Langwith Junction trial: what happened to pensioner Freda Walker as Vasile Culea sentenced over her murder

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Vasile Culea hog-tied Freda and Kenneth Walker during an attack inside their home, Mrs Walker was found dead by the emergency services

A “savage” burglar has been jailed for at least 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 found guilty of murdering Freda Walker as well as being convicted of the wounding with intent of her 88-year-old husband, former district councillor and alderman Kenneth Walker.

Mr Walker who survived the attack on 14 January, inside the couple’s home, passed away shortly before Culea’s case was due to call in court.

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

The 34-year-old warehouse operative falsely claimed he may have injured Mrs Walker after “slipping” on a spilt drink and stepping on her chest, after she “fell over” during his attack.

Ken and Freda Walker.Ken and Freