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      Audrain murder coincides with yearly domestic violence spike

      Ricky John Harding, Jr., is accused of murdering Summer Hickman on Sunday. A family friend says the two were romantically involved for 8 years.

      The family of an Audrain County woman murdered on Sunday say the man accused of murdering her has a violent history.

      Sara Hughes, who identified herself in an email as Summer Hickman's sister, said, "I knew Ricky was bad news back in 2008, as did my husband. She ignored the warning signs for too long, and she wasn't able to get away soon enough."

      Harding is accused of murdering Hickman at their Audrain County home on Sunday. He is facing charges of second-degree murder, domestic assault, armed criminal action, possession of a firearm and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Online court records show someone got an protection order against him in 2008.

      Highway Patrol statistics show Belcher's murder, if Harding did it, is not an isolated incident. Missouri had 76 domestic violence-related homicides in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. Sixteen of those murdered were girlfriends, the largest group. Another 12 were wives. In total, wives and girlfriends accounted for nearly 37 percent of those murdered as a result of domestic violence.

      Audrain County had the fifth-highest domestic violence rate of any Missouri county, with 1,475 incidents per 100,000 residents. That was more than double the statewide average of 686 incidents per 100,000. According to the Highway Patrol, officers report domestic violence-related incidents even if an arrest is not made.

      Hickman's murder comes on one of the most active weekends for domestic violence nationwide. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day have more reports of domestic violence than a typical non-holiday. The center cites a 2005 study of seven years' worth of Idaho domestic violence reports, one of the few such studies available.

      The study found the most active times for crime included nights, weekends and the summer, and it was more likely to occur in one's home.