Safe as Houses: 85 Mugga Way, Red Hill
If good fences make good neighbours, then the fence between the homes of Luigi Costa and Terrence Freebody could not have been built high enough.
Mugga Way in the toney Canberra suburb of Red Hill is sometimes referred to as the Golden Mile. The street is lined with beautiful mansions, with Red Hill Nature Reserve’s rolling bushland serving as a backdrop. Number 85 Mugga Way is a sprawling villa, complete with five bedrooms, a six-car garage and a wine cellar.
In 2012, the home was owned by wealthy property investor Luigi Costa and was the 69-year-old’s pride and joy. Across the street lived Terrence Freebody, a well-loved 89-year-old Canberra businessman who had served in World War II and gained local fame in his younger days as a cricketer and rugby player.
85 Mugga Way, Red Hill. Source: Google Maps.
By the later admission of Terrence Freebody’s wife, Lennis, Mugga Way was not the kind of community where one knew one’s neighbours well. So there was no reason for the couple to think they were in any kind of danger when Costa invited them for dinner and drinks at his home on 22 July 2012.
The Freebodys didn’t know Costa well, but had done the neighbourly thing by looking after his home while he’d been away. Costa wanted to repay their kindness by playing host to them for the afternoon. He showed them around his home cheerily, often singing snippets of Italian operas while ducking into the cellar to retrieve another bottle of wine for the trio.
As the wine flowed and Costa became more intoxicated, his language became increasingly foul, and Lennis Freebody began to become uncomfortable. She asked Costa to curb his tongue and he became enraged, commanding her to leave. While she beat a hasty retreat from the house, Terrence remained behind.
No one can know what exactly transpired between Lennis’ exit and the eventual arrival of emergency responders. Costa claims not to remember, and so one could only speculate what led him to pushing Terrence Freebody to the dining room floor, stomping on his neck and then stabbing him in a frenzied attack that saw him inflict wounds across Freebody’s head and torso.
No one can know, either, what possessed Costa in the midst of murdering Terrence Freebody, to dial triple-0 and claim he had been attacked in his home. As Costa asked police to come to his aid, Freebody could be heard in the background moaning.
When police did arrive, they found Costa covered in blood and sitting on a toilet. The knife he had used to kill Freebody lay in the sink beside him. As police tried to make sense of the bizarre scene, he swung wildly between thanking them for their help, threatening them, appearing confused at their presence and singing to himself.
It was this behaviour, coupled with a life his estranged adult son claimed was increasingly becoming disorganised and mismanaged, that led Costa’s defence team to claim their client was suffering from dementia, exacerbated by long-term alcohol abuse. Costa, they argued, didn’t remember the attack, didn’t understand the ramifications of his actions and couldn’t be held accountable.
While the jury may have rejected the claims, Costa’s eventual sentence, which could see him paroled by 2020, angered Terrence Freebody’s family. Freebody was the victim of an unprovoked attack by a neighbour he never could have suspected capable of such violence.
The house where Terrence Freebody met his shocking end was sold in June of this year after having been passed in at auction in May. In spite of the brutal crime being so recent, 85 Mugga Way still managed to attract a final price of $1.95 million.
It’s currently listed for rent at $1,410 per week. While it may sit in one of Canberra’s most exclusive suburbs on its glamorous Golden Mile, it serves as proof that an impressive address is no safeguard from violence.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.