As a grieving family grapples with the senseless and savage murder of their much-loved daughter, police are still hunting her suspected killer who is missing, possibly dead.
Water polo instructor Lilie James, 21, was found with horrific injuries in the gym bathroom of St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney’s CBD in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Her suspected killer Paul Thijssen, 24 – a former sports coach at the elite private school – is understood to have called police four hours after cops believe Ms James was brutally beaten to death with a hammer.
The exact details of the chilling phone call remain unknown but a school source revealed to Daily Mail Australia: ‘He called the cops to report the body.’
Lilie James (pictured), 21, was found dead with horrific head injuries inside St Andrew’s Cathedral School in the city’s CBD around midnight on Thursday morning after her father contacted police when she failed to return home
It has emerged that her suspected killer is ex-colleague Paul Thijssen (pictured), 24, who was a former hockey coach at the elite school
Police spent Thursday scouring a clifftop in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs where they discovered some of Thijssen’s belongings.
As of Friday morning, they had found no further trace of him.
While Ms James’s family and friends try to come to terms with their ‘everlasting grief’, police are desperately trying to piece together the events of the tragic night.
Here, Daly Mail Australia walks through the unanswered questions surrounding a murder which has shocked Australia.
What happened to Lilie?
Lilie James, 22, was a water polo coach at St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney’s CBD. She was found dead in a gym bathroom around midnight on Thursday morning
It is unclear why Ms James and her suspected killer were on the school campus on Wednesday evening outside of class hours.
But Thijssen, who was school’s former captain before becoming a sports coach, could be seen on CCTV following Ms James into a gym bathroom around 7pm.
The footage then captures Thijssen leaving the area over an hour later, while Ms James never emerged from the bathroom, The Daily Telegraph reported.
About four hours later – close to midnight – Thijssen made his phone call to police.
Uniformed cops then went to the school a short time later where they were confronted by the horrifying scene.
‘Police located the body of a female in her early twenties in the gym area of the school,’ NSW Police Superintendent Martin Fileman told reporters on Thursday.
‘It is apparent from her injuries she’s a victim of homicide. She had serious head injuries.
Lilie James is pictured with her parents and brother during a recent trip to Hamilton Island
Relatives and friends gathered outside the James’s home on Thursday with her father Jamie James (left) declining to comment saying he had to speak with police
The body of water polo coach Lilie James has been found on the grounds of a Sydney CBD school
‘The actual scene itself was quite confronting for the police who turned up.’
It later emerged the murder weapon was a hammer.
Supt Fileman also confirmed other staff were present at the school at the time the body was discovered – although it is unclear why they were there or if they witnessed anything.
‘We’re currently speaking with a number of witnesses,’ he said.
Ms James’ cause of death will be determined via a post-mortem examination, though police have already deemed it a homicide due to the horrific nature of her injuries.
Superintendent Martin Fileman said Ms James had sustained serious head injuries
On Thursday afternoon, friends and family gathered at the James family home. Ms James’s father Jamie declined to comment.
A GoFundMe page, set up by friend of the family Daniel Makovec, is raising money for them after Ms James was ‘tragically taken from them’.
‘Our grief is everlasting and take this time to reflect on her life, her love for family and friends,’ Mr Makovec wrote.
‘We feel your love and support in this trying time.’
Ms James, who was a talented sportswoman and performer, was remembered by friends as being ‘incredibly kind’ and an ‘exceptional woman’.
She was in her second year of studying sports business at the University of Technology, while coaching water polo part-time at St Andrew’s Cathedral School.
‘Lilie was the most kind, caring, funny and supportive friend there is,’ wrote one person.
Ms James was a champion swimmer who won an under 17s tournament in 2019.
Her parents’ social media pages are covered in photos of her achievements, which ranged from dancing trophies in primary school to the day she got her learner license in 2018.
Where is Paul?
Police are searching for Paul Thijssen, a Netherlands-born former student at the school, who has served as the hockey coach
Thijssen alerted police around four hours after Ms James is thought to have been murder.
Cops were able to trace the call to ‘The Gap’ clifftop at Diamond Bay Reserve in Vaucluse where they found a backpack and some of his belongings.
