‘Savage’ attacker who inflicted ‘torture’ on pensioners guilty of woman’s murder

A burglar has been convicted of murdering an 86-year-old woman in her home after beating, gagging and tying up the pensioner, before abandoning her to die.

Vasile Culea (pictured) was also convicted of the wounding with intent of Freda Walker’s 88-year-old husband, former district councillor and alderman Kenneth Walker, on January 14, during the attack inside their home.

Romanian national Culea “hog-tied” Mr and Mrs Walker, binding their hands and feet, while searching the couple’s Langwith Junction home in Derbyshire for £30,000 in cash, which he had heard they had.

The 34-year-old warehouse operative inflicted “pain and torture” on the couple, according to Mr and Mrs Walker’s niece Sandra Bunting.

Speaking outside Derby Crown Court after the verdicts, Ms Bunting called for “a very long sentence” for Culea.

She said: “How anybody could inflict that pain and torture, I don’t know.”

“He was calculating, he was cruel, he had no conscience, he wanted their money that they’d worked all their lives for,” Ms Bunting added.

She called Mrs Walker “the most beautiful woman” – both kind and caring.

Mr Walker’s former Bolsover District Council colleague Brian Murray-Carr said his friend had been well respected, adding: “I would hope life means life (for Culea).”

Remorseless Culea falsely claimed at trial he may have accidentally injured Mrs Walker after “slipping” on a spilt drink and stepping on her chest, after she “fell over” during his attack.

But Culea, who had admitted the manslaughter of Mrs Walker and the grievous bodily harm of her husband, was accused by prosecutors of fabricating “a nonsense” to cover up an attack that went “far beyond any justification; savage in its nature – and sustained”.

Police later described the level of violence as “horrific” and “disturbing”.

Culea also claimed to have targeted the property, where he spent more than three hours, after overhearing a conversation in a shop between two strangers, talking about a “wealthy house”, containing thousands in cash.

The cash did exist but was only discovered afterwards by police search teams, with the jury hearing evidence Mr Walker had forgotten where he had stored the money in the home.

However, speaking after the trial Mr Murray-Carr said it was his firm belief Culea may have witnessed Mr Walker, a former miner at Shirebrook Colliery, withdrawing the sum at a bank.

CCTV showed Culea first arrived at their address at about 5.30pm, claiming he opened their unlocked back door, and hid, only to be later discovered by Mrs Walker and her husband.

However, the prosecution said ruthless Culea waited for Mrs Walker to open the door to let the cat out, forcing his way inside and launching a violent attack which left Mr Walker with a broken neck.

Jurors heard the victims suffered “frankly horrific” injuries, and that Mrs Walker had a reasonable prospect of survival had she not been “abandoned without any assistance”, her airway restricted by a gag.

Mrs Walker suffered a fatal brain injury, and was found dead in the kitchen by emergency services the day after the attack.

She had at least two coverings over her head that were knotted – a pillowcase and a bin liner.

Culea, who left under cover of darkness with £300 from a handbag after claiming he was “terrified” by sounds of a car outside – despite being shown calmly walking away from the scene – repeatedly lied about how the couple suffered the injuries.

By the time the victims had been discovered the next day by a concerned neighbour, Mrs Walker was dead and her husband – a former miner at Shirebrook Colliery and later a district councillor – gravely hurt.

Mr Walker’s injuries included a broken neck, with jurors told he died some months after the incident, although for reasons unconnected with the attack.

Culea claimed the cash came to his attention after overhearing two men talking in a Polish shop, about the money in the Walkers’ house, two weeks prior to his burglary.

It was only when Culea gambled away all his own money – with CCTV showing him in a bookmaker’s for two hours on the day of his attack – that he claimed he decided to act on the information.

He flatly rejected his fingerprints had been found on the bin liners because he had used them to hood Mrs Walker, in case she identified him at a later date.

Jurors spent only two hours and 15 minutes in deliberations before returning with their unanimous verdicts.

Culea was snared by DNA found on a baseball cap left at the scene, Derbyshire Police said.

That breakthrough allowed officers to put a “name and a face” to the man they were hunting, according to Detective Inspector Carolyn Van Schaick.

Officers then scoured CCTV and found footage showing callous Culea walking away from the couple’s home, where they had lived in peace for more than 60 years.

Culea was arrested at a property in Grove Road, Church Warsop – just a short drive from the Walkers’ address in Station Road – six days after his break-in.

Examination of the footage showed Culea spending hours scoping out the area around the Walkers’ home, having parked his Audi nearby.

When he left their home, sometime around 8.48pm that evening, he had changed his appearance, wearing a high-vis jacket.

Family also told how Mr Walker had been diagnosed with lung cancer only a short while before he was attacked in his home.

Ms Bunting, who cared for Mr Walker in her own home after the attack, said he “was getting there” and “dreaming” of getting back home.

“But he had lung cancer – so that was inevitable.”

After the verdicts, Ms Van Schaick described the attack as “horrific” and “disturbing”.

“It was obviously extremely violent – much more force than would ever be required to overpower two elderly people,” she said.

Ms Bunting said: “(Freda) was the most beautiful woman.

“And then that thing did this.

“She’d still be here now.”

Culea will be sentenced on Friday.

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