A 27-year-old man has been charged with the murder of a young woman who was found dead in a park in Melbourne’s inner north on Saturday morning. Courtney Herron, 25, was discovered by dog walkers near a cluster of logs in Royal Park, Parkville at about 9:25am, the ABC reports. It’s thought that an attempt had been made to conceal her body, and police believe she was attacked on either Friday night or Saturday morning in what has been described as a “particularly horrendous bashing”.
Detectives from Victoria Police’s homicide squad arrested and interviewed the suspected killer yesterday, and he was subsequently charged overnight with one count of murder.
Courtney had been living a “fairly transient lifestyle”, according to Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper: being of no fixed address and couch surfing in the period leading up to her death. She had had only “sporadic” contact with her family, and was reportedly last seen in St Albans, in Melbourne's west, on May 14 when she spoke with police about a minor matter regarding her own mental health and drug use.
Detective Inspector Stamper noted that Courtney had previously experienced issues with drugs and mental health, describing her as a "vulnerable" member of the community”, according to Fairfax. It is not clear whether she had been sleeping in Royal Park. Following a post-mortem examination police said that there was no evidence she had been sexually assaulted, and it is not yet clear whether a weapon was used.
"This was a young woman who had significant challenges in life,” said Detective Inspector Stamper. “We as a community should be protecting these people and we didn't. We failed on this occasion.”
It would be remiss, however, to frame this incident as the direct result of homelessness, drug abuse, and mental health issues. Courtney is at least the fourth young woman to have been found dead in Melbourne in the past 12 months. Last year, on June 12, the body of 22-year-old Eurydice Dixon was discovered in Princes Park, Carlton North—just two kilometres from where Courtney was found. Eurydice, an aspiring comedian, was raped and murdered while walking home after a show. On January 15, 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe was also killed while walking home near La Trobe University at Bundoora in the city’s north. And on April 24, 32-year-old Natalina Angok was found dead on the streets of Chinatown, near the city centre.
While Courtney's "transient lifestyle" almost certainly contributed to the extent of her vulnerability, the 25-year-old's death is part of a larger problem; the latest in an ongoing—and, it would seem, worsening—trend of women being killed in public by random acts of violence. It's nothing short of a crisis. And people are calling for change.
"Nothing can protect women from the random acts of violence committed by some men but engaging with the stories of women and girls is crucial for making cities safer," Nicole Kalms, a professor at Monash University, wrote in a piece for The Conversation last year. "Planners, architects, the police and politicians need to put aside the traditional expert perspective to learn from—and design for—women’s experiences."
Terrick Edwards, an ex-partner of the victim, reportedly missed a call from Courtney in the hours before her death. Nindara Edwards Norris, Terrick’s sister, told The Age that the couple had lived together in the nearby suburb of Northcote for "many years" and remained close after their separation four years ago. Terrick missed a call from Courtney on Friday night and forgot to call her back. Nindara said he now felt responsible "for not being able to offer her a safe place for the night". She also said that her brother would want Courtney "to be remembered for the lovely woman she was and not just another homeless person who died on the streets.
"All people deserve safety in this world,” she said. “Sadly, once again we must mourn the loss of an innocent woman in a place known to so many of us."
Melburnians will gather for a vigil on Friday at 5.30pm at Royal Park. Organisers are urging people to "join together" to pay tribute to Courtney and reclaim the public park.
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