Trace: Who Killed Maria James?

Rachael Brown

Trace: Who Killed Maria James?
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Trace: Who Killed Maria James?

Rachael Brown

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.


At number 736 High Street Thornbury on 17 June 1980, Maria James was stabbed sixty-eight times in a frenzied attack at the back of the bookshop she owned and lived in. Fast forward thirty-eight years and the case has still not been solved.

Ron Iddles is a cop’s cop. He is the kind of detective that restores your faith in the police force. Ron has had a ninety-nine percent strike-rate of cases solved throughout his stellar career, 320 homicides to be exact, but the case of Maria James, his first, still plays on his mind after all these years. He simply cannot let it go.

Award-winning investigative journalist Rachael Brown has, with this book and her absolutely gripping podcast of the same title, put this case back on Victoria Police’s map. Brown’s relentless quest for the truth shines through in this book, yet she never compromises the dignity of and respect for Maria James and her family. In recent times, James’s two adult sons’ new testimonies blow the case out of the water and all the way into the Catholic Church, where two priests who were previously dismissed as suspects are now centre stage in this unbelievable story.

After reading this book, I devoured the podcast in one sitting. New episodes are made by the author as soon as any new evidence, news or updates come her way. It is totally gripping and will leave you asking yourself many questions. I think I may have become slightly obsessed with Trace, the case and the podcast, and have turned myself into an inner-city Sherlock Holmes.

Trace the book will appeal to fans of the mega-popular Serial and S-Town podcasts from This American Life, that have helped catapult this genre into the mainstream.

Thanks to the incredible research by Brown, the police admitting to an evidence bungle and new information from the public, the case has now been re-opened and all suspects, leads and evidence will be re-assessed. Stay tuned via the podcast for updates.

Anna Rotar works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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