Trace

Trace

Who Killed Maria James?

by Rachael Brown

Paperback / softback Publication Date: 30/07/2018

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The riveting inside story of a journalist’s cold-case investigation of a shocking murder

Every cop has a case that dug its claws in and would not let go. For veteran detective Ron Iddles, it was his very first homicide case - the 1980 murder of single mother Maria James in the back of her Melbourne bookshop. He never managed to solve it, and it still grates like hell.

Maria's two sons, Mark and Adam, have lived in a holding pattern longer than Rachael Brown has been alive. When the investigative journalist learned that a crucial witness's evidence had never seen daylight, the case would start to consume her - just as it had the detective nearly four decades prior - so she asked for his blessing, and that of the James brothers, to review Maria's case.

In her exhaustive and exhausting 16-month investigation for the ABC podcast Trace, Rachael reviewed initial suspects, found one of her own, and uncovered devastating revelations about a forensic bungle and possible conspiracies that have inspired the coroner to consider holding a new inquest.

This is a mesmerising account, as Rachael traces back through her investigation - one that blew the dust off a 38-year-old cold case, gave a voice to the forgotten and the abused, and could have serious implications for two of the state's most powerful institutions.

‘What grit, what faithfulness! It’s enthralling to track Brown’s stubborn little lantern as she forges into these dark forests.’ Helen Garner

‘There is an irresistible formula to Trace. The bright-eyed investigative journalist teamed with the dogged homicide detective enjoined in the dark art of enquiry — discerning the outline of evidence then calculating the in-between. The experience of Trace reaches beyond a murder mystery to the interior of the craft — ten parts exhaustion and exasperation to one part excitement and enlightenment. And there is more. Rachael Brown engages a time-honoured hard dig with a fresh form that welcomes and involves the reader. This is a special work, a cold case brought to life via the energy of enquiry and, extraordinarily, given its starting point, the redemptive warmth of humanity.’ Chris Masters

'Trace the podcast is a tour de force of investigation and storytelling against the odds. Trace the book is the story behind the story. Compelling listening turned into compulsory reading.’ Andrew Rule

‘An outstanding work of long-form audio journalism which crossed platforms, revealing an innate understanding of how audiences would wish to interact with the story.’ Judges' comments from the 2017 Walkley Awards

ISBN:
9781925713091
9781925713091
Category:
True crime
Format:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
30-07-2018
Publisher:
Scribe Publications
Country of origin:
Australia
Pages:
304
Dimensions (mm):
234x153mm

The Trace investigation into the 1980 murder of Maria James began with a niggle. A best friend and colleague told me a crucial witness statement in this cold case had never seen daylight. Just who this witness saw, sent me on a 16-month crawl through the darkest of rabbit-holes, trying to find answers that have eluded Maria’s sons for 38 years. Was she murdered by a scorned lover? Or a stranger? Or was her murder tied up in the sins of the Catholic Church?

I was convinced this story would be better first served as a podcast series, because I desperately hoped the innovative interactivity, and the medium’s diverse audiences, might help the James brothers uncover whoever’s holding the missing puzzle piece. So in the ABC’s first true-crime podcast, Trace, I stepped listeners through my investigation, and emails flooded in with fresh leads. But the constraints of this medium (such as 30-minute episode lengths) also meant a lot went unsaid, particularly those ideas better explored on the printed page.

My book Trace details the anatomy of this meticulous investigation that could inspire the coroner to reopen Maria James’ inquest. Through the dead-ends and discoveries, the tears and the triumphs, I show readers the gritty toll on all those caught up in this case. On the family that lives in a holding pattern. On sex abuse survivors who bravely share their nightmares, hoping it might unmask the killer. And on the veteran detective, who this case consumed, just as it has me. Remarkably, despite the darkness, or maybe because of it, this book also says a lot about hope and humanity’s warmth.

Rachael Brown

Broadcast journalist Rachael Brown is an RMIT graduate who began her career with the ABC in 2002 as its Melbourne cadet. She has since held several postings, including Europe correspondent from 2010 to 2013. In 2008, she won the Walkley Award for Best Radio Current Affairs Report for her investigation into the Victorian Medical Practitioners Board, whose negligence had contributed to the sexual assaults of 14 women.

Rachael was the creator, investigator, and host of the ABC's first true-crime podcast, Trace, which reviewed the cold case of Melbourne mother Maria James.

Trace won the 2017 Walkley Award for Innovation for the way the podcast tapped into broad community grapevines and attracted vital new leads from the public that were rolled into subsequent episodes, which allowed Trace to evolve as it went to air.

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