SYDNEY — Australian homicide detectives on Friday charged a 41-year-old man with the rape and murder of Irish woman Jill Meagher after her body was found in a bushland area north of Melbourne.
Meagher, 29, who worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), was last seen at about 1:30 am on Saturday when she left friends at an inner-city bar to walk the short distance home.
Police said Adrian Ernest Bayley, 41, from the Melbourne suburb of Coburg, was charged with rape and murder after a woman's body was found early Friday in Gisborne South, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) northwest of central Melbourne.
Detectives arrested Bayley at his home on Thursday, one day after police released closed-circuit TV footage which showed Meagher's last known moments -- including her pausing to talk to a man wearing a blue hoodie.
Police have not yet formally identified the body but the ABC reported that it was that of Meagher.
Meagher's relatives in Ireland said the family was devastated.
"We are heartbroken," uncle Michael McKeon said. "She was the first grandchild my mother had, and her aunties, uncles and cousins are powerless to describe their loss."
Her uncle said the family had held out hope that the young woman would be found safe and well but admitted that "when the man in the CCTV footage was arrested we feared the worst".
Meagher's disappearance received wide news coverage and her family credited a social media campaign, including a Facebook page to find her which attracted more than 120,000 "likes", as helping the police investigation.
"We acknowledge the role that social media has played in the search for Jill, we believe that it has helped us in the search, but it's not the outcome that we had hoped and prayed for," McKeon said.
As police continued their forensic analysis at the scene, the ABC said Meagher, who had lived in Australia for three years and who worked in administration for local radio station 774 Melbourne, was "widely known, universally respected and much loved".
774 ABC presenter Jon Faine, who worked closely with Meagher, said the tragedy "must not come to define us".
"That is not what it is like to live in the Melbourne we know," he said.
Bayley faced an out-of-sessions court hearing in the early hours of Friday and later appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in a brief hearing attended by the dead woman's husband Tom Meagher.
Outside the court, Tom Meagher thanked Australians for their support but also warned that "negative comments on social media may hurt legal proceedings".
Bayley, who was remanded in custody, will face court again on January 18.
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