Cop destroyed crucial clue in Maria James murder: Court
A former homicide cop was grilled over a bombshell document with his name on it requesting that bloodstained evidence in an open murder investigation be destroyed as part of an office move.
When Thornbury mum Maria James was stabbed 68 times on June 17, 1980, the killer left behind two bloodstained pillows, three bedsheets and a pillowcase.
But retired homicide detective sergeant Robert “Jack” Jacobs had the items destroyed in 1994 during a move of all police homicide exhibits from a Russell Street office to storage elsewhere, the Coroners Court of Victoria heard on Thursday.
Mr Jacobs was shown his own report that said the items were “unclaimed” and “valueless”.
He compiled a report “requesting authority to destroy two pillows from the Maria James investigation as they were contaminated with blood from the deceased and were a biological hazard”, lawyer Kathleen Crennan said.
When asked if he could “shed some light” on the report, Mr Jacobs said he couldn’t recall it.
When asked if it was a mischaracterisation of the items as “unclaimed” when they were exhibits in an unsolved homicide, Mr Jacobs said he “just can’t comment”.
It wasn’t the only police bungle in the case.
The court previously heard that several men were exonerated as suspects in 2003 due to DNA samples from the scene that didn’t match their own, including Father Anthony Bongiorno.
But in 2017, a review of the case revealed that the DNA believed to be from the scene was actually from an entirely different investigation that had nothing to do with Maria James.
It is not known if there was usable DNA on the pillowcases, pillows and bedsheets destroyed in 1994.
In his statement to the court, Mr Jacobs said it was police policy in the late ’80s to destroy exhibits if they posed a biological hazard due to contamination.
There are six persons of interest in the inquest including Fr Bongiorno, a paedophile priest who the court heard Maria James planned to confront before she was killed about his abuse of her 11-year-old disabled son, Adam.
The only person of interest still alive is Peco Macevski, her married lover in 1980.
The court heard on Thursday that Mr Macevski, who is due to give evidence, was hospitalised on Tuesday and will remain in care for several days.
Another key person of interest is convicted killer Peter Keogh, who was jailed for fatally stabbing his partner Vicki Cleary in 1987 after she left him.
The court heard this week from a woman who remembered Keogh breaking into her apartment, beating her up and throwing her onto a bed where he began taking off his belt, and pulling a glinting object and rope out of his pocket before she was able to escape.
She barely knew Keogh, having met him at a pub and invited him over to see if he wanted to buy her car, she recalled in heartbreaking evidence.
The inquest continues on Friday.
Originally published as Cop destroyed crucial clue in Maria James murder: Court
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails