The case of the 12-year-old school girl Tiahleigh Palmer who was molested by her foster brother and murdered by her foster father- part 1.

Jason Brien.

     Tiahleigh Alyssa Rose Palmer was 12 years old when she was first placed in the care of the Thorburn family in Logan, QLD, Australia in January 2015. Before being placed with the Thornburns, Tiahleigh had been in and out of care homes and had been living with the Thornburn family for about 10 months before she was reported missing. Tiahleigh’s body was found on the banks of a Gold Coast river in 2015, 6 days after she was declared missing. Local police officially declared Tiahleigh missing and the investigation was hampered by multiple false sightings. School friends of Tiahleigh had claimed to have spoken to her on the morning she had gone missing although the police investigation later found this not to be true.

     Tiahleigh’s foster father Rick played the concerned parent by making public appeals for information regarding his foster daughters’ whereabouts. Mr Thornburn claimed that he had last seen Tiahleigh when he dropped her off at school at Marsden on October 30, 2015. Rick had in fact murdered his foster daughter Tiahleigh to prevent anybody from discovering that his 18-year-old son Trent had been molesting the young school girl. Trent had disclosed to a relative that he had raped the young girl and was concerned that she may be pregnant. On the morning of Friday October 30, 2015, Rick ordered his son Joshua Thornburn not to enter Tiahleigh’s bedroom. Rick had smothered the young girl the previous night. Joshua later lied to the police saying that he had spoken to his foster sister as she had been getting dressed ready for school.  

     According to a police statement in 2016, Tiahleigh’s foster mother Julene admitted that she had seen her husband reverse the family car into their shed shortly after the killing. Julene admitted in the 2016 statement that although she could not see clearly what her husband was doing in the shed, she was aware that her now deceased foster daughter was being loaded into the boot of the car by her husband. The 2016 police statement also revealed that at the time Rick was loading Tiahleigh's body into the family car, he had instructed his two sons, Joshua and Trent to leave the house and go somewhere public so that they could be noticed as the 'less they knew the better'.  

     Foster mother Julene stated that she had orchestrated the cover up so as not to lose her ‘family and lifestyle’. Rick and Julene sat Joshua and Trent down in a family meeting and both parents informed them that the matter with Tiahleigh ‘had been taken care of’. Rick enhanced the cover up by posting messages on Facebook stating that Tiahleigh had gone missing and was pleading with her school friends not to hide her away. It was later revealed that during her short stay with the Thornburn family, Tiahleigh was subjected to multiple acts of violence such as physical, mental and emotional abuse, torture and degradation.  

     Queensland police suspected Rick early on during the investigation and had listening devices planted inside the Thornburns family home in Chambers Flat, QLD, Australia. Detectives ultimately charged all of the Thornburn family members in 2016. Trent Thornburn was charged with incest, attempting to pervert the course of justice and two counts of perjury. Trent began a maximum four-year, minimum five-month sentence for his charges. Julene and Joshua Thornburn were charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of Justice. Julene received a maximum 18-month sentence and Joshua received a three-month sentence. Rick Thornburn was charged with Tiahleigh’s murder and for interfering with a corpse. Rick received a life penalty for the murder of his 12-year-old foster daughter and is not eligible for parole until September 2036.  

     After Tiahleigh’s murder, Rick was also charged with raping a 12-year-old girl, and attempting to rape another younger girl, at a family day-care center operated by his wife Julene. In June 2016, Mr Thorburn was committed to stand trial on one count of rape, one count of attempted rape and seven charges of indecent treatment of a child under 12, relating to both girls. In November 2016, Thorburn pleaded guilty to one count of rape, two counts of attempted rape, and 10 counts of indecent treatment of a child under 12. He was sentenced to 5 years for 13 child sex offences including the rape of a child. He will serve no extra time for these crimes.

Part 2 will look at the psychology behind sibling incest.


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Ayling, L. (2020). Tiahleigh Palmer's evil foster father explodes in court as he's given MORE jail time for raping a little girl - five years after murdering his adopted daughter, 12, because his son, 18, was having sex with her. Retrieved from 

Chapman, A. (2020). Rick Thorburn, foster father killer of Tiahleigh Palmer, sentenced for rape and attempted rape of two girls. Retrieved from 

Sam. (2019). Murder of Tiahleigh Palmer; Right to know request. Retrieved from 

Utting, A. (2018). Rick Thorburn gets life for killing Tiahleigh Palmer. Retrieved from