In the messages Mai Vang wrote before she was killed, she said she knew it sounded crazy to move in with a man she had only been talking to for a few weeks.
“This is all a little bit insane,” the 26-year-old wrote to Adam Margolis, then 37, after they began speaking on January 28, 2018.
“My family loves me, I can’t just up and leave telling them I met some guy on the internet.”
He would later say they chatted “for almost the entire day, every day” in the intensity of that three-week period.
They first matched at random on chat website Omegle and began speaking at all hours on the phone, over webcam, and on social media.
She was in Queensland spending time with her parents and he lived alone in Bendigo, in country Victoria.
They had only spent one weekend together in person when she packed up her entire life to be with him in his Butler Street home.
But she was falling in love with him.
“I want to achieve my goals with you, I want everything and more with you,” she wrote.
By February 25, after seven days of living together, she was dead.
At 6”3 Mr Margolis stood more than a foot higher than Ms Vang’s 5”1.
He does not deny putting her into a chokehold from behind and taking her life in the early hours of the morning.
He admits leaving her body lying facedown on a thin foam mattress on the floor of his bedroom for almost two days before he attempted suicide.
He does not dispute that he sent messages to Ms Vang’s sisters from her Facebook account after she was dead, claiming to be sick and sending them ‘thumbs up’ emojis.
The jury in his trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria, which continues next week, is not being asked to decide if Mai Vang is dead because of Mr Margolis.
The murder trial hinges on intention and whether or not he knew what he was doing on the night of February 24, 2018.
‘I’M NOT PUTTING UP WITH THIS BULLSH*T’
Three years to the day after Mr Margolis strangled Ms Vang, he began giving evidence in his own defence in his murder trial.
Now 41, he sat slumped in the dock on Thursday with his collarbone-length grey hair half in a ponytail and half hanging around his face — avoiding taking the stand in the witness box due to back pain.
He strangled Ms Vang to make her stop as she “goaded” him into committing suicide, he told the jury.
On February 24, 2018, Mr Margolis and Ms Vang went on a bushwalk together in the surrounding area.
They got take-out from McDonald’s and went home, where they danced together and fooled around.
About 11pm, they both took a sleeping pill.
They were laying together in the bedroom where Ms Vang’s body was later found when they began arguing, Mr Margolis told the jury.
He said the argument was about trust.
Mr Margolis said he told her he would marry her if she could control her emotional outbursts.
He told the court she stormed out of the room.
For the next six hours, Mr Margolis said, he followed Ms Vang from room to room trying to hug her.
She tried to get away from him as he repeatedly asked her what was wrong, he said.
Over and over again, the court heard, as she tried to lay down alone and he lay beside her trying to hold her, she responded “everything’s fine”.
“She said absolutely nothing, the only thing she said was ‘everything was fine’ before going into another room,” he said.
After about three hours of this, Mr Margolis claimed things got physical.
He claimed Ms Vang began “charging” into him as she moved away from him.
He said she wrapped her arms around her body and barged into him with her shoulder, he said, doing this more than 20 times as he continued following her insisting she tell him what was wrong.
About five minutes before “the incident that resulted in her death”, he said, he threatened to kill himself.
“She said, ‘I don’t care, go and do it. It has nothing to do with me’,” Mr Margolis told the court.
By now almost six hours had passed since they began arguing, he said.
“She went into the front room — I was genuinely and deeply suicidal at that time,” he said.
“I went into the front room and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’
“She charged into me again and went into the back room.
“She said, ‘I’m not putting up with this bullsh*t’.
“I said, ‘I’m worried I may (harm) you if you keep doing this, I’m getting really lost in my flashbacks’.”
Ms Vang started “chanting” at him, he said.
He claimed she told him, “you weren’t abused”.
“That is the one thing she could have done without physically assaulting me,” he said.
He told the jury he went into an intense PTSD flashback to his upbringing — a time when he said he was starved, beaten, and almost killed.
He said he stopped seeing Ms Vang and started seeing a scene from his adolescence, when he was attacked.
“I saw my mother’s and my stepfather’s heads superimposed on her, laughing,” he said.
“I must have grabbed her as she ran past.”
The court heard he had two moments of lucidity.
In the first he was lying on his back with her on top of him in a chokehold.
In the second they were in the same position but he was on top of her, with Ms Vang facedown in the position her body was found.
He realised she wasn’t breathing.
“I really did tell her everything she needed to know to get me to kill myself,” he said.
“I told her I was becoming suicidal and she continued attacking me.
“Which ironically was pointless anyway because her dying made me suicidal.”
Two nights later he tried to kill himself.
The following day her body was found.
MESSAGES SENT TO DEAD WOMAN’S FAMILY
On the first day of Mr Margolis’s murder trial, Ms Vang’s sister Pa Vang gave her account of events to the jury.
At the time Mai Vang’s body was found, Pa Vang didn’t know she had already communicated with the man who fatally strangled her sister.
With Mai Vang still lying facedown on his floor, Mr Margolis logged onto her Facebook account and sent a series of messages to her ‘Sisterz’ group chat on Messenger.
He began by sending a ‘thumbs up’ emoji to the group of three: Mai, Pa, and their third sister Mai-Seng.
