Woman who couldn't leave pets killed by violent ex

The last picture of Margaret McCullough (left) with Donna Picker, Anne Mendel, Peter Mendel and Joe Kirkwood (Akubra), at the Olinda Community Hall Christmas in July event. Source:Supplied
The last picture of Margaret McCullough (left) with Donna Picker, Anne Mendel, Peter Mendel and Joe Kirkwood (Akubra), at the Olinda Community Hall Christmas in July event. Source:Supplied

ALONE on her isolated farm, Margaret McCullough always knew her violent ex partner would come for her in the dead of night.

Already the victim of a brutal bashing at their home in April, which neighbours said left her "black and blue", the 76-year-old mother had told domestic violence workers she could not abandon her seven horses, three dogs, flock of chickens and pet budgie.

Her caring nature, and the brutality of her gun-loving former lover, William Stafford, known by locals as Bill The Bastard, proved a fatal combination.

On Friday July 28, about 10pm, Stafford defied an apprehended violence order (for the second time in three months) and entered the 7.1ha property, in Olinda, 80km southwest of Mudgee.

Ms McCullough called triple 0 and then tried to run but was shot dead by the 76-year-old convicted criminal in a paddock near the house as she tried to escape.

The former butcher then got in his car and drove 50km to the Lue tip, where he killed himself.

His body was found by police about 9.40am Saturday.

As this small rural community on the edge of the Wollemi National Park tries to come to terms with the murder-suicide, questions are being asked how this tragic situation was allowed to end in murder.

At the time of the shooting the killer was living close to his daughter on a small property in Portland, a historic mining town 105km south of Olinda.

A sign on Stafford's front door has a picture of a pointed gun with the caption: "Never mind the dog, beware of owner!".

Stafford's middle-aged daughter said: "The grandchildren are grieving the loss of both of them. She (Margaret McCullough) was their de facto grandmother for 30 years. I am feeling love and hate right now."

In a postcode where every third home has a licensed gun owner, domestic violence experts are asking why Stafford was granted bail by police without fronting court, a process known as "police bail".

After Stafford was granted bail April 26, police imposed an AVO and ordered him to report to Lithgow Police Station three times per week.

Blue Mountains Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service co-ordinator Anita Cox said Ms McCullough's case is a clear example of system failure.

"This is terrorism in the home. He has terrorised her for more than 20 years and when she tries to do something about it he destroys her life," said Ms Cox, whose organisation helped Ms McCullough.

"It was definitely a high-risk case and is a concern that he was out on bail. If he was not out on bail he would not have been able to do this."

Stafford was due to face Lithgow Local Court August 10, charged with common assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, six firearms offences as well as stalking and intimidation.

He was also facing a separate charge of contravening his AVO, after he made unlawful contact with her in June 15.

Police would not comment on what that contact was.

"This is not her fault. She had made a decision not to put up with this," Ms Cox said.

"Why should she have to change her entire life rather than a simple: 'You have broken the law sir, you are going to be kept in jail'?

"If that had been the case, she would've had more time to relocate and do something for her animals."

A police spokesman said: "Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths and a brief of evidence is being prepared for the Coroner and as such (police) cannot comment further at this stage".

Police are rolling out a program using Domestic Violence High Risk Offender Teams, a process which should be complete in 2018.

Following the attack on his wife in April, police seized three guns from Stafford, who had a criminal record for at least one non-violent offence.

Police sources said the murder weapon was an unregistered rifle that is being forensically examined to determine its history.

The source also said police were unaware of any violence between the pair before the April attack.

While police claim they knew nothing of Stafford's domestic abuse, neighbours were aware that Ms McCullough was being beaten.

An Olinda resident visited her after she got back from hospital in April following a serious assault by Stafford.

Stafford's violence was also common knowledge, having threatened to shoot at least one other neighbour on a number of occasions.

Neighbours told The Sunday Telegraph if she waved at them while driving past, Stafford would hit her.

The last time many saw her alive was at the Christmas in July event at Olinda Community Hall on July 8.

The last picture of Margaret McCullough (left) with Donna Picker, Anne Mendel, Peter Mendel and Joe Kirkwood (Akubra), at the Olinda Community Hall Christmas in July event.

Momentarily free from the shackles of her abusive partner, community members said she appeared happier.

In what was most likely the last photo of her taken while she was alive, she even smiled for the camera and wore a party hat.

"She was just starting to come out of her shell," a neighbour, one of many who chose to remain anonymous, said.

"It was such a shock but we expected it in a way. What could we do?"

The area is mostly sheep and cattle farms, with neighbouring houses often 1-2km apart and the area also has limited mobile phone coverage.

The nearest domestic violence safe houses are at Lithgow and Katoomba, almost two hours away by car.

Barnardos Western NSW senior manager Jodi Burnstein said isolation is a huge hurdle for battered women and the domestic violence personnel trying to help them.

"The isolation means many people don't necessarily know what's going on," Ms Burnstein  said.

"With the physical isolation there can be a lot of screaming and shouting but nobody else will hear it.

"Regional areas are generally more conservative. People are more reluctant to pry, thinking: 'I will mind my own business, it is not my business'."

In the 2849 postcode - an area including the Bylong Valley, Rylstone and Olinda - police statistics reveal there were 349 licensed firearm holders in 2015.

With 911 private dwellings, that is more than one gun owner for every three homes. In Sydney city there is one gun licence holder for every 147 homes.

Rylstone newsagent and Mid-Western Regional Council councillor Peter Shelley supported police, saying they were doing the best they can within the law.

"There should be zero tolerance for domestic violence by the community and authorities," he said.

"I beg anyone in this deplorable situation to reach out, say something, contact police immediately, ring the support lines, anything.

"It will not go away unless something is done."

It is a call that came too late for Margaret McCullough, the state's 32nd domestic violence homicide victim since April last year.

Topics:  domestic violence murder

News Corp Australia

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