‘Savage’ attacker jailed for 34 years after murdering pensioner in burglary

A “savage” burglar has been jailed for 34 years for murdering an 86-year-old woman in her home after beating, gagging and tying up the pensioner, before abandoning her to die.

Vasile Culea 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 Derbyshire home.

Romanian national Culea, 34, “hog-tied” Mr and Mrs Walker, binding their hands and feet while searching the couple’s Langwith Junction home for £30,000 in cash, which he had heard they had.

On Friday, judge Mr Justice Henshaw, sentencing, told Derby Crown Court: “You attacked them both leaving them with brain injuries, lacerations and many other injuries.

Vasile Culea
Vasile Culea has been jailed for a minimum of 34 years (Derbyshire Police/PA)

“Very sadly, Freda Walker died within an hour or so of this savage attack.”

The judge also said: “The murder of Freda Walker was aggravated by the fact that she was particularly vulnerable because of her age.

“You saw, before you entered the house, that the Walkers were elderly.

“It was also aggravated by your applying of tight restraints and head and neck wrappings for Freda Walker, failing to release her before you left and making no attempt to help her afterwards, for example by making an anonymous call.”

However, he said Mrs Walker’s death was “not a planned killing”.

The judge went on:”You murdered Freda Walker for gain because you killed her in the course of the furtherance of your burglary.”

Vasile Culea
Vasile Culea captured on CCTV hours before the attack (Derbyshire Police/PA)

He added: “The experience must have been overwhelmingly traumatic for Freda Walker and each of the injuries you inflicted on her would have caused her pain.

“It is unclear in what order the injuries were caused, and the medical evidence is that Freda is likely to have become unconscious once she suffered a brain injury, no doubt as a result of the head injuries you inflicted.

“All in all, I am sure Freda would have suffered both mental and physical suffering before she died.”

Michael Auty KC, prosecuting, had highlighted the “vulnerability” of Mr and Mrs Walker as an aggravating feature.

He also told the court about Culea’s previous conviction of assault in 2017, relating to an incident involving his then partner.

Defence Clive Stockwell KC, mitigating, suggested Culea’s violence had not been pre-meditated but spontaneous.

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.

The defendant, 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”.

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 trial jury hearing evidence Mr Walker had forgotten where he had stored the money in the home.

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.

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 in 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 were 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.

Pain and torture was inflicted on the couple, according to Mr and Mrs Walker’s niece Sandra Bunting.

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