iddles noted in his first homicide case.

He noted Mr Falcucci had “no friends” and was “funny around women”, according to Mr Falcucci’s mother.

Early in the investigation, Mr Falcucci was a lead person of interest, the court heard.

But Mr Falcucci had an alibi in his mother, who said he was at home gardening when Mrs James was killed, Mr Iddles said.

Mr Iddles will continue giving evidence on Monday.

Originally published as Legend cop Ron Iddles shares theory in Maria James inquest

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