Police offer $1 million reward to solve bookshop murder

Bookshop owner Maria James was found murdered in her home in Melbourne's northeast in 1980.

Bookshop owner Maria James was found murdered in her home in Melbourne's northeast in 1980. Photo: AAP

More than four decades since Maria James’s brutal murder in her Melbourne bookshop, police hope a $1 million reward will finally unmask her killer.

Maria James, whose second-hand bookshop on High St at Thornbury in Melbourne’s northeast also functioned as her home, was killed there on June 17, 1980.

That morning, a number of people saw her at the home before she phoned her ex-husband John about 11.55am and left a message asking him to call back, noting someone was in the shop.

When John returned her call, she told him to “hold on” and was heard in a conversation that prompted her ex-husband to think something was wrong.

John went to the bookshop to check on James’s welfare after midday to find the bookshop doors locked and an “open” sign still hanging.

He forced his way inside the home and found James, who was stabbed 68 times, inside her bedroom with fatal injuries and her hands bound.

Soon after, John discovered the bookshop’s front door was unlocked – suggesting someone left when he arrived.

Two people reported seeing a man running away from the crime scene.

Victoria Police said on Friday they never identified the man, depicted in sketches, who was seen running from the bookshop.

More than 40 years after James’s death, her sons still wanted answers, police said.

Her death was the subject of two inquests in 1982 and 2021 – both of which returned an open finding – and a $50,000 reward offered in 1980 was met with a flood of false leads.

Coroner Caitlin English in 2022 said two since-deceased men – Catholic priest Anthony Bongiorno and Peter Keogh – remained significant persons of interest following a 17-day inquest.

The inquest found major investigative blunders in James’s case but could not identify her killer.

Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said police were doing everything they could but they believed there were people who could help solve the case.

“People who are still out there who know something about Maria’s murder, who was involved, why it happened,” he said in a statement.

“It’s important that people put aside any preconceptions they have about this case and do not make any assumptions.

“This matter has not been solved, and it is well documented that we still have a number of persons of interest.

“After 44 years, Maria’s sons deserve answers and police remain as committed as ever to being able to give those to them.”

Police called for anyone with information – no matter how seemingly insignificant – to come forward.

The Director of Public Prosecutions would consider granting indemnity to those who revealed the identity of the person or people behind James’s murder, police said.


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