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Police will begin the painstaking task of retesting all the forensic exhibits held in relation to the 1980 stabbing murder of Maria James to build a DNA profile of her killer, after admitting they had used the wrong sample to rule out suspects.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana admitted an “embarrassing” mistake had been made that would have left James’s family bitterly disappointed, but vowed to continue the investigation.

“We’re extremely disappointed for the family in relation to this matter...it must be very difficult for them. It’s also, very difficult for our homicide investigators,’’ he said.

“We don’t have a profile on the suspect at this stage. Basically we’ve got to go back and look at all the exhibits that were available, and are being held in relation to this case, to see whether the offender has left any trace evidence behind.”

Victoria Police said DNA from an exhibit - reportedly a bloodied pillowcase - was used to rule out priest Anthony Salvatore Bongiorno as a suspect in the murder, but the exhibit came from an unrelated case.

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