She was pretty, creative, a free spirit and just 12 years old when she was placed into a foster home amid rolling green lawns with horses in the yard.

On the face of it, Tiahleigh Alyssa Rose Palmer appeared to be lucky.
Her new family ran two businesses called Miss Julene's Family Day Care and an American-themed food truck called Nothing Healthy Here and she now had two big brothers, reports

After Tiahleigh's childhood living with her drug-affected single mother Cyndi, and living in and out of care homes, the little girl had spent two happy years with Gympie foster mother, Julie Pemburton.



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Then in January 2015, she was sent to live with the Thorburns at their sprawling modern home with a swimming pool. It was located on an isolated stretch of road at Chambers Flat, in a rural pocket of strawberry farms and horse paddocks at Logan, south of Brisbane.

All the household members — horse mad mother Julene, truck driver and muscle-car enthusiast father Rick, amateur dancers and brothers Trent and Josh — held blue cards.

The cards authorised adult Queenslanders to work with children, and the Chambers Flat family were approved as foster carers and family day­care operators.

The seemingly idyllic 2ha property where Tiahleigh made her new home with the Thorburn family had two bathrooms and Tiahleigh had her own bedroom.

But inside the four-bedroom brick house, Tiahleigh was to endure misery and sexual abuse.

The bright but vulnerable girl had entered a house of harm she would never escape.

Tiahleigh went to Marsden State School where the sixth-grader with her sense of fun and adventure made friend easily.

A schoolmate, Mia Sky-Pfingst, would later remember how Tia "made a world full with joy and happiness … we did everything together, like, get in trouble together, messed around a lot, played games".

As a student, Tiahleigh occasionally played truant, but as her former carer Julie Pemburton discovered, the trouble was at home not at school.

The Thorburns: Killer Rick (left), Josh and Julene, who covered it up, and Trent (right), whose unlawful sex with Tiahleigh led to the end. Photo / Facebook
The Thorburns: Killer Rick (left), Josh and Julene, who covered it up, and Trent (right), whose unlawful sex with Tiahleigh led to the end. Photo / Facebook

Ms Pemburton, who gave up Tiahleigh when she withdrew altogether from foster caring, later told Nine News that Tiahleigh had run away 10 times in her 10 months at the Thorburns.

Ms Pemburton said Tiahleigh "hated" her new home, although the exact nature of her misery wasn't clear.

Tiahleigh told her biological family she wouldn't move out because she had "a crush" on Trent and she loved the family's horses.

Julene and Rick were aged in their 50s and their elder son Josh, then aged 19, worked in the home childcare business while unemployed and recovering from an injury.

The slightly built young man, who had been bullied at school for being a dancer, was apparently afraid of his father.

The younger son Trent, 18, described himself as a dancer, metal fabrication apprentice and classic car builder.

The blond selfie-obsessed Trent had started taking "advantage of (Tiahleigh) as her big brother".

At some point, he had become concerned he had impregnated Tiahleigh, who had also told a friend that Trent was having sex with her when Julene left the house.

About September 27, 2015, Trent confessed his wrongful relationship to a cousin, who then told Julene.

The 12-year-old schoolgirl's days were numbered; within 48 hours she would be dead.

Tiahleigh was adventurous and fun-loving but 'hated' living at the Thorburns'. Photo / News Corp Australia
Tiahleigh was adventurous and fun-loving but 'hated' living at the Thorburns'. Photo / News Corp Australia

Rick Thorburn would later tell police that he had dropped Tiahleigh off at school at 8.10am on Friday, October 30.

That morning, Joshua Thorburn was told not to go into his foster sister's room.

He walked past her door but did not look.

His father Rick had smothered Tiahleigh the night before to prevent any scandal about brother Trent's sexual relationship with a child.

Josh would later lie to police, telling them he'd spoken to Tiahleigh in the morning as she'd been getting ready for school, before she run away.

But it was his mother Julene who had orchestrated the cover-up, because she did not want to lose her "family and lifestyle".

Julene and Rick held a family meeting with Trent and Josh, telling the boys "it's all been taken care of".

That evening on Facebook, Rick Thorburn advanced the lie, posting messages about the girl's disappearance and garnering sympathy and help.

"If any of her friends are hiding her again, please do the right thing and let us know," he wrote at 11pm on the Friday. "She needs to come home where she belongs."

Tiahleigh had remained in contact with her mother Cyndi throughout their turbulent time in care, and her disappearance sent alarm bells ringing in her mother's head.

Six days later, three fishermen found Tiahleigh's badly decomposed body floating in the Gold Coast's Pimpama River, 30km south of where she was last seen.

The water and dirt had washed away any signs of what had happened to Tia, and police had few clues to work with while going about investigating how she had died.

Police divers found one of Tiahleigh's shoes, but her school uniform and pink backpack were missing.

On November 8, 2015, more than 600 family, friends and wellwishers gathered at the Brisbane Anglican Maori Mission in Cornubia for Tiahleigh's funeral.

Many of them dressed in purple, Tiahleigh's favourite colour.

Special T-shirts with the girl's name in a white heart on a purple background were worn by close family and the pallbearers.

Rick Thorburn was one of six carrying Tiahleigh's small, white coffin.

As her school chaplain described Tiahleigh as passionate and creative, the Thorburn family took "pride of place … and people treated them as though they were parents of long standing, which they weren't", the girl's biological grandmother later recalled.

Queensland detectives, who had suspected Rick Thorburn from the earliest days of their murder investigation, placed listening devices in the Chambers Flat house.

In March 2016, they searched a house in the Logan suburb of Waterford West for clues.

The Thorburns were still operating their family daycare business, and would continue to do so until April that year, when police arrested Rick Thorburn.

In September 2016, police seized a car once owned by Rick Thorburn and took all four members of the family in for questioning.

Forensic officers began to dig up the backyard at Chambers Flat, searching for Tiahleigh's still missing school uniform and backpack.

Detectives charged Rick Thorburn with Tiahleigh's murder and with interfering with a corpse.

They charged Julene and Josh Thorburn with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Trent Thorburn was charged with incest, attempting to pervert the course of justice and two counts of perjury.

Trent and Rick Thorburn were denied bail, and the father collapsed and was taken to hospital for a suspected heart attack.

Last year, Trent Thorburn began a maximum four-year, minimum five-month sentence for incest and his other charges.

Joshua Thorburn received a three month sentence, and Julene a maximum 18 months.

Rick Thorburn will spend the rest of his life in jail after pleading guilty to murdering the 12-year-old. He will need to serve 20 years in prison before being eligible for parole on September 12, 2036.