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Murdered mum's fingernails not examined

·3-min read

There were glaring deficiencies within the original investigation into the brutal murder of Melbourne woman Maria James, an inquest has been told.

Ms James, a 38-year-old mother-of-two, was stabbed 68 times in June 1980 at her Thornbury home and bookstore.

Former detective Graham Ashworth on Tuesday said Ms James would have been "clawing for her life" during the final struggle with her killer.

It was, therefore, critical to look underneath the murdered woman's fingernails.

"That was an accepted principle even back then, so I don't know why that wasn't done," Mr Ashworth, who was part of the police homicide squad from 1988 to 1992, told the Victorian Coroners Court.

Fingerprints also were not taken from curtains that had been drawn back in Ms James' home and could have been touched by the murderer.

"It wasn't expansive - it was deficient in modern terms," Mr Ashworth said of the original homicide report.

"I don't think he even noted the height and weight of the deceased."

Mr Ashworth also raised concerns about the integrity of an alibi first used by one of the six main suspects identified by the inquest.

Peter Keogh, who died in 2001, told police he was at the Fairfield home of his then girlfriend, Judy McNulty, at the time of Ms James' murder.

Keogh, the inquest has heard, raped a stranger in Melbourne's north in 1970, once attacked Ms McNulty with a knife and stabbed to death his ex-girlfriend Vicki Cleary outside the kindergarten where she worked in 1987.

But no police statement can be found from Ms McNulty, who died in 1994, with Keogh initially eliminated as a suspect based on her alibi.

"You would probably start off from the position that he pressured Judy McNulty to get an alibi," Mr Ashworth said.

"You're relying on the alibi of a woman who is basically his de facto ... is that really something that you would rely upon, with a man of violence?

"They're likely to say anything that person wants them to say. So I found that unusual it wasn't pursued further. It (the alibi) is hanging by a thread."

Renowned former homicide detective Ron Iddles on Monday said police had been right to exonerate Keogh.

Ms Cleary's boyfriend at the time of her death, Christopher Wheeler, said Keogh had threatened her, saying "I'll do to you what I did to the bookshop woman".

But Mr Iddles, who began his homicide career working on Ms James' murder investigation, said it wasn't uncommon for such threats or claims to be made, but he put it down to "male bravado".

Investigating the murder of Elisabeth Membrey in Melbourne in 1994 he said he would've had claims from 10 men that they'd "do the same" to another person, and the same again in the case of Jane Thurgood-Dove who was murdered in 1997.

"Very rarely is the offender out there basically bragging to people that he's the actual offender," Mr Iddles said.

The inquest before coroner Caitlin English continues on Wednesday.

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