Femicide in Australia: May proves deadly month for women killed by domestic violence

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Miriam FisherThe West Australian
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At least eight women have been killed allegedly by domestic violence in Australia in May.
Camera IconAt least eight women have been killed allegedly by domestic violence in Australia in May. Credit: Supplied

As May draws to a close we’re left with many sobering statistics. Those related to COVID-19 have dominated the headlines so much so a growing collection of chilling deaths have gone relatively unnoticed.

This month eight women have been allegedly killed by domestic violence in Australia. It’s a statistic made even more shocking by the fact a “normal” month for femicide is still half that number.

One woman is murdered by a current or former partner each week in Australia. According to Counting Dead Women — a national toll of women killed by violence tracked by feminist movement Destroy The Joint — the latest death brings this year’s total to 23 so far.

Here are the stories behind the deaths of the eight women who lost their lives this month.

Due to the recency of these deaths, full details — including whether any of their alleged killers are guilty of the crimes — are yet to be established.

MAY 2 Erlinda Songcuan, 69, Woolcroft, NSW

Erlinda Songcuan
Camera IconErlinda Songcuan Credit: Facebook

At 1.10pm on May 2 police received a concern for welfare report at a home in the western Sydney suburb of Woolcroft.

When they arrived at the scene they discovered the body of 69-year-old mother-of-four Erlinda Songcuan dead in her garage.

Court documents stated Mrs Songcuan had died some time between 1.08pm and 1.14pm.

A police search for her husband of 44 years Engracio Songcuan, 73, concluded at Richmond train station at 3.30pm that day.

He was arrested and later charged with his wife’s murder.

Mr Songcuan was excused from appearing before Blacktown Local Court on May 7, but the matter will be heard on July 3.

The couples’ son-in-law said the Songcuans’ children had no answers on what had led to their mother’s death, but that they had now “lost both parents”.

MAY 4 Ellie Price, 26, South Melbourne, VIC

Ellie Price.
Camera IconEllie Price. Credit: Supplied

Mother-of-one Ellie Price was just 26 years old when she was found dead in a South Melbourne townhouse on May 4 after being violently bashed to death.

Police said they were unsure of the exact date she died but believe it was between April 29 and May 4.

A nationwide manhunt began for the suspect, Ricardo “Rick” Barbaro — son of convicted drug boss Joe Barbaro — who had just been released from jail over a previous attack on his on-off girlfriend Ellie.

After a week at large police located Mr Barbaro, 33, at a penthouse in Sydney.

He was arrested and extradited to Victoria where he remains in custody charged with Ellie’s murder.

Mr Barbaro faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on May 16, where he claimed he was withdrawing from prescription drugs Xanax and Valium.

He remains in custody until his next court appearance in September.

Just weeks before her death Ellie had posted of her sadness at the lives lost to COVID-19 on Facebook.

“RIP. May this make us stronger, kinder to people, more grateful of the little things in life and most of all our loved ones,” she had written on April 19.

“Don’t take life for granted.”

MAY 12 Unnamed woman, 65, Bendoc, VIC

Few details have been released so far about the death of an unnamed woman in the former gold mining town of Bendoc in East Gippsland.

What is known, is that about 3.30am on May 12 police were called to a house 518km east of Melbourne after reports of an assault.

They were delayed in reaching the property due to its remote location and after arriving about 6am discovered the body of an unnamed 65-year-old woman.

Trevor William Kingdon, 64, who police said was known to the victim, was taken into custody and charged with her murder that night.

When he appeared in Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court the next day it was heard he suffered mental health issues, including depression, and that it was his first time in custody.

He will reappear at Bairnsdale Magistrates Court in August.

MAY 14 Unnamed woman, 44, Cable Beach, WA

Conlin Lee has been charged with the murder of an unnamed Broome woman.
Camera IconConlin Lee has been charged with the murder of an unnamed Broome woman. Credit: Facebook

On the afternoon of May 14 police were called to a home in Broome’s Cable Beach, where they found an unnamed woman, 44, with serious head injuries.

She was taken by ambulance to hospital but later died.

Conlin James Lee, 25, a man believed to be related to the victim, appeared briefly in Perth Magistrate’s Court on May 17 via video link charged with murder.

He was remanded in custody to next appear in Stirling Gardens Magistrates court on May 27.

No further details are available at this time.

MAY 17 Loris, 59, and Franco Puglia, 59, Joyner, QLD

The bodies of Loris and her husband Franco Puglia were found by a visiting relative at their bed and breakfast in Joyner, north of Brisbane just before 2.00pm on May 17.

The pair were allegedly murdered with a sledgehammer, dying from blunt force trauma.

About 6.30pm, officers arrested their 31-year-old son Christopher Puglia 900km from the crime scene on the outskirts of Sydney.

He was extradited to Queensland where he remains in custody.

Mr Puglia has been charged with two counts of murder, as well as attempted arson after allegedly setting a towel on fire inside his parents’ bed and breakfast where he also lived.

