A naked body was found by tradies at the edge of cliffs in Sydney’s east on Friday morning, near the site where police were searching for the man suspected of killing 21-year-old Lilie James.
Workers at a construction site in Vaucluse called police about 8am after making the grisly discovery, close to Diamond Bay Reserve, where officers had earlier been searching for Paul Thijssen.
Ms James, a water polo instructor, was found beaten to death with a hammer in a gym toilet at St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney’s just before midnight on Wednesday.
Thijssen, who she had been in a secret relationship with for just weeks, is believed to have called police. Some of his possessions were found at the cliffside.
Authorities are now working to retrieve the body from the water, with a Westpac rescue helicopter and a police jetski.
A body has been found in the water near Diamond Bay Reserve (pictured), in Vaucluse, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs
Police and emergency crews are pictured at the scene on Friday morning
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
Police have been searching for Paul Thijssen, a Netherlands-born former student at the school, who has served as the hockey coach
The body, which appeared to be naked, battered and bloated, could be seen slumped between rocks at the base of the cliff.
A police jet ski driver kept guard in the choppy waves off the rocks as a police boat raced towards the site as the recovery operation got underway.
The surf ski later returned towards the shoreline, carrying two officers in wetsuits, as the boat remained at the scene, reversing towards the rocks.
A rescue team on the cliffs above then began rolling out ropes while an officer wearing a harness prepared to be winched down.
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.
Ms James’ family had also contacted police when she failed to return to her Kogarah Bay home in Sydney’s south.
Thijssen later rang Triple Zero and told operators there was a body in the school’s gymnasium they should investigate.
Superintendent Martin Fileman said officers were presented with a ‘confronting’ scene when they arrived at the school due to the severity of her injuries.
A crime scene was also established near a coastal reserve at Vaucluse, in the eastern suburbs, where investigators found items linked to the killing.
Mr Thijssen graduated from the school in 2017 and worked there as an assistant sports coach, according to his Linkedin profile.
Emergency teams were scene pacing between the cliff’s edge and cars parked near the reserve as the operation got underway
Officers were seen carrying equipment to a construction site on the edge of the cliff
A man could be seen putting on a harness as officers prepared to winch him down the rocks
A jet ski could be seen poised off the rocks as the rider waited for a boat to arrive at the site
A Westpac Rescue helicopter is on standby at Christiansen Park in Vaucluse
Police helicopters and boats patrolled the coastline off South Head on Thursday and Supt Fileman said detectives had been looking into the possibility the man had taken his own life.
The search was suspended after Thijssen was unable to be located.
The pair knew each other but investigators were still working to establish the nature of their relationship, Supt Fileman told reporters.
A post-mortem examination will be conducted to establish the cause of death.
Detectives are talking to witnesses and also combing CCTV from the school to piece together what led to the killing.
Supt Fileman said the circumstances of the death would also be confronting for students as it involved school staff.
‘We’re currently working in with the school to ensure the welfare of the students and they have measures in place to make sure those students are taken care of,’ he said.
Flowers were laid outside the school, which will be closed to students until next week except for those sitting year 12 exams.
St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney’s CBD was set to hold an evening service of prayers for the school’s staff, students and families.
‘An area of the school, not accessible to students, is a crime zone, and we await the approval of police before bringing everyone back on site,’ a school spokesperson said.
A silver Lexus sedan was seen being towed from Diamond Bay Reserve on Thursday
Police were seen putting a pair of Apple AirPods found at Diamond Bay Reserve, Vaucluse into brown evidence bags on Thursday
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 only students onsite are those sitting exams, and we ask that the media does not seek to interrupt their concentration or state of mind as they sit exams that are significant for their graduation.’
Meanwhile, tributes have poured in online for the talented young dancer, actor and swimmer whose life was tragically cut short.
Lilie was studying sports business at the University of Technology, having graduated from Danebank Anglican School in 2020, while coaching at St Andrew’s part-time.
‘There was nothing you couldn’t do, beautiful girl. Fly high Lil, we will miss you forever,’ one friend said.
‘Lilie was the most kind, caring, funny and supportive friend there is,’ another friend wrote.
‘I could never think that we would lose our friend in these circumstances. Our world is so cruel. Thank you for the memories and the good times Lilie.’
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