The killer who came knocking: ‘Maria was horribly murdered’
MARIA Smith, 20, had been married just eight weeks when she answered a midmorning knock at the door of her Randwick unit in Sydney's eastern suburbs.
Standing on the other side of the door was a sexual predator and killer who police initially believed asked for a pencil and paper, on April 22, 1974. The student teacher was thought to have turned her back to help before he launched a vicious attack.
Ms Smith's body was found by her husband in the bedroom of their unit when he returned home from work later that day. She had been bound, gagged and raped before being strangled with her own stockings. Ms Smith's husband Steve is not a suspect.
In a new development announced today, a $1 million reward is now on offer for information that leads to a conviction in the case of Ms Smith, whose life was tragically cut short four decades ago.
"Maria was horribly murdered," the head of the NSW homicide squad, Detective Superintendent Scott Cook, told reporters on Tuesday.
"She was bound, gagged and sexually assaulted before being strangled.
"She had only been married eight weeks and, at the age of 20, had her whole life ahead of her."
It's only the second time in the state's history a $1 million reward has been put on the table, matching the same sum that remains on offer in the case of missing toddler William Tyrrell.
It also marks the first time a $1 million reward has been offered under the new rewards system, which came into effect in December 2017. The recommendation for incentive is now made by investigators instead of the Rewards Evaluation Advisory Committee.
"Maria's murder had an incredible impact on the community at the time, but it is nothing compared to the suffering her family have endured over the last 44 years," Supt Cook said.
Despite extensive investigations over the years, no one has ever been charged for Ms Smith's murder.
Her brother Peter McGuinn, who was 22 at the time, recalled clearly the afternoon when Mr Smith discovered his wife's body.
"I remember a home that was just devastated," he said. "Our family was just in total shock. We had people around us to support us, but it was a bloody nightmare."
Mr McGuinn said the entire family had been affected and many had become overly cautious for years after.
He said he was encouraged by the reward and that he often thought about his sister.
"You never put a tragedy like this to bed," he said.
Detective Supt Cook said that at the time of the murder, investigators had a number of possible theories about the motives of Ms Smith's killer, including links to the murder of Lynette White, 26.
Less than a year earlier, on June 8, 1973, Ms White, a first-time mother, was with her 11-week-old son when she was killed in her Coogee home in seemingly similar circumstances. A broken mug was found on the floor, with police speculating the attacker had arrived on her doorstep and asked for a glass of water, after watching her husband leave for work.
He is believed to have then burst inside and forced her at knifepoint to undress. It is believed the killer had first tried to sexually assault Ms White before he was disturbed by someone delivering nappies who turned up outside.
Ms White appeared to have tried to run towards the front door but the killer followed, stabbing her at least 11 times and slitting her throat in the hallway.
The brutal attack - which took place less than 3km from where Ms Smith also later died - has never been solved. Ms White's baby boy was unharmed in the attack. A $100,000 reward to unlock the mystery of Ms White's savage murder was announced by the state government last year.
Last year, he successfully lobbied to get playing cards with photos and names of unsolved murder victims and a description of the crime brought into NSW prisons, similar to a system already in use in the United States.
News.com.au has contacted Mr White for comment.
Police Minister Troy Grant said the rewards had nothing to do with the value of the lives of victims.
"It is a monetary figure that is determined by the investigating police that will best assist them to bring answers and give families closure," he said.
While both women were in their 20s, had been home alone after their husbands left for work and appeared to have let their attackers inside, police now believe the women were most likely killed by two different people - both of whom are still at large.
Detective Supt Cook today told reporters that investigators were now "conducting separate investigations into each of these matters" after having reviewed both cases.
"That said, we are keeping an open mind and welcome any information from the community that may assist our inquiries and help bring us closer to providing answers to both families," he said.
"Investigators are seeking to reinterview various people who were in contact with Maria at the time, including friends, work colleagues, and even those she may have spoken to while working at Malabar RSL Club."
Detective Supt Cook said police were particularly eager to speak with anyone who lived in the unit block at 14-20 St Marks Road, Randwick in early 1974, regardless of whether they've previously been interviewed.
The reward comes as NSW Police announced on Monday about 500 cold case homicides dating back four decades would be reopened and re-examined with fresh eyes and cutting-edge technology as police attempt to catch the killers.
Specialist detectives from across the force will conduct formal case reviews. The request for "fresh eyes" to examine the cases came from victims' families, police said.
Anyone with information should contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.