Women recall exchanges with stranger in hours before Merri Creek attack

Two women have recalled frightening confrontations they had with a man similar in description to the man charged with raping a jogger near Melbourne's Merri Creek.

One woman became upset as she recalled to Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday how a stranger got into her car in the hours before the alleged rape, while another said she drove away from a man who was trying to open her front passenger door.

Police at the scene of the rape and sexual assault of a female jogger on the Merri Creek Trail in Coburg last year.Credit:Justin McManus

Joel Russo, 26, is charged with abducting a woman who was jogging along the Merri Creek Trail in Coburg on December 3, repeatedly raping her, choking her and holding her head under water. Police allege Mr Russo abducted the jogger after 6.30pm.

Police say the jogger, aged in her 20s, managed to escape hours later when she persuaded Mr Russo to walk her to a McDonald's outlet in Brunswick East, where she screamed and raised the alarm and he fled.

The two other women recalled the fear they had during exchanges with a man between 5pm and 5.30pm that day as they sat in their cars after leaving work in Bell Street, Coburg, nearby where the jogger was abducted.

Neither woman identified or named Mr Russo in court but a doctor recalled how a man opened her front passenger door, moved her laptop and bag and sat in the car and began talking with her, and she tried to push him out.

The man got out of the car and the doctor said she realised afterwards "it wasn't really OK, it wasn't really a thing that happens to people".

"I called my friend and she said to call the police," the doctor said, crying.

"She said someone in a similar area got sexually assaulted the same day and that made me so worried it may be related."

A therapist said she was getting into her car when she saw a man approach, and that he was "wobbly on his feet" as he walked towards her car.

"It put me on edge the way he was walking. Just a strange way," she said.

The man tried to open the front passenger door, the therapist said, and then lowered his body to look at her through the wound-up window and said, "Do you have the time?"

The woman said she told the man the time and then drove away. She contacted police the following day after discussing the incident with her boss.

The doctor said the man appeared a "bit slow" because of the stilted way he spoke, and the therapist said the man she saw had "slurred" speech.

However the women gave conflicting descriptions of the man they saw. The first said he had collar-length brown hair and wore a black T-shirt and a black cap backwards, while the second described a man with short brown hair and a light-coloured T-shirt.

The therapist said she saw media reports about the alleged attack between giving police her first and second statements, and that some of those reports contained photographs of Mr Russo.

Mr Russo's lawyers have previously indicated he was mentally impaired at the time of the incident but he is yet to enter a plea.

The committal hearing, which will determine whether Mr Russo will face trial, is due to continue on Tuesday.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

Start your day informed

Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

Source: Read Full Article