On April 30, 2012, hairdresser Natalie Esack was brutally murdered in her Kent high street salon on a Monday morning by her estranged husband.
Almost exactly 10 years later, another woman died in alarmingly similar circumstances in Kent, found dead alongside her husband in their tattoo parlour, the victim of a suspected ‘murder-suicide’.
While official conclusions have not been drawn from the tragic death of Ramona Stoia in Canterbury earlier this month, domestic abuse charities have highlighted the case’s similarities with the tragic death of Natalie Esack, who was stabbed to death by husband Ivan in her Ashford salon.
Both incidents involved the husbands of the victims – men who they once loved and trusted. Both happened in broad daylight, in a place where the women should have been safe.
Both men were also known to police due to the shocking behaviour they showed towards their partners in the weeks and months leading up to their deaths.
Tracy Blackwell, director of strategic insights and partnerships at domestic abuse charity Refuge said that the two incidents, while a decade apart, were signs of the “scale of intimate partner violence” in the UK.
“Refuge’s thoughts are with the families and friends of Ramona and Natalie,” she added.
“Whether a few months or a decade has passed, their loss will still be felt deeply by their loved ones.
“Current or former partners are responsible for the deaths of two women a week in England and Wales. The scale of intimate partner violence in the UK must be taken seriously.
“We cannot simply stand by as women's lives continue to be lost to male violence.”
The story was remarkably similar to the death of Mrs Esack 10 years ago, who was 33 when she was brutally stabbed to death by her jealous husband Ivan in her high-street hair salon.
Esack, a former Maidstone police detective, plunged a kitchen knife into Natalie up to 11 times as she desperately tried to escape into a basement, in plain view of her 17-year-old hairdressing assistant. He was found guilty of murder in January 2013 and ordered to serve a minimum 28 years in jail.
An independent review of the authorities' handling of the domestic violence leading up to the murder flagged up a raft of concerns.
It said police could have arrested Esack for sending "malicious communications" to Natalie; they also didn't act on Natalie's report that her estranged husband might harm himself, or that he had been carrying a knife when he went to her address in February.
There had been evidence of an increasing rate of domestic violence in the six months leading up to the fatal attack, the report revealed.
It said that by the month before the fatal stabbing at Esack Hair and Beauty in Ashford High Street, "there were a number of risk factors in (Esack's) circumstances and behaviour", the report reveals.
"He took cocaine and drank heavily, but there is no evidence that he was dependent on these substances. He described himself as depressed and stressed,” it added.
Crucially, it was also alleged by a friend that a month before her death, Esack had strangled his wife until she lost consciousness.
However, all that information was not collated, with different police and health workers only having a partial picture of the vital months leading up to the terrifying attack on Natalie.
A counsellor, it was revealed, knew of the strangulation, but accepted Esack's assurance he had notified police of the assault.
The report added: "Police investigations also revealed that several friends and family members had information about the escalating domestic abuse (Natalie) suffered over many years, but no-one had the full picture.
"Once (Esack) realised that their marriage was over, he exerted his control over her for a final time by killing her.”
It was alleged that with all of the information collated, the Domestic Abuse Stalking and Harassment risk assessment in March of that year would have been graded high risk, and a multi-agency conference would have been held to devise a safety plan for Natalie.
An internal investigation is ongoing by police into the circumstances around Ms Stoia’s death, after it emerged that her husband Catalin Micu was on police bail after being interviewed over allegations he had raped his wife multiple times throughout their marriage.
In February, mum-of-one Ramona secured a non-molestation order – a court injunction restricting or banning contact – against Micu.
It is thought the couple, who share a young son, continued to live together, but Micu was banned from “harassing or pestering” her.
But on March 26, he was arrested on suspicion of having breached this order, and of seriously sexually assaulting his wife.
Ramona came forward with a series of historic allegations of rape against her husband, dating back throughout their 16-year relationship but primarily taking place in the last few years.
There were five separate allegations, all of which reportedly took place at the family home.
Following his arrest, Micu was placed on police bail until April 20, but under the bail conditions he was still allowed to work alongside Ramona at GothInk Studio, of which he was the sole director.
At about 5.20pm on Monday, April 11, two weeks after Michu was arrested, police found the pair dead at the studio. The force confirmed only Ramona’s death is being treated as suspicious, while detectives are not looking for anyone else in connection with the tragedy.
An inquest opening yesterday heard that Catalin Micu died from a stab wound to the stomach after he had killed his wife.
Kent Police referred itself to police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) following its contact with the couple prior to their deaths.
However, IOPC chose not to launch a probe of its own, instead deciding to scrutinise the results of the internal investigation by police.
A report published this week found that Kent Police’s response to domestic abuse was of particular concern as part of services that 'require improvement'.
It was found that domestic abuse investigation teams aren't properly resourced with qualified staff.
The report said: "Some victims have received an unacceptable level of service and continued to remain at risk.
"Investigations are often delayed or are of a poor quality. This has caused victims to disengage with the force and abusers to escape justice.”
In response to that report, the force’s Deputy Chief Constable Tim Smith said that the force was already looking into the concerns raised in the report and taking steps to improve, especially when it comes to response times for domestic abuse victims.
He said: "This is a sensitive and complex area of policing however we are committed to continuing to improve our service to victims of domestic abuse who are among the most vulnerable in our communities.”
For more on the report, click here.
Ms Blackwell added: “In the cases of Ramona and Natalie, abuse by their husbands was known to authorities and to others before their deaths.
“Women must feel confident that they will be believed when they report abuse, and must be assured that any breaches of protective orders will be dealt with swiftly and effectively by the police.
“If you are affected by domestic abuse, you are not alone."
Detective Chief Superintendent Emma Banks, Head of Protecting Vulnerable People at Kent Police, said: "Tackling domestic abuse is a priority for Kent Police, and we strive to provide the very best service to victims and hold offenders to account for their actions.
"Our officers have a relentless focus on ensuring vulnerable people are safeguarded and supported at every opportunity, whether this be our dedicated Domestic Abuse Investigators or the officers and staff whose role it is raise awareness of the types of offences committed, working with victims, other agencies and support services to reduce the risk of further harm, whether that be securing one of a number of protective orders available or finding a place to live for those seeking refuge.
"We have proactive teams that target offenders, ensuring they feel the weight of the law, for example; enforcing Domestic Violence Protection Orders or visiting them when they are released from prison.
"In addition to this, the force is recognised nationally as being at the forefront in the use of Stalking Protection Orders. This is a sensitive and complex area of policing, however we are committed to continuing to improve our service to victims of domestic abuse who are among the most vulnerable in our communities."
Natalie's memory is kept alive in Ashford town centre. Chelsea Ford, the teenager who witnessed the murder, opened her own salon on the town's North Street seven months later, calling it Nat'ural Hair in tribute to her former boss and close friend.
Chelsea said at the time: “She taught me everything, not just about hairdressing but about life too.”
The salon remains open and on its website, Chelsea writes: "I decided to open a salon in memory of Natalie, as I couldn’t think of working for anyone else, to carry her legacy on in the hair industry and most importantly to create a safe environment for everyone but especially women.
"I made one last promise to her, that any client who sat in my chair would feel safe enough to offload any troubles or worries, to feel comfortable to be themselves and leave feeling as good about themselves as they look."
You can access free and confidential support from Refuge’s 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 and digital support via live chat Monday-Friday 3-10pm by clicking here.