She had “never” sent that symbol before, Pa Vang said.
The messages, pretending to be from Mai Vang, were written in language Pa Vang found “odd”.
The first message read: “Am really sick now. Flu I think. I’m being looked after. If I’m not online tonight you’ll know why. Will update tomorrow night at the latest.”
The stilted grammar sounded nothing like her sister, Pa Vang told the jury.
Mai Vang was academically bright and had studied chemical engineering at James Cook University.
“Whenever we’re messaging each other her grammar is always good, so when I received that I did find it unusual … and plus with the thumbs up icon as well,” she said.
But Pa Vang still sent back a casual response.
The conversation carried on.
She had no reason to suspect she was really exchanging messages with her sister’s alleged killer.
The message conversation went into the next day — until Mr Margolis attempted to take his own life, Mai Vang’s body was found, and her alleged murderer was taken to hospital under police guard.
Pa Vang told the jury the Vang family — two parents and five children — were very close.
Mai Vang had been staying with Pa Vang in Wallan after travelling to Victoria from her parents’ home in Queensland.
Mai Vang spent time with her sister, her brother-in-law and her nephews before moving in with Mr Margolis.
Pa Vang began to cry as she recalled her sister helping look after her children.
“She was a very intelligent person,” she said.
“She was happy.”
During the trial, the public gallery was filled with Ms Vang’s family members — sitting apart from each other at distanced intervals because of COVID-19 restrictions.
In her messages with Mr Margolis tendered in the trial, Ms Vang described her parents as “kind and honest people”.
“My parents only wanted to protect us,” she said.
SUICIDE NOTE EMAIL ‘FALSE’
Police were alerted to Ms Vang’s alleged murder from an unlikely source: a volunteer at a charity program called Saltworks run through Eaglehawk Anglican Church — a man who had never met Ms Vang and hadn’t spoken to Mr Margolis in months.
Brian Ellis was one of three recipients of an email that Mr Margolis scheduled to automatically send after he intended to be dead.
The 12-page email, with the subject line ‘I HAVE KILLED A WOMAN AND COMMITTED SUICIDE’, had a seven-hour time delay.
And while it included a suicide note, what appeared to be a confession, and a detailed outlining of Mr Margolis’s grievances against Victoria Police and the health system, it informed its recipients its “primary point” was to ask them to look after Mr Margolis’s cats.
He asked the three churchgoing men to go to the house and collect the cats before police could set up a crime scene.
“Her body is in the very back room with the door closed,” he wrote. “They (the cats) will not be in there.”
Instead, Mr Ellis — the first one to check his emails — called police.
The email to the three man contained text that — Mr Margolis’s lawyer told the jury — “clearly” describe murder.
Mr Margolis wrote that he returned to consciousness after blacking out with Ms Vang in a chokehold.
At that point, he chose to “continue” rather than interact with police before his suicide attempt.
But what he wrote in the email was not true, Mr Margolis told the jury on Friday.
The email described him blacking out to “find myself on the floor with her in a chokehold”.
He told the three men: “Whilst I know in my soul that I loved her, found myself facing two choices. A) Let her go and have her hysteria explode to something involving screaming, giving police an ideal chance to perpetrate their abuses (when I was beyond vulnerable emotionally). OR. B) Continue and end my life after (as I was already pushed to that point)”
The email was not an accurate description of events, Mr Margolis told the court.
He had deliberately constructed a narrative that made it sound like he was responsible for the death, not that his PTSD was, so that they wouldn’t feel “guilty” about not helping him more, the jury heard.
“I felt it was necessary to include arbitrary details to convey a sense of realism, or validity,” he said.
He added “convincing details” because he “thought it was more likely to result in them helping” with his cats, the court heard.
His lawyer asked him if there was ever a moment where he intended to kill Ms Vang.
“No,” he said.
‘LET ME LEARN TO TRUST AGAIN’
On his first day of chatting with Ms Vang, Mr Margolis asked her for a photo.
“I have designed make-up for models before and you would be incredible with some good make-up,” he said in response to the picture she sent of herself.
In his suicide email after he strangled her, he described her as paranoid, beyond disruptive, and occasionally violent.
“When pointing this behaviour out to her she would ALWAYS throw back insults or try to direct the conversation towards things which were false in totality,” he wrote.
“Out of necessity I had to continue bringing her behaviour to her attention.”
He wrote that he made a “number of audio recordings” and a video as “evidence” of her “vicious” behaviour.
Homicide Squad Detective Leading Senior Constable Kevin Squires told the court police found no audio or video evidence of Ms Vang being abusive.
The email alleged she suffered from “delusional-hysteria”.
“With the sole exception of her random paranoia she was the perfect woman,” it said.
“She truly was intelligent when she wanted to be.
She “displayed enough high level intelligence” for him to believe her arguments with him were an “elaborate test”, he wrote.
He told the jury on Friday she was a “difficult person to be with” and he believed she had “difficulty regulating her emotions”.
In the messages between Ms Vang and Mr Margolis before she moved in with him in Bendigo, she spoke about herself in a different tone.
She told him she had been “destroyed” by the break-up of her last relationship but that she was “ f***ing trying”.
“I’m a walking contradiction,” she said.
“Can you please just let me learn to trust again.”
The trial continues.