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Foster family responsible for Tiahleigh Palmer’s death resurface 30 minutes from house of horrors

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While Rick Thorburn was recovering in his prison cell after trying to kill himself this week, life for the rest of his family – who covered up his evil murder of 12-year-old schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer – looked like almost any other in suburban Australia. 

Thorburn, 62, is serving life in prison but his two sons and wife have all completed their sentences and started new lives in Springfield on the outskirts of Brisbane – just 30 minutes’ drive from the foster home where 12-year-old Tiahleigh spent the final 10 months of her life.

Each member of the family were convicted for their role in Tiahleigh’s murder on October 29, 2015. 

Rick Thorburn was motivated to kill Tiahleigh after learning his youngest son Trent, then 19, had an incestuous sexual relationship with her and believed he may have gotten her pregnant.

He was found unresponsive in his cell on Tuesday morning but returned to custody at Wolston Corrections Centre within two days. It marked the third known time Thorburn has attempted self harm after he was found in his holding cell and placed in an induced coma at the time of his initial arrest in 2016 and again in 2020. 

Trent Thorburn was sentenced to four years in prison for incest, perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice, but spent just 16 months behind bars.

On Thursday, he was seen sporting a newly grown out mullet and facial hair as he tinkered with his red truck out the front of his new home.  

Wearing a BCF fishing shirt, Trent loaded horse riding gear and supplies into the car with a young mystery brunette, who affectionately wiped his face before they left together. 

On Thursday, he was seen sporting a newly grown out mullet and facial hair as he tinkered with his red truck out the front of his new home.

Pictured: Trent Thorburn

Pictured: Trent Thorburn

Trent Thorburn tinkered with his red truck ahead of a day out on Thursday. He was seen sitting on his driveway and looking under the truck with a screwdriver

Wearing a BCF fishing shirt, Trent loaded horse riding gear and supplies into the car with a young woman, who affectionately wiped his face before they left together

Wearing a BCF fishing shirt, Trent loaded horse riding gear and supplies into the car with a young woman, who affectionately wiped his face before they left together

It's business as usual for the Thorburn family after imprisoned patriarch Rick attempted suicide while service a life sentence for the senseless murder of Tiahleigh Palmer

It’s business as usual for the Thorburn family after imprisoned patriarch Rick attempted suicide while service a life sentence for the senseless murder of Tiahleigh Palmer

Trent spoke briefly with his mother Julene Thorburn before he and the unknown woman left the house. 

Mrs Thorburn, who was seen taking an early morning stroll with her dog on Thursday, was also sentenced to 18 months in jail after she was convicted of perjury and attempting to pervert the court of justice.

After just six months, her sentence was suspended and she’s since slipped back into a new routine with her boys, which includes weekly visits to her husband’s prison cell and regular phone calls.

‘He doesn’t have anybody else and I feel you take vows over 30 years for better or for worse… so I tend to feel an obligation,’ she said at an inquest into Tiahleigh’s death in 2021. 

‘I wouldn’t, I don’t know if you would really call it close, I call it probably an obligation in a lot of ways because he doesn’t have anybody else. I’m still married to him.’ 

Mrs Thorburn did not visit her husband in hospital on Thursday. Instead, she went for an early morning stroll with her dog before catching up with a friend at her son’s new home.    

The family were forced to move from their property in Chambers Flat after serving their prison sentences and becoming ostracised from the community. 

One neighbour at their new address told Daily Mail Australia Trent and his brother both ‘keep to themselves’, adding he had no idea of the family’s criminal history. 

Trent’s older brother Joshua was charged alongside their mother with perjury and attempting to pervert the court of justice. 

Mrs Thorburn did not visit her husband in hospital on Thursday. Instead, she went for an early morning stroll with her dog before catching up with a friend at her son's new home

Mrs Thorburn did not visit her husband in hospital on Thursday. Instead, she went for an early morning stroll with her dog before catching up with a friend at her son’s new home

After just six months her sentence was suspended and she's since slipped back into a new routine with her boys, which includes weekly visits to her husband's prison cell and regular phone calls

After just six months her sentence was suspended and she’s since slipped back into a new routine with her boys, which includes weekly visits to her husband’s prison cell and regular phone calls

The inquest into Tiahleigh's death after Thorburn was convicted determined the 12-year-old had 'at no time in her short life experienced any real stability' and was failed by the entire foster family entrusted with her care

The inquest into Tiahleigh’s death after Thorburn was convicted determined the 12-year-old had ‘at no time in her short life experienced any real stability’ and was failed by the entire foster family entrusted with her care

Despite putting on a united front for the duration of the investigation into Tiahleigh’s death, both Julene and Joshua agreed to assist police after they were charged.

