A killer is finally brought to justice
AFTER years of false leads and lies, a breakthrough had finally cracked the case of Tiahleigh Palmer's murder. In the final part of our special investigation, Kate Kyriacou lays out exactly what happened in the Thorburn house after she was killed.
THINGS did seem normal in the morning. At first. Julene got up early to prepare the house for a home day care child. Rick was still in bed when she opened the door to Tia's room. It was empty. The bed was unmade and the room messy, but that was normal.
She went back to Rick.
"She's not in her room," Julene said.
"Shut up," Rick told her. "Don't question it."
Rick got up and he and Josh left for the gym.
Julene could have called for help after he left with her eldest son. She didn't. She fed the horses.
Greeted the children who'd arrived for family day care.
Rick came home and got ready to leave again.
"I have to go about dropping Tia off at school as normal," he said.
Tia never made it through the school gate. She'd missed her appointment with the youth worker.
The school called about noon to report Tia's absence. Rick and the youth worker reported her missing.
Julene spent the day with Rick, driving around, "looking" for Tia. Julene played her part.
They got home late. Rick had told the boys to go out.
"Make sure you are accounted for," he'd said.
Josh went to dance class. Then to the shops at Park Ridge where he ordered pizza from a takeaway shop. He ate it in his car while waiting to hear back from someone he'd messaged on Gumtree.
Eventually, he drove to Eight Mile Plains to buy a desk. Then to Redbank Plains to buy a chair.
Trent called and told his brother he was off to a car show at Acacia Ridge.
When the boys arrived home, Rick was out.
He'd told Julene: "There's something I need to do. Don't ask any questions."
He'd backed the car into the shed. He was in there for less than half an hour. Then he drove away.
Julene told her sons that she believed Rick had gone out to get rid of Tia's body. They cried but nobody called police. A frantic Cindy was still texting, desperate for news of her daughter.
The next day, as Rick and Julene drove the area for another day of fruitless searching, he put the car through a car wash.
"Stick to the story," he kept saying.
Days later, Julene was watching the television news when a report came on that a girl's body had been found on the banks of the Pimpama River.
"Is that it?" Julene asked.
"Yes it is," Rick told her.
A DAY or two after Tia's disappearance, Rick, Julene and Trent arrived at the house of the relative Trent had sent the messages to.
It was another family meeting. Rick had messaged the young woman earlier in the day, wanting to know when she would be home. She hadn't answered.
"I remember that they were all concerned about the consequences for Trent … of having had sex with Tia," she would later tell police.
"I remember that Rick … was the most concerned and that he was extremely worried that Trent … would go to jail and that he wouldn't last a day."
Rick told the young woman to delete the messages and get rid of her phone. She did delete the messages. But before she did, she made a quick copy and pasted them into a Word document.
She didn't see the Thorburns much after that. It was months later, maybe in May, when she answered a call from a private number.
It was Rick. He wanted to meet her. He told her to meet him at a park once she'd finished work.
When she arrived, Rick approached. She spotted Julene too. And Julene's mother, Dorothy.
Rick asked her to take a walk, just the two of them. And when they were alone, he burst into tears.
He was terrified for Trent, he told her. He begged her not to tell anyone about the messages. Trent wouldn't last a day in prison, he sobbed. She gave him a hug.
The timing of this meeting, if it did occur in May, is interesting. Because it was May 10 that that call to Crime Stoppers was made. The one that would see Rick jailed for life.
DOROTHY Fayle didn't much like her son-in-law. He was the type of person who wanted everything and he wanted it immediately. He didn't want the bother of saving for the things he wanted. Julene had never told her mother that Rick had been violent but Dorothy had had her suspicions.
Rick had raised his boys under the strictest of conditions. Until they'd become involved in dance, they'd rarely mixed with anyone.
She may not have liked Rick but she'd never thought him capable of murder.
When the family was arrested, Julene and Josh were quickly given bail. She called her mother. She needed a place to stay. Dorothy was furious. The police had it completely wrong, she insisted. "No Mum, Rick did do it," Julene told her.
"I do not feel like Rick is my husband," she confessed. "It's hard to relate to him and treat him how I have always done. I can't treat him any different or he will pick up on it."
Josh was also struggling.
"He is my dad but from that night on, I can't relate to him as my dad," he said.
Cindy had no reason to forgive and nor would she. She attended every court hearing, even the procedural ones - the hearings that lasted for only a minute or two. She could do this for her daughter.
She got better at fronting the cameras. They would crowd around her as each of the Thorburns was sentenced.
Julene was given 18 months jail but served just six months for covering up a little girl's murder. She'd told the court she'd kept silent to protect her family, her lifestyle. Rick had been the main breadwinner, after all.
"As a mother, no sentence is going to be enough," an angry Cindy said outside court.
"What we got here today was an outcome."
Josh received a similar sentence.
Trent, who was charged with incest, attempting to pervert the course of justice and two counts of perjury - over his lies to the CCC - was given four years but would have to serve only 16 months.
He had already served all but a few weeks when the court handed down his sentence.
He appealed, complaining it was too harsh. He'd been bashed twice within days of his arrest and had had to spend the rest of his term in solitary confinement.
"He needs to just take some responsibility for what they've done, honestly," Cindy said. "I feel no sympathy for him or his family."
His appeal was dismissed.
On Friday, May 25, a diminutive Rick Thorburn, made small by prison, cried as he offered his pleas of guilty.
He cried as his lawyer spoke of his years in solitary confinement, his tough childhood. He did not cry when a judge described the little girl he'd left half in the water, stripped down to her torn underwear.
Outside court, Cindy said she "needed time to process" the sentence and grieve privately.
"(Tiahleigh) was a beautiful young girl who had her entire life to look forward to," she said. "Rick Thorburn took that away from me, and most importantly, Tiahleigh."