In January of 2015, a 12-year-old girl named Tiahleigh Palmer began living with a foster family in a rural town outside of Brisbane, Australia. Tia, as friends knew her, was given up by her mother, Cyndi Palmer, when Cyndi determined that her lifestyle was too chaotic to be a good place to raise a child. Tia was taken in by the Thorburns, a foster family living in Logan City, Queensland.
She lived with the Thorburns for nine months until her disappearance on October 30, 2015. That morning, her foster father, Rick Thorburn, claimed to have driven her to school and dropped her off before going to buy some parts for his car. Tia never arrived at school and was reported missing at the end of the day.
The Thorburn family was considered respectable. Rick Thorburn had been a commercial truck driver until a back injury led him to open his own food truck business instead. His wife, Julene Thorburn, ran a daycare service out of their home. Their two teenage boys, Trent and Joshua, were considered good students and were both engaged in extracurricular activities.
The day Tia was reported missing, there was little activity from law enforcement. In fact, her case was all but dormant until November 5, 2015, when her remains were found on the bank of Pimpama River, not far from the school where Rick Thorburn had dropped her off.
Due to the state of the remains, it was difficult to ascertain a cause of death. Authorities thoroughly questioned the Thorburns, who denied having any involvement in their foster child’s disappearance. The registry of known offenders in the region was pulled and nearly three hundred former criminals were interrogated by police. All of them were cleared of suspicion.
An anonymous tip broke the case open roughly a year after Tia’s disappearance. The anonymous tip alleged that Trent Thorburn had abused Tia and that his family had found out about it. Trent reportedly confessed to the incidents to a cousin, who later told prosecutors about the connection.
Later, Rick Thorburn was accused of also abusing many of the children Julene took care of in her daycare service. In the midst of the accusations and charges against the Thorburns, there was a media frenzy in Australia about the case. The horrifying details about the case that came to light fascinated and disgusted the public.
Josh and Julene Thorburn were each charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice, charges for which they would both be sentenced to prison time. Julene spent 18 months in prison for her crimes, while Josh was sentenced to four months for his role.
Trent was charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice just like his mother and brother. Additionally, he was charged with the crime of incest for his role in abusing Tia. Trent was sentenced to four years in jail for these charges.
Rick Thorburn was accused of murdering Tia after finding out about Trent’s abuse of her. On May 25, 2018, Rick Thorburn pled guilty to the charges in the Supreme Court of Queensland and was sentenced to life in prison. It is believed that Rick committed the crime to keep Tia from telling the authorities about Trent’s actions, which Rick feared would bring shame to the family.
Instead, the Thorburn family all spent varying amounts of time behind bars, and a young girl’s life was taken by her foster father for decisions made by a 19-year-old who she called “brother.” As of the time of this writing, all of the Thorburns except for Rick have served their sentences and have been released. Rick, meanwhile, remains imprisoned and will not be eligible for parole until 2036.