Former MP speaks at Maria James inquest

Phil Cleary has testified at an inquest into the unsolved murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.
Phil Cleary has testified at an inquest into the unsolved murder of Melbourne woman Maria James.

A former federal MP has recalled how his sister was barbarically killed after Peter Keogh threatened to "do the same" to her as he'd done to murdered Melbourne woman Maria James.

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

A new inquest into her death has identified Keogh, who killed his ex-girlfriend Vicki Cleary, 25, outside her work in 1987, as one of six main suspects.

Ms Cleary's older brother and former independent MP Phil Cleary on Monday said his sister told her last boyfriend that Keogh had threatened her when they were still together.

Mr Cleary said this man had repeated to him what she told him for 20 years.

"They were sitting on bean bags with the heater on in the middle of winter and Peter Keogh said 'I'll do the same to you that I did to the bookshop woman'," Mr Cleary told the Victorian Coroners Court.

The 68-year-old former state league footballer said Keogh inflicted a "form of torture" upon his sister as he stabbed her to death, in an attack that he believed resembled the brutality of Ms James' murder.

"He could have just cut her throat, but he went at her for a long period of time," Mr Cleary said.

"This was an act of barbarism. It doesn't mean he killed Maria James, but it means he was capable of the act of barbarism that killed her."

Keogh's girlfriend at the time, Judy McNulty, told police he was with her on the day Maria James was murdered.

But no police statement for this alibi can be found.

Mr Cleary said Keogh, whom he met three times, used to drink at the Junction Hotel, a pub in Preston about 600 metres from Ms James' bookshop.

He also met a regular at the Junction Hotel who told him "everyone says Keogh killed Maria James".

However, Ms James' son Mark earlier gave the court a list of men he knew his mother associated with and it did not include Keogh.

"You would accept that there's no evidence he knew Maria James," counsel for the James family, Kathleen Crennan, asked Mr Cleary.

He accepted it was quite possible Keogh, who died in 2001, never met Ms James.

But Mr Cleary said her Thornbury bookshop was within Keogh's "patch" and that there was too much circumstantial evidence to completely rule him out of the frame.

Other men suspected of killing Ms James include Father Anthony Bongiorno and Father Thomas O'Keeffe, both accused of abusing one of her sons.

The only living suspect is Peco Macevski, a former real estate agent who was having an affair with Ms James at the time of her death.

He was scheduled to give evidence last week before being taken to hospital with severe low blood pressure.

The inquest before Deputy State Coroner Caitlin English continues on Tuesday.

Australian Associated Press