Mr Puglia’s case was mentioned in court on May 21 and he will reappear on July 13.

“Given the nature of the allegations, it goes without saying he’s pretty overwhelmed,” his lawyer Brendan Beavon told reporters outside court.

“That’s all he really said to me. He’s overwhelmed with the situation.”

Chris Puglia, left, has been charged with the murders of his parents Loris and Frank Puglia.
Camera IconChris Puglia, left, has been charged with the murders of his parents Loris and Frank Puglia. Credit: Supplied

MAY 20 Kamaljeet Sidhu, 27, Quakers Hill, NSW

Police escort Baltej Lailna, accused of murdering his wife Kamaljeet Sidhu, to hospital.
Camera IconPolice escort Baltej Lailna, accused of murdering his wife Kamaljeet Sidhu, to hospital. Credit: Twitter

A neighbour reported hearing screams coming from inside a two-storey townhouse in Quakers Hill in Sydney on the evening of May 20.

Attending police allegedly found Baltej Singh Lailna, 31, standing in the hallway with blood on his hands as his wife Kamaljeet Sidhu lay in a pool of blood on the floor.

They said there was a 15cm kitchen knife next to her body.

Kamaljeet was suffering knife wounds and died at the scene.

Mr Lailna was arrested and charged with her murder.

He appeared in court via video link on May 22 where he was refused bail, and is due to appear next in Penrith Local Court on July 17.

The couple had been married for four years and moved to Australia from India two years ago.

They were known to Quakers Hill Police after Kamaljeet obtained a domestic violence order against her husband on April 24.

Despite the order the couple reportedly continued to live together, sharing a bedroom.

MAY 26 Karen Leek, 69, Devon Meadows, VIC

Karen Leek
Camera IconKaren Leek Credit: Facebook

Residents of the tranquil country town of Devon Meadows have been rocked by news of the “very violent” death of well-known Victorian greyhound racing identity Karen Leek.

On Tuesday morning about 10am, police were called to the 69-year-old’s rural property by a family member.

Karen’s body was found inside the house, dead from what police described as a “very violent crime”.

While few details of their intensive investigation have been revealed, they are treating the death as suspicious.

It is understood one line of inquiry the homicide squad is investigating is whether there was a dispute over a will.

A number of people have been questioned but no charges have been laid at this point.

Greyhound dogs are seen behind flowers laid by a mourner at the property of Greyhound trainer Karen Leek in Devon Meadows.
Camera IconGreyhound dogs are seen behind flowers laid by a mourner at the property of Greyhound trainer Karen Leek in Devon Meadows. Credit: JAMES ROSS/AAPIMAGE

MAY 29 Ruth Mataafa, 22, Bidwill, NSW

Ruth Mataafa.
Camera IconRuth Mataafa. Credit: Facebook

Just after midday on Friday afternoon police and ambulance were called to reports of a stabbing at a home in Bidwill, Western Sydney.

Outside the home they found Ruth Mataafa, 22, with multiple stab wounds to her chest, side and back.

She was treated at the scene, but later died of her injuries in hospital.

Her estranged partner Jachai Leota Fuimaono, 22, was found dead inside the house with self-inflicted chest wounds.

A NSW police spokeswoman confirmed Mr Fuimaono had stabbed Ruth before taking his own life.

Ruth had reportedly gone to his house in an attempt to resolve issues after their four-year relationship ended.

Mr Fuimaono’s family was present during the stabbing and had tried to intervene.

“It’s hard (for the families) to deal with. They are both 22 and you never expect your kids to die,” Chief Inspector Paul Tickner said.

Police are still investigating the incident. No charges have been laid.

THE ROAD AHEAD

If the accused are convicted, these eight women contribute to the 52 who die on average each year.

However, 2020 is no average year. Research shows women’s vulnerability is exacerbated during times of crisis and the last recorded death highlights the dilemma they are facing during the coronavirus threat.

With social distancing measures forcing them to stay inside with their aggressors in domestic situations that are ordinarily at pressure-cooker level, this year is tipped to be worse.

Family violence has been spiking across the nation since COVID-19 restrictions forced West Australians to stay home.

In WA alone, police statistics released earlier this month show family violence is at an all-time high. There were 2082 reports of family-related assaults in March — a 17 per cent increase year-on-year.

There was also a 47 per cent rise in calls to the WA Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline in March and April since last year, with 1690 desperate calls made to the centre.

And the crisis has only just begun.

Just how much these sobering statistics will change over coming months remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is many more women will tragically lose their lives to domestic violence this year.

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) — the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.
  • DAISY, — the first national app linking women who have experienced or are at risk of violence, to support services across Australia.
  • MensLine — counselling service for men with emotional health and relationship concerns online or on 1300 789 978 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
  • The Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline — dedicated contact line for Aboriginal victims of crime who would like information about victims’ rights, how to access counselling and financial assistance on 1800 019 123.

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