Daily Mail Australia witnessed police towing away a silver Lexus from Diamond Bay Reserve about 10am, investigating a bin and packing items into brown evidence bags – including what appeared to be a set of Apple AirPods.
No further trace of the suspected killer has yet been found.
Thijssen, who was born in the Netherlands before moving to Australia in 2015 where he attended St Andrew’s for years 10-12, is the son of globetrotting business executives.
Over recent years, his parents have travelled back and forth between Australia and the Netherlands for work commitments.
But during the Covid pandemic Thijssen was alone in Australia for 18 months.
Police were seen putting a pair of Apple AirPods found at Diamond Bay Reserve, Vaucluse into brown evidence bags
A second crime scene has been established at Diamond Bay Reserve at Vaucluse where police are searching for Paul Thijssen
A silver Lexus sedan was seen being towed from Diamond Bay Reserve
A school source said he believes Thijssen is ‘not psychotic’ but that this dark period may have affected him.
People who know Thijssen expressed shock and disbelief that he could be linked to Ms James’s death.
‘Everyone knew this guy because he did Year 13 (at the school),’ the source said.
‘It’s going to rock the school. He would have taught every class because we have designated sports teachers that only do sports, and they cover the whole school.’
Thijssen was sports captain at St Andrews before graduating in 2017 when he went on to get a job there as a cricket and hockey coach.
Thijssen (left) graduated from St Andrews school in 2017 and went on to work there
Ms James was a talented athlete winning several awards throughout high school
But another source at the school said that the people who knew him while he was a pupil appeared to like him more than those who continued to associate with him once he had left.
Another ex-student said that he was an ‘arrogant’ person who was liked by girls but hated by boys.
The source said they knew different people who had both a ‘really positive and really negative view of him’, adding that the majority of people with negative opinions were male, but ‘some of the girls held him in a positive light’.
The search for him is expected to resume early on Friday morning.
How did they know each other?
Daily Mail Australia revealed that Ms James was in a ‘secret relationship’ with Thijssen for a matter of weeks leading up to her death.
Ms James’ friend said the relationship had only recently ended.
The couple had dated for around five weeks before Ms James brought the relationship to an end a few days ago.
The community is in shock and the school will remain closed for the rest of the week
The school where they both taught and where they met is closed until Monday except for Year 12 pupils doing exams.
School alumni have been offered counselling sessions on Friday afternoon.
‘I understand that this is a highly upsetting and concerning update, and I want to support out alumni community in any way we can,’ the school’s head Dr Julie McGonigle said in an email seen by this publication.
What do police know?
Superintendent Martin Fileman said the victim had sustained serious head injuries.
He told a press conference at Day Street Police Station on Thursday that Police Air Wing and officers on the ground were scouring the coastline off South Head, at the entry to Sydney Harbour, and the surrounding reserve for evidence.
He would not say whether police believed the male they were seeking was alive or dead.
‘We are looking for a male in his early twenties. He is employed by the school,’ he said.
‘We don’t want to make any assumptions of the fact that that person may have taken his own life, but that’s just another line of inquiry we’re looking at at the moment.’
Two crime scenes have been established at the school where Ms James was found and at The Gap at Vaucluse where Thijssen went missing
The St Andrew’s Cathedral School gymnasium (pictured) where Ms James was found in the bathrooms
Officers found some of the belongings to Thijssen at the reserve along with ‘an item linked to the homicide’. It was unclear what exactly this was.
More than 25 uniformed officers canvassed the area, looking through gutters and bushes in a bid to retrieve evidence.
Plain-clothed detectives could be seen speaking to a nearby resident.
Detectives, uniformed officers, along with specialist police rescue team members were scouring the high cliffs, which were also cordoned off with police tape.
Specialist Police Rescue teams are involved in the operation at The Gap
Thijssen had moved to Australia from the Netherlands in 2015 for Years 10, 11 and 12
Police said other staff members were understood to be present on campus at the time the woman’s body was found, but police would not confirm why they were there.
Supt Fileman said it was ‘a very sad time for family, school staff and students’.
He appealed to ‘anyone who may have knowledge of this homicide’ to contact police or Crimestoppers.
At the Vaucluse search, a police helicopter was circling the area between Diamond Bay reserve and The Gap at Watsons Bay since before sunrise on Thursday, with the search expected to resume at first light on Friday morning.