Cairns comes together for Toyah Cordingley as Indian police step up search for alleged killer

<span>Photograph: Queensland police/AAP</span>
Photograph: Queensland police/AAP

Four years on from the tragic death of Toyah Cordingley, police in India say they are narrowing in on her alleged killer.

The 24-year-old was found dead on Wangetti beach, north of Cairns, after what police described as a “personal and intimate attack”. She had been out walking her dog.

Earlier this month, Queensland police offered a $1m reward for the location and arrest of a key suspect, 38-year-old Rajwinder Singh, who police believe may have fled to India. An extradition order has been in place since 2021.

Related: Queensland offers $1m reward in pursuit of man in India suspected of Toyah Cordingley’s murder

Police in India have been looking at the village of Buttar Sivia, where Singh was born and where his parents still live and work as farmers.

“His parents are here but they have not met him since 2018, that is confirmed,” Swapan Sharma, the senior superintendent of police in Amritsar, said. “We are looking at every angle. It is a matter of time, he will get caught.

“We have questioned mainly his relatives, old associates and other people known to him. Till now we do not have any clue about his whereabouts.”

Police said it appeared Singh had not been back to that village.

“We have kept our sources in and around the village to inform us if he surfaces there,” Lovepreet Singh, the inspector of police at Amritsar, said. “Local people are also highly interested in informing us about him because of the reward money on him.”

The case has received little to no national attention and public awareness remains low. It’s a different story in Cairns, where the community has not stopped fighting to bring her alleged killer to justice.

“Toyah was always considered one of our daughters. The community’s daughter,” said Cairns resident and a friend of Cordingley’s mother, Jayne Martin.

“It’s a very close-knit community, it’s a very safe, little tropical haven.”

Martin runs the Justice for Toyah Facebook page, which has amassed more than 13,000 followers, on behalf of Cordingley’s family.

“She was living her best life doing a very normal Queensland thing on the Sunday walking on the beach when this happened,” Martin said.

Since the reward was offered, Martin said, she had tried to bring international attention to the case, including boosting awareness in India.

“We have done everything we can to do it in Australia, there is not much more we can do,” she said. “Now we are trying to reach out to our community members, particularly those with Indian heritage and connections back in India, to try and get this message out as much as possible.”

Cars and buildings in Cairns are plastered with bumper stickers bearing Cordingley’s name between two sunflowers, and the slogan “the community will never give up”.

Trace Lucas Devenport has been actively distributing the stickers around Cairns for years. She became involved with the family after Cordingley’s death.

“The support is unbelievable, the community still supports her parents and people that don’t even know her parents have become friends, everyone has sort of united over the past four years,” she said.

“There’s not a person that hasn’t been touched by her name.”

The sunflower has been adopted as the unofficial symbol of her case. It was Cordingley’s favourite flower.

“The sunflower is just a tiny little symbol of the joy that Toyah was,” Devenport said.

Devenport said she hoped the $1m reward would create an incentive for people who might have information to “do the right thing”.

Queensland police said the reward, which was unusually high for the location of a suspect, was justified because of the international nature of the case.

“We are very grateful for the government’s support in approving this significant reward, which we believe will assist us in tracking down Rajwinder Singh,” the deputy commissioner, Tracy Linford, said.

“We strongly believe there are people in Australia and overseas who could share information about the whereabouts of Rajwinder Singh.”