We all deserve a safe place to live, right? Troubled Australian schoolgirl Tiley must have thought she’d found her dream home when she was fostered by a highly respected, wealthy family. But tragically, she would soon learn that nothing about that picture-perfect family was remotely wholesome or saved at all. The worst part is that when she tried to speak out, no one listened and it cost her her life. Let’s dive in.
They lived in Logan County, Queensland, and seemed like a happy, outgoing teenager. She loved to dance and mess around. However, she came from the kind of a troubled background. Her birth mother, Cindy Palmer, was going through some rough issues. There was an unsafe environment at home, and so Cindy and Protection decided it made sense for Tia Lee to go and live somewhere more stable, at least for a little while.
In January 2015, Tia was sent to foster with the rich Thorburn family. The fostered mother, Julian, ran a daycare center from their enormous home and kept lots of horses. The foster father, Rick Thorburn, was a former truck driver who made a fortune on his fast-food business, a food truck called Nothing Healthy here, the Thorburn family and their home looked, on the surface, like a picture-perfect place for the schoolgirl to live until Tia’s mom figured out her own life. All the same, Tia’s mom already had a few big doubts about letting her stay with them. Those doubts were mainly to do with Trent and Josh, the third Born’s teenage sons who looked like the classic boy next door type.
Well, we say teenage, but Trent was pretty much an adult by this point. So with how wholesome and well off the family seemed, Cindy eventually agreed that it was probably the best place for Tia to live. Tia Lee lived as a third born for ten months. It’s kind of telling that she ran away almost every month, but the reasons why weren’t ever made very clear. Although, according to Tia’s grandmother, just months before she died, Tia had decided not to move back in with her mother because she loved the third born horses.
Apparently, she also had a crush on the eldest son, Trent. Yeah, we’ll get into more about that very soon. But life continued to look pretty normal until October 30, 2015, when Tia went missing. But a proper search for her didn’t start until November 5. This is mainly due to her history of running away before and because several witnesses thought they’d seen her at school after Rick said he’d dropped her off early that morning.
Trent had also told investigators he’d seen Tia on October 30, walking around in her pajamas before she left for school. Eventually, it was realized that she hadn’t attended any classes or been seen by anyone at school for the rest of the day. She also hadn’t gone anywhere that her birth mother would expect to find her. But there was a delay of a few days before an appeal finally went out for information, including desperate requests from her foster father, Rick. Ten days after her disappearance, every parent’s worst nightmare came true.
Some fishermen found Tia deceased and only partially clothed, right at the side of the local Pimpera River. It was hard to figure out what had happened to her, given how long she had been in the water. Even identifying her as a girl had been difficult because she wasn’t in her school uniform. Police began searching for it and her distinctive pink backpack, hoping to find more clues about what happened to her. It seemed likely that someone had grabbed her while walking to or from school.
Although 300 previous offenders in the area were rounded up and interrogated, nothing useful came from that line of questioning, either. Over the next few months, the police continued to question her classmates, and a well-attended vigil was held in her memory. People even wore purple because it was her favorite color, but for a long while, nobody could find anything helpful. Eventually, in May 2016, an anonymous tipoff came through to the Crimestoppers helpline. This call meant that the police were able to find the person who dumped Portia by the river.
The caller revealed details of a family meeting held by the third one. This was allegedly on the day before a social worker noted Tyler was absent from high school. At this meeting, it had been revealed that Trent had inappropriate relations with his foster sister. Like the most inappropriate bear in mind, she wasn’t even a teenager yet, and he was almost 20, worried about getting caught. Now, TLA had complained of having stomach cramps after a hip hop class on the evening of October 28, Trent told his father he was afraid she might be pregnant.
That night, Rick ordered all of his family to leave so that only he and Tia were in the house together. Later, Trent told the cousin about what he’d done to Tia through a Facebook message, and it had led to a terrible act. In this, he had called her a source of income for his parents. The anonymous Crimestoppers call prompted a hearing during which all four members of the Third Born families stuck to the story. But by this point, the extremely suspicious police had installed listening devices in their home.
These devices caught damning conversations between the family members, including Thur Born, telling his wife and sons to stick to the story about him dropping Healey at school and to keep Trent’s relationship with Tea Lee quiet. Rick had informed his family that it was all taken care of. He told them not to ask any questions they didn’t need to know the answers to. He’d hidden her body and was planning to get rid of her the following night. All four members of the thirdborn Family were arrested in September 2016.
So the police searched Rick’s car, which had been sold on since her disappearance, looking for evidence he had driven the school route and lied about seeing Tia meet a friend. In a police interview, Josh Thurbourne, 22, told of the moment he knew what Rick had done to his foster sister. Exactly.
Rick Thurbourne pleaded guilty to her murder, and given what we know now, he deserves whatever is coming to him. A confirmed and horrible father and husband. It turned out his whole family lived in fear of him. They just did his hotel by Rick. He was a controlling figure.
Even worse, information soon surfaced as claims about what Rick had been doing to the girls at his wife’s daycare were also investigated. It’s as bad as you can imagine, and while no one had been fostered with the family since the teen vanished, that daycare had continued to run. If there really is an afterlife, then this monster is getting sent to a really bad place. When Rick’s pop began to fall apart, he tried to get out of facing the consequences for what he’d done with the help of slightly too many pills. But luckily for us, his attempt completely failed and he was arrested as soon as he woke up.
Before long, the family faced consequences for their callous actions. In November 2017, Julian Thurbourne was sentenced to 18 months in jail for perjury and attempting to avert the course of justice. Trent was sentenced to four years in prison in 2017 after he pleaded guilty to having inappropriate relations with Healy, who was basically considered his sister. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of perjury and attempted to avert the course of justice. Although his defense team claimed that he’d be in fear of his life from his dad and his parents pressured him to lie while serving his sentence, Trent learned what it was made to be to suffer in a new home when he was beaten up in prison.
Not that this is a good thing at all, but okay, maybe it’s just a little bit satisfying in this case. Josh, the only family member who seemed even slightly upset about Tia during questioning, was given his sentence for three months for lying to the police. And finally, the monstrous Rick pleaded guilty and will now spend the rest of his life in jail. He won’t be eligible for parole until September 12, 2036, as he’s 60 years old now, that’s pretty good. But even with Rick locked away for a long time, no one can know what had actually happened to Tia.
On that awful evening. He claimed in a letter that he had no memory of the event, so it didn’t seem we would ever know. But that all changed. On June 8, 2021, at a court hearing to wrap up the case, Rick Thorburn finally admitted to what he did. He said that he’d accidentally suffocated the tortilla.
Then he went from tearfully recounting how she died to angrily threaten to walk out go yourself. Guilty, guilty, guilty to everything. I’m never getting out. Who gives it? Wow, it’s almost like he was a terrible person all along.
Right. In 2018, Tia’s heartbroken mom sued Queensland child protective services for failing her daughter’s care and not protecting her. There were several times when Tia had reached out, but nobody had listened to her teenage trauma, right? Sadly, it looks like nobody seemed to really care what was going on until it was way too late. At least we all know the truth now.
But here’s a final word of warning. Trent has recently been identified by women using Tinder. Some of those who realized it was him have said they feel sick as he may target women who may be too young to remember his crime. So be super careful who you swipe right on in Queensland, it disgusts me so much that he’s even allowed to walk the streets as a free man after what he did to Tia. However, it’s good to know that even though some years have passed, he can’t escape his crime.
What do you think about this case? Do you think anyone could have helped Tia? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.