The body of ABC employee Jill Meagher has been discovered buried in a shallow grave north-west of Melbourne this morning, as homicide squad detectives charged a man over her rape and murder.
Adrian Ernest Bayley faced an out-of-sessions court hearing just before 2.30am today, where he was charged with the rape and murder of Ms Meagher in Brunswick on Saturday morning.
The 41-year-old Coburg man was remanded without bail and is expected to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court today.
Police discovered Ms Meagher's body buried in a shallow grave beside a dirt road in Gisborne South about 1.45am today.
The grave is just metres from the road under a tall tree.
The remote area is surrounded by paddocks and is about 45 kilometres - or a 40-minute drive - from where Ms Meagher, an Irish national, was last captured on CCTV footage walking north along Sydney Road in Brunswick.
While the area is remote, there are farm houses within about one kilometre of the grave.
The coroner removed Ms Meagher's body from the scene about 4am today, and an autopsy will be carried out to determine her exact cause of death.
Bayley accompanied police to the grave last night and remained there for about 1.5 hours, before he was taken back to the St Kilda Road police complex where he faced an out-of-sessions court hearing.
Bayley declined to have the charges read out to him at the hearing, which took no more than two minutes.
A tattooed Bayley appeared at the session wearing a navy blue shirt and jeans, and had his left hand clasped over his face throughout.
When asked if he understood the charges he replied "yes" in a faint voice.
Bayley was arrested in Coburg yesterday afternoon in connection with Ms Meagher's disappearance and questioned at Victoria Police's St Kilda Road headquarters.
Amid the outpouring of grief, floral tributes have today been left outside the bridal shop and in Sydney Road, where Ms Meagher was last seen on Saturday morning.
Ms Meagher’s uncle, Michael McKeon, said the family was trying to cope with an unimaginable loss.
‘‘We are devastated, we are heartbroken,’’ Mr McKeon said in a statement.
‘‘She was the first grandchild my mother had, and her aunties, uncles and cousins are powerless to describe their loss. There are no words to describe how we feel at what has happened.
‘‘We had hoped yesterday when there was no evidence of foul play, but when the man in the CCTV footage was arrested we feared the worst.’’
He acknowledged the role social media had played in the search for his niece.
‘‘We believe that it has helped us in the search, but it’s not the outcome that we had hoped and prayed for. We thank the people around the world who have helped support us.
‘‘Both the McKeon and the Meagher family will have to plan now to grieve for Gillian and this is going to be one of the greatest, hardest things given that only three years ago we came together for the marriage of this lovely couple [Gillian and her husband, Thomas].’’
ABC presenter Jon Faine paid tribute to Ms Meagher, who he described as a colleague and friend, at the start of his show today, and said her legacy was important.
‘‘Jill’s death must not come to define us. That is not what it is like to live in the Melbourne we know,’’ he told his listeners.
‘‘This is an exceptionally rare event. Its randomness is part of what is so incomprehensible about it.’’
ABC Local Radio Victoria also released a statement today saying her colleagues were deeply saddened by the ‘‘tragic news of the death of our friend and colleague, Jill Meagher’’.
‘‘Our thoughts go out to Jill’s family and friends, so devastated by the passing of this wonderful young woman,’’ it said.
‘‘Jill was a much-loved member of the Local Radio family. She was witty, intelligent and great company. Her friends and workmates at the ABC will miss her greatly.
‘‘This tragic outcome will undoubtedly weigh heavily on them, and they will be supported through this dark time.
‘‘We thank the police for their dedication to the investigation and our colleagues in the media for their support.
‘‘We would also thank our listeners and the general public for their overwhelming kindness and encouragement over the past week.
‘‘Jill was an innocent victim, a young, vibrant woman with her whole life in front of her.’’
ABC managing director Mark Scott said that Ms Meagher was an important member of the Victorian radio team and a vibrant presence at 774 Melbourne.
‘‘She was widely known, universally respected and much loved, with a great career ahead of her,’’ Mr Scott said on the broadcaster’s website.
‘‘Our thoughts are with Jill’s husband, Tom, her family and her friends.
‘‘I know that ABC staff everywhere will want to send their love and support to Jill’s colleagues, who have endured such a terrible week only to face the reality of her loss.’’
— with Craig Butt