WHY? Woman stabbed and strangled to death after chance meeting on bus before body dumped in bushes
A MAN who attacked and killed a woman following a chance meeting on a bus in Redbridge has admitted her murder.
Valentin Lazar, 21, of Hockley Avenue, East Ham, pleaded guilty to murdering Maria Rawlings, 45, (above) at a hearing at the Old Bailey on Friday, November 19.
It is unclear why Lazar killed her, although he stole her bag, and when he was arrested he claimed to police he had "no memory" of what had happened in connection with the murder.
Lazar encountered Maria as they both travelled on a bus just after 11pm on May 3 this year in Ilford, east London.
The mother-of-two had only been on the bus for about 10 minutes when it terminated and she and Lazar alighted.
The two, who were not previously known to each other, were captured on CCTV footage talking to each other after both got off the bus where it terminated in Little Heath.
Lazar could be seen on the footage leading Maria to an area of shrubbery and after around 30 minutes he re-appeared on CCTV without Maria but in possession of a distinctive handbag she was carrying.
He then boarded another bus towards Dagenham and left the area.
Maria’s body was discovered at around 2pm the following day by a dog walker.
Officers attended and found some of Maria’s items discarded nearby including her purse, footwear and bank cards.
They also recovered a cap that would later be identified as belonging to Lazar.
A post-mortem examination revealed that Maria had been killed following compression to her neck; she had also been subjected to a violent stabbing assault which resulted in multiple fractures to her ribs.
She suffered multiple injuries to her mouth, chest and knee as well as 13 fractured ribs.
Analysis of CCTV from the local area and bus network was carried out.
A Met Police spokesman said: "After securing a clear image of Lazar (above) – whose identity was not known at the time – a decision was taken to circulate this publicly in an attempt to identify him."
Within a day, Lazar had been identified and arrested after a social media user posted underneath an ITV London news article stating that he knew who the suspect was.
Lazar was arrested on May 9 by police officers who made contact with the social media user.
He was subsequently charged and pleaded guilty.
Detective Inspector Adam Callaghan of the Met's Specialist Crime Command said: “Maria was a vulnerable lady who was subjected to a shocking level of violence at the hands of Lazar. Within an hour of them meeting by chance on that bus, Maria was left for dead in the bushes where she was found.
“Her family have been left devastated by Lazar’s actions and while his guilty plea may bring a small measure of comfort, it will be of little help repairing the damage they must live with for the rest of their lives.
“Violence against women in our society is all too prevalent and the Met fully recognises the fear and concern that an incident like this brings.
"As police officers, our job is ensure all London’s communities feel safe and this is something we, as an organisation, are deeply committed to achieving.”
Emma Currie, a Senior Crown Prosecutor within the London Homicide unit in CPS London North, said: “The prosecution case included DNA and footprint evidence as well as CCTV footage which caught Lazar (above) leaving with the handbag Ms Rawlings had been wearing earlier that evening.
"He had also left behind the baseball cap he had been wearing previously at the scene of the murder.
“Valentin Lazar is a violent man who has shown little remorse for his actions.
"When initially arrested he even claimed to suffer from memory loss, saying ‘I can’t remember what happened yesterday’.
“Women should be free to travel through London without fearing violent attacks.
"The CPS is committed to bringing offenders to justice in respect of violence against women and girls.
"I hope this conviction provides some sense of justice for the family and friends of Ms Rawlings. Our thoughts remain with them at this time.”
Lazar was remanded in custody to appear for sentencing at the same court on January 10 2022.