Toilet bowl baby murder breakthrough
It was a murder so awful the community called in a Catholic priest to bless the crime scene: a newborn baby found dead inside a toilet bowl at a Western Australia trailer park.
Twenty-four years on, police have allegedly finally found the mother of the tiny boy authorities named "Rijul", a Hindi word meaning "innocent".
Cold case homicide squad detectives yesterday charged a 38-year-old woman, believed to be the mother, in Victoria with one count of wilful murder.
Police allege she was just 14 years old when she gave birth to the child in a toilet at a caravan park in Kambalda, a Goldfields mining town of less than 3000 people around 60km from Kalgoorlie.
A cleaning woman made the horror find on July 12, 1995. Her daughter, Alysha Steer, remembers walking into the dining room and finding her mother crying.
"She went to clean the toilets and one was filled with toilet paper. So she got her gloves on and went to go dig it out and (ended up) pulling Rijul out."
A post mortem examination found the child was caucasian and died from suffocation.
Paul McGeever, the owner of Kambalda Caravan Park at the time, described the grisly scene to local media, saying it had given him nightmares for days afterwards.
He said the baby's body was wrapped in toilet paper and there was blood all over the walls and floor of the cubicle.
"We were working around the caravan park about 4.30pm and we never noticed anyone strange walking into the toilet," he told the Miner.
"People went into the toilets and saw blood, but just thought it was the usual carry-on that happens in public toilets."
Police believed the boy was born just a few hours before he was found yet there were no sightings of a pregnant woman entering the toilets and no trail of blood outside.
Investigators told the public it was "inevitable" the mother would be traced but a massive air and ground search of bushland and a doorknock of 500 homes came up empty.
A voluntary DNA testing site was set up in the area, with many local women coming forward to clear themselves of suspicion.
One of those women, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the ABC she allowed herself to be tested at 18.
"It was such a sad story, everyone wanted to know," she said.
One of the original detectives on the case, Doug Backhouse, recalled investigators were frustrated from the start because they had no strong leads.
"It was all very strange and very tragic, not only for the baby, but goodness me, what sort of state would the mother be in to do that," he told the Miner.
"It was quite concerning and frustrating because we didn't even get a strong lead to go on. We just didn't have anything."
Mr McGeever said the incident left residents of the caravan park so distressed that he called a Catholic priest to bless the toilet block.
After failing to find any trace of Rijul's mother in Kambalda, detectives cast their net wider and received several tips that took them interstate but never came to anything.
The case went cold for 24 years until this week, when detectives travelled to Victoria to charge a 38-year-old woman with wilful murder. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the child's conception is also underway because the alleged mother was underage when she gave birth.
"Given the age of the woman at the time of the child's birth, an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the conception of the child has been commenced, and is ongoing," WA Police said in a statement.
The woman will be extradited from Victoria and is due to front the Perth Children's Court on Thursday.