The inquest into Tiahleigh’s death after Thorburn was convicted determined the 12-year-old had ‘at no time in her short life experienced any real stability’ and was failed by the entire foster family entrusted with her care.

The message Trent Thorburn sent to his cousin on October 28 revealing he had slept with Tiahleigh. The 12-year-old girl was killed the next day

The message Trent Thorburn sent to his cousin on October 28 revealing he had slept with Tiahleigh. The 12-year-old girl was killed the next day

Trent admitted to the sexual nature of their relationship in a Facebook message sent to his cousin prior to her disappearance.

He said: ‘I just want the kid gone and out of my life but I know she is also a sauce [sic] of income for mum and dad as well and I cant risk us loosing [sic] money because she is gone. 

‘Also if Tia did say something to children services and she is pregnant then it all gets investigated and I could go to jail because a court isn’t going to believe me over her.’

The message was deleted but later recovered by police during the course of the investigation. 

Despite the Thorburn family’s concerns, Tiahleigh was not pregnant at the time of her death.

In sentencing, Justice David Boddice described Thorburn’s offending as ‘cold, calculating and callous’.

‘Your offending involves truly appalling conduct,’ Justice Boddice said.

‘You showed no respect for her, even in death — you murdered this defenceless child who relied on you for protection.’

Thorburn reported Tiahleigh missing on October 30, 2015, claiming he dropped her off at school in the morning but she never made it inside the gates. Her body was found six days later on the bank of Pimpama River. 

Below, Daily Mail Australia re-examines the role each of the Thorburn family members played in Tiahleigh’s tragic death and the subsequent attempt to cover it up:

Trent Thorburn and the mystery brunette load a truck with horse riding gear and food before leaving the house

Trent Thorburn and the mystery brunette load a truck with horse riding gear and food before leaving the house

Trent Thorburn and an unidentified woman are pictured loading saddles and horse food into a truck on Thursday morning

Rick Thorburn

Rick Thorburn remains behind bars and will not be eligible for parole until September 2036.

The father-of-two admitted to murdering Tiahleigh but never revealed details of the incident, claiming he had ‘no memory’ of the moments leading to and immediately after the 12-year-old’s death.

But the inquest determined his alleged amnesia was inconsistent with observations made by prison staff and psychologists. 

During a phone call with Mrs Thorburn on June 1, 2021, he said he intended to mislead the inquest and take ‘to his grave’ the circumstances of Tiahleigh’s death.

Queensland Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley found two likely motives, the first being that he was concerned she would expose his son for their incestuous relationship.

‘Another possibility,’ she suggested, ‘is that Richard [Rick] Thorburn was himself having a sexual relationship with Tiahleigh and, when he found out that she had disclosed sexual activity with Trent, was concerned that his own behaviour with her would be revealed.’

Rick Thorburn pleaded guilty to sexual offending against a four-year-old child and 11-year-old who were in his wife’s care at the home daycare she ran while they also were fostering Tiahleigh. 

Rick Thorburn (centre) will not be eligible for parole until September 2036. The father-of-two admitted to murdering  Tiahleigh but never revealed details, claiming he had 'no memory' of the moments leading to and immediately after her death

Rick Thorburn (centre) will not be eligible for parole until September 2036. The father-of-two admitted to murdering  Tiahleigh but never revealed details, claiming he had ‘no memory’ of the moments leading to and immediately after her death

Trent Thorburn

Tiahleigh spent ten months in the care of the Thorburn family and, according to her maternal grandmother, was given the opportunity to leave at least once in that period.

Sue Palmer claimed after the little girl’s death that she chose to stay at the Chambers Flat home because she had a schoolgirl crush on Trent Thorburn, her 19-year-old foster brother.

‘She said she wanted to stay because of the boy and because she loved the horses on the property that they have there,’ Ms Palmer said at the time.

‘We didn’t have any idea as to what was actually happening there — just that she had a crush on the boy and that was the main reason she wanted to stay.’

Trent confessed to having an incestuous sexual relationship with Tiahleigh; first to his cousin via Facebook and later to his mother.

Tiahleigh spent 10 months in the care of the Thorburn family and, according to her maternal grandmother, was given the opportunity to leave at least once in that period. Sue Palmer claimed after the little girl's death that she chose to stay at the Chambers Flat home because she had a schoolgirl crush on Trent (pictured)

Tiahleigh spent 10 months in the care of the Thorburn family and, according to her maternal grandmother, was given the opportunity to leave at least once in that period. Sue Palmer claimed after the little girl’s death that she chose to stay at the Chambers Flat home because she had a schoolgirl crush on Trent (pictured)

It’s understood Tiahleigh may have also confided in her foster mother Julene Thorburn, but no action was taken.

In 2016, Trent Thorburn was sentenced to four years in prison for incest, perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. 

He walked free from jail in 2018 after serving just 16 months of his sentence – mostly in solitary confinement due to repeated attacks by other inmates. 

A sergeant investigating Tiahleigh’s death said at the time that Trent shared the blame for her death.

‘He abused his position as big brother and took advantage of her. A consequence of that is her young life has been taken,’ she said. 

A sergeant investigating Tiahleigh's death said at the time that Trent Thorburn (pictured) shared the blame for her murder. 'He abused his position as big brother and took advantage of her. A consequence of that is her young life has been taken,' she said

A sergeant investigating Tiahleigh’s death said at the time that Trent Thorburn (pictured) shared the blame for her murder. ‘He abused his position as big brother and took advantage of her. A consequence of that is her young life has been taken,’ she said

Joshua Thorburn

Joshua Thorburn was arrested alongside his brother, mother and father on September 21, 2016, for his involvement in covering up Tiahleigh’s murder.

While police never alleged he was directly involved in the 12-year-old’s death, he was charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

He gave evidence at the inquest that he was never ‘officially told’ his father had killed Tiahleigh. 

‘He just said she was no longer with us — I was never told how he did it,’ he said.

‘I wasn’t told where she was buried either until it was shown on the TV.’

He spent three months in jail after pleading guilty to the charges in 2017.

Now, Joshua is understood to live in Springfield on the outskirts of Brisbane with his brother. He was not home on Thursday when his brother and mother were seen going about their business.

Julene Thorburn 

Julene Thorburn was accused of orchestrating the cover-up of Tiahleigh’s death in an attempt to keep her family and lifestyle intact.

Her husband told her not to ask any questions after he ‘took care of the problem’, and she obliged.

At the time of her sentencing, prosecutor David Nardone told the court she instructed her sons to tell the police they knew nothing of Tiahleigh’s disappearance, adding: ‘We have to stick to the same story of her going to school the next day’.

Mrs Thorburn was sentenced to 18 months in jail for her role in protecting her husband, suspended after six months. 

How Tiahleigh Palmer was repeatedly failed by those she trusted the most

By the age of 12, Tiahleigh had lived in nine different homes and a residential care facility.

Between 2010 and 2013, she and her biological mother had inconsistent contact because her mother did not show up at many of the scheduled visits. In October 2013, her mother made contact again, revealing she was in a new relationship and pregnant.

The inquest heard Tiahleigh struggled with feelings of abandonment and blamed herself for living in a foster care facility while her brother and new sibling remained with their mother. 

Shortly prior to Tiahleigh’s death, her mother notified the department that she would relinquish guardianship of the 12-year-old, which would allow her to be placed into a long-term foster home. 

Even still, the department held high hopes for reunification and the Queensland Deputy Coroner noted she never experienced ‘any real stability in her short life’.

The 12-year-old was described as ‘immature and naive for her age’ and, despite her behavioural problems, had no history of self-harm, drug or alcohol use.

The inquest heard she was not known to run away and had expressed a fear of the dark. 

Tiahleigh was identified as having ‘high and complex needs’ from an early age, struggling with abandonment and behavioural issues. 

As such, any foster home she was placed into was entitled to a ‘complex support needs allowance’ ranging from $958.44 to $1399.72 per fortnight, in addition to allowances for all clothing, recreation and leisure costs.

The Thorburn’s put their hand up to request complex children in their initial application to begin fostering and separately expressed concerns about their financial struggles.

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