Romanian man pleads guilty to murder of Valerie Graves six years after she was bludgeoned to death with hammer

Jack Hardy
Valerie Graves and her killer Cristian Sabou - PA/Eddie Mitchell

A Romanian man has pleaded guilty to the murder of an artist nearly six years after she was bludgeoned to death while house-sitting for wealthy friends.

The shocking attack on Valerie Graves over Christmas 2013 left detectives baffled as their vast investigation - involving thousands of DNA samples - produced no suspect for years.

The 55-year-old grandmother suffered catastrophic head injuries from a claw hammer at the waterside property in Bosham, West Sussex, as her family slept in rooms nearby. 

The long-unsolved killing gained particular notoriety as it was committed in a village used as a location for Midsomer Murders, the television detective series. 

A breakthrough in the case finally came earlier this year when Cristian Sabou, 28, was arrested on suspicion of her murder 1,500 miles away in the remote village of Dej, Romania. 

He is believed to have been linked to the crime when his ex-wife approached the police as the couple went through a bitter divorce.

Yesterday, Sabou, who was extradited into the custody of Sussex Police over the summer, admitted his role in the harrowing crime as he appeared before Lewes Crown Court.

Wearing white rosary beads over a beige jumper with a poppy attached, the well-built defendant entered a guilty plea to a single murder charge through a translator. 

Friends and family of Ms Graves were in court to watch her killer face justice from a packed public gallery. 

Sabou told a hearing in a Romanian court that Ms Graves had disturbed him as he burgled the house, which he assumed to be unoccupied as the owners were away, according to reports. 

The victim was spending the festive period at the £1.6 million home, where she had been preparing to ring in the new year with her sister, brother-in-law and mother. 

She had only moved from her home in Scotland to the village of Bracklesham Bay, 12 miles from Bosham, a matter of weeks earlier to look after her frail mother.

Over the following years, Police interviewed more than 9,000 people and took 3,000 DNA samples in an attempt to find her killer.

Sabou, meanwhile, remained in Britain for four years after the crime took place, before returning to Romania to work in construction.

His partner allegedly told police he was responsible for the murder after learning he had been unfaithful to her.

Romanian police placed Sabou under surveillance for three months in April after a tip-off from Sussex Police, while his DNA was compared to a profile found on the murder weapon, a source told the Telegraph.

He will be sentenced by Christine Laing QC, the Recorder of Brighton and Hove, later on Monday. 

Ms Graves ran her own textile studio and gallery in Harestanes, near Jedburgh in the Borders, and was given a grant three years ago by Scotland's Cultural Enterprise Office.