– White candles lit up St Kilda’s red-light district on Thursday night as a community united in grief gathered to honour murdered street worker Tracy Connelly.
They also came to denounce violence against women in an area frequented by some of Melbourne’s most vulnerable.
Brighton mother Mandy never laid eyes on Ms Connelly but took her two young sons to the Greeves Street vigil “because every life is important”.
For hundreds of locals who gathered around a makeshift stage clutching candles against the cold, Ms Connelly was the smiling face they had seen on the Carlisle Street corner for as long as they had lived in the area.
“It’s just not safe for the girls,” said Carlisle Street resident Sharyn. “They have to make it safer for them.”
“It’s the girls that make the street safe,” said another woman. “There’s always a presence.”
Ms Connelly’s absence from Greeves Street has become a constant reminder of the violence faced by women who work the streets of St Kilda. Her killer is still at large.
“We really want to honour Tracy but also send clear message that the community cares about violence against women,” said Sally Tonkin, chief executive of the St Kilda Gatehouse, a haven for sex workers. “The day after she died we had women coming in who were just so visibly upset, young women she’d taken under her wing.”
Ms Connelly, 40, was found on Sunday, July 21st, with wounds to her face and shoulders in the broken down Ford Econovan she shared with her partner of 10 years, Tony Melissovas. The van was parked on Greeves Street.
On Thursday detectives announced a major breakthrough in the murder investigation.
Grainy closed circuit television footage has led police to believe Ms Connelly had returned to the van in which she was murdered between 1:30am and 2:30am on July 21st.
Previously, the investigation had focused on individuals on and around Greeves Street on the Saturday. The homicide squad’s Detective Inspector John Potter said the CCTV footage had resulted in the investigation shifting focus to the early hours of the Sunday and to an unknown individual who might have been caught in the footage with Ms Connelly at that time.
The footage “depicts some movement towards the van”, Inspector Potter said. In the 14 hours that followed this “movement”, he said, “there does not appear to be any other activity around the van”.
While the footage was “particularly grainy”, Inspector Potter said police were working on enhancing the faces of the two individuals captured, one believed to be Ms Connelly and the other a potential suspect.
Ms Tonkin said: “The underlying problem is an attitude towards women, that violence against women is ok or acceptable. I think these men have deep-seated issues and they’re taking it out against our women because they think they can get away with it.”
Ms Tonkin said Ms Connelly had been “talking a lot about leaving sex work, fantasising about setting up a home in the suburbs and working as a kitchen hand and was fixated on finding her son”.
Ms Connelly’s brother, Les Toft, 53, and her parents raised that son, now in his early 20s, who flew into Melbourne to attend his mother’s vigil. “We always told him the truth, but we never passed judgement against her and we always held out hope that she would return and somehow she’d find a way back to us,” Mr Toft said – Rania Spooner


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