Young man pleads guilty to murdering vulnerable lone woman

·3-min read
Maria Rawlings was killed by Valentin Lazar in May (Family handout/PA) (PA Wire)
Maria Rawlings was killed by Valentin Lazar in May (Family handout/PA) (PA Wire)

A 21-year-old man has admitted killing a vulnerable lone woman whose body was discovered in undergrowth in Romford London in May.

Valentin Lazar, 21, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to the murder of 45-year-old Maria Rawlings.

Ms Rawlings had suffered multiple injures but there was no evidence of sexual assault.

She was attacked shortly after visiting hospital following a fall.

The victim was followed off a bus and targeted by Lazar because she was a vulnerable woman alone at night, it was alleged.

At an earlier hearing, the prosecutor, Paul Jarvis, had said: “He was probably carrying a knife.

“He led her into the bushes before violently attacking her and ultimately killing her before stealing some of her belongings and walking off.”

Ms Rawlings’ two daughters sat in court for the short hearing on Friday when Lazar entered his guilty plea.

At an earlier hearing, the court heard how Ms Rawlings was found dead at about 2.30pm on May 4 in the Little Heath area.

She was naked and her body had been concealed in undergrowth.

She had suffered numerous injuries including compression to the chest and a suspected stab wound.

Police tracked the victim’s movements from CCTV retrieved from the night before.

Having visited an Accident and Emergency department, Ms Rawlings was with Mr Lazar in the Little Heath area at around 11.15pm.

In footage, he appeared to guide her towards the area where her body was found the next day.

Thirty minutes later he emerged from the undergrowth alone carrying her handbag, the court had heard.

A baseball cap with the defendant’s DNA on it was left near to the body.

On his arrest, officers found clothes matching those of the attacker with traces of blood on them.

The defendant entered his guilty plea with the assistance of a Romanian interpreter.

The court was told that he admitted murder but denied he intended to kill Ms Rawlings or that he had a knife.

Remanding the defendant into custody, Judge Peter Rook QC said: “You have pleaded guilty to murder in a case of the utmost seriousness.

“There is only one sentence the court can pass and that is one of life imprisonment. A judge will decide the minimum that you must serve.”

The case was adjourned until January 10 next year.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Ms Rawlings’ body was discovered by a dog walker and that her injuries included 13 rib fractures.

After the attack, Lazar, who was living in rented accommodation in East Ham, boarded a bus towards Dagenham.

He was identified on social media following a public appeal.

Emma Currie, from the CPS, said: “Maria Rawlings was a vulnerable woman. She had attended A&E on the night of her murder, but tragically left before she was seen.

“The prosecution case included DNA and footprint evidence as well as CCTV footage which caught Lazar leaving with the handbag Ms Rawlings had been wearing earlier that evening.

“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.”

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