The Thorburn family’s twisted and clinical plot to cover up the death of 12-year-old Tiahleigh Palmer has been revealed in a series of secret recordings captured by police.
Rick Thorburn pleaded guilty to the murder of his foster daughter Tiahleigh and has been sentenced to life in prison for her killing.
After Tiahleigh’s body was found washed up on the banks of the Pimpama River, the Thorburns’ house was bugged by police.
During this surveillance the family hatched their plan to keep the truth about the little girl’s death a secret.
Rick and Julene Thorburn can be heard coaching their sons Trent and Josh on how to maintain the lie that Tiahleigh was dropped at school that day – when she was in fact already dead.
The Thorburn family’s twisted and clinical plot to cover up the death of 12-year-old Tiahleigh Palmer has been revealed – after their house was secretly recorded by police
Rick Thorburn (pictured) pleaded guilty to the 2015 murder of his foster daughter in Brisbane’s Supreme Court
After Tiahleigh’s body was found washed up on the banks of the Pimpama River, the Thorburns’ house was bugged by police
Eventually the Thorburn family were questioned by police, and Julene, Josh (pictured) and Trent were all found to have lied about their role in the plan and had committed perjury
‘We have to stick to the same story about her going to school the next day and whatever,’ Julene said.
Rick also tells Trent what to say if he is questioned about the rape of his 12-year-old foster sister.
‘She came into your room, you remember waking up, you were still drunk, you were still… whatever,’ Rick Thorburn said.
The cracks in their plan were also evident in the surveillance, as Julene and eldest son Josh discuss telling the truth.
‘If we have to come clean that’s just between you and I,’ Julene said.
‘Dad made the decision to go down that path unfortunately.’
At no point in the family’s discussions do they express empathy or sadness for Tiahleigh.
A Facebook message leaked to police from Trent Thorburn also led to the unravelling of the family’s cover up.
In the message, Trent confesses to raping Tiahleigh, and expresses his concern that she may be pregnant.
Eventually the Thorburn family were questioned by police, and Julene, Josh and Trent were all found to have lied about their role in the plan and had committed perjury.
Julene and Josh eventually became Crown witnesses in the case against Rick Thorburn.
A Facebook message leaked to police from Trent Thorburn also led to the unravelling of the family’s cover up
Tiahleigh’s mother Cindy Palmer told 60 Minutes she ‘fell to the ground crying’ when she was told her daughter was dead
Julene (pictured) and Josh eventually became Crown witnesses in the case against Rick Thorburn
‘They were acting a part,’ she told the Nine network, remembering Thorburn carrying her daughter’s coffin
Cindy Palmer (centre), the mother of murdered schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer, and her supporters are seen leaving the Supreme Court in Brisbane
While being questioned by police, Julene Thorburn detailed the day Tiahleigh was killed by her husband Rick.
‘Don’t worry, don’t ask any questions, I’ve taken care of it,’ Rick told Julene after murdering Tiahleigh.
Tiahleigh’s mother Cindy Palmer told 60 Minutes she ‘fell to the ground crying’ when she was told her daughter was dead.
‘Obviously it was my daughter and she was found washed up in a river. What kind of animal leaves a girl in a river?’
Thorburn killed Tiahleigh between 8pm and 10pm October 29, 2015, hours after his son Trent, who was 18 at the time, confessed to having raped her – telling his parents he feared she was pregnant.
Cindy Palmer relived the fury she felt watching her daughter’s killer carrying the coffin in an emotional interview.
‘They were acting a part,’ she said. ‘He wanted to be the victim.’
Ms Palmer said Tialeigh was better off without her when she applied for her to be taken into foster care.
She had initial misgivings about her daughter living with the Thorburns.
‘The first ever time that I met Rick, the first words were [about] when he was younger, how he was in a gang and with prostitutes and he was running guns, and he was proud of this,’ she said.
Ms Palmer said her daughter began wearing padded bras and was having her eyebrows waxed while living with Rick Thorburn.
After Tiahleigh’s body was found washed up on the banks of the Pimpama River south of Brisbane, Rick Thorburn carried the girl’s casket at her funeral.
Looking back, Ms Palmer said it was ‘disgusting’.
‘They were acting a part, to be the victim. He loved it (the attention) – he went to great lengths.’
Six months after her death, police still had no strong leads in the investigation – until a tip-off call was made to Crime Stoppers, detailing a Facebook message sent from Trent Thorburn discussing how he had sexually abused Tiahleigh.
The Thorburn’s house was bugged by police and their callous conversations in covering up the sexual abuse were recorded.
In a letter penned by Thorburn (excerpt pictured), who pleaded guilty to the 2015 murder in Brisbane’s Supreme Court Friday, the 57-year-old also claimed he still loved her
Thorburn killed Tiahleigh Palmer (pictured) between 8pm and 10pm October 29, hours after his son Trent, who was 18 at the time, confessed to having sex with her
Talking to police, Josh Thorburn said his father told him that Tiahleigh was dead.
‘His exact words were ”Tiah is no longer with us… I hope you know what that means”.’
Ms Palmer spoke of how Trent Thorburn emotionally embraced her at Tiahleigh’s funeral, while keeping the family’s secret.
‘He danced, hugged me and wept,’ Ms Palmer said.
The court heard Tiahleigh was first placed into care in 2010, aged seven, and in January 2015, the Thorburn family became her full-time carers.
Tiahleigh’s badly decomposed body was found by fishermen on the banks of the Pimpama River six days after she went missing while in the Thorburn family’s care.
In a letter penned by Thorburn, obtained by ABC News, the 57-year-old claimed he still loved her.
‘There is not a day go by that I am not haunted by what I have done, the torment I live with is unbearable,’ he wrote.
‘It did not matter about her occasional naughtiness, you could not help love her and I still do.’
Thorburn has been sentenced to life in jail and will be eligible for parole in 2036.
One man interviewed by Nine (pictured) said he believes Thorburn should ‘never see the light of day’