Deep in the Australian outback lies a small town with no police presence, where horrific violence occurs every day and sexual assault remains uncontrolled.
Tucked away in the red dust of the South Australian desert some 1,300 km north of Adelaide, the “utterly lawless” community of Fregon is home to one of Australia’s most shocking crimes.
56-year-old outback nurse Gayle Woodford accepted a role with the Nganampa Health Council and traveled frequently to work in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands.
In 2016, she was lured into a trap and then abducted, raped and murdered before being buried in a shallow grave near the city by a man with a violent history.
Gayle Woodford’s (pictured) body was found buried in a crude grave at her Fregon home in northern SA three days after she disappeared
The “completely lawless” community of Fregon (pictured) is home to one of Australia’s most shocking crimes after a local nurse was raped and murdered
The death of the mother of two sparked a series of investigations into the dangers faced by health workers in remote areas, and shed light on the reality in Fregon.
On Thursday, SA deputy coroner Anthony Schapel delivered a damned report of the tragic end of Ms. Woodford by local resident Dudley Davey, who is now serving a 32-year sentence for the crime.
His results paint a worrying picture and recommend the establishment of a permanent police presence in view of the extent of the violence.
While Mr Schapel said it was difficult to determine whether a police presence in town would have prevented Gayle’s death, it was a matter of common sense and human experience that doing so would have a deterrent effect on crime and other misconduct.
“The evidence from the witnesses who were called and expressed a view of the police presence in the Fregon community, taking into account the level of lawlessness in the community, suggests that a constant police presence is essential,” said the coroner.
“To suggest that a community in which some of its members must be caged should not require an immediate police presence within that community would find the common man or woman on the street perverse.”
Fregon is hidden in the red dust of the South Australian desert, about 1,300 km north of Adelaide
The death of the mother of two sparked a series of investigations into the dangers faced by health workers in remote areas and shed light on the reality in Fregon (pictured)
Deep in the Australian outback is the small town of Fregon with no police presence, where horrific violence occurs every day and sexual assault goes unchecked
The city is an Aboriginal community, one of six in the APY countries. The first admission of non-indigenous Australians to the community was in September 1873 by Ernest Giles.
He and his party member William Tietkens came across a group of around 200 men who allegedly had thrown spears.
Between 200 and 300 people live in the city at any given time.
However, there is no police presence. The closest police station is in Umuwa, which is not permanently manned and is more than half an hour away.
The police are also permanently present in several other locations in the APY countries, which are estimated to be roughly the size of South Korea, with a population of around 2,500 people.
Staffed 24/7 stations include Mimili, just over a two-hour drive from Fregon, Ernabella, more than 40 minutes away, and Amata, about two and a half hours away.
According to a report by ABC, it takes officers about an hour and a half to get calls to Fregon.
“The violence in Fregon has been described as” ongoing “and” uninterrupted “by a veteran doctor in remote communities like this,” the report said.
“If there was no violence in the Fregon Church on a particular day, it was a good day.”
Dudley Davey (pictured, center) later pleaded guilty to her rape and murder and is serving a prison sentence of at least 32 years
The four-wheel drive ambulance Ms. Woodford used for work was driven by the 34-year-old man charged with theft and her alleged murder
Gillian Steel, the manager of Fregons Kaltjiti Arts, told the Australian the area “definitely” needs a manned police station.
She shared how she was forced to barricade herself in the arts center after a group attacked her demanding money with a steel bar.
GAYLE WOODFORD’S DEATH
March 23, 2016:: Outback nurse Gayle Woodford, 56, was last seen at Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. Their disappearance led to a search. Around the same time Ms. Woodford goes missing, an ambulance she used for work is driven out of a local health clinic.
March 24, 2016:: The police are using GPS data to track and intercept the ambulance in Coober Pedy. The 36-year-old Mimili man behind the wheel, Dudley Davey, is charged with vehicle theft and other driving offenses.
March 26, 2016: Mrs. Woodford’s body is in a shallow grave outside the remote town of Fregon where she lived. There are calls for more safety precautions for long-distance doctors. More than 130,000 signatures are collected in an online petition.
March 27, 2016: Davey is charged with the murder of Ms. Woodford.
March 29, 2016: Davey makes his first appearance in the Magistrates Court in Port Augusta and loses the offer to have his name suppressed.
February 23, 2017: Davey pleads guilty of murder and rape and faces the Supreme Court.
‘There are constant problems. It just got worse. Gambling is a real problem that poses a whole host of other problems, and so are the young children, so a police presence will help, ”she said.
Davey, the “cold-blooded” killer convicted of the gruesome death of Mrs. Woodford, had a litany of sexual assault on his name prior to the attack.
Part of Mr Schapel’s report asked how a depraved offender with such a long list of convictions could be released to a remote community without supervision.
During his trial, the court heard that the then 34-year-old had launched a series of attacks on women for over 20 years, including an “eerily similar” attack by another nurse in Fregon in 1998.
The practitioner described Fregon as “completely lawless” and as the most violent place she lived and worked in while working for the NHC in APY countries.
“To the point where she felt that serious consideration must be given to disengaging this community in order to bring it to a conclusion,” the report said.
“The murder of Ms. Woodford is consistent with the general lawlessness within the Fregon community and the fact that this atmosphere of dysfunction and violence has remained largely uncontrolled.”
In 2017, after Dudley Davey was convicted of murder, rape, and theft of an ambulance, Gayle’s family broke up and hugged in front of the court.
Grieving husband Keith Woodford made an emotional public statement after 14 months of silence saying, “Dudley Davey should never be released from prison for the crime he has committed.” Nine messages Reports.
“We will always mourn Gayle, there are so many people who have helped us deal with it [her death] ,’ he said.
Since Gayle’s death, the South Australian Parliament has passed the Gayle Act requiring doctors in remote areas of South Australia to be accompanied by a second response when present outside of business hours or on unscheduled calls.
Gayle’s law applies to a wide variety of health services including the South Australian government or those working on their behalf, private practicing doctors, nurses and midwives, and local councils providing services in remote areas.
Second aid workers must have a driver’s license, work with children and are not allowed to work with children.
Gayle Woodford’s husband Keith Woodford (pictured, center) at Adelaide Coroners Court in 2020 with his family
A colleague of Gayle Woodford, Belinda Schultz (right) arrives at the Adelaide Coroners Court in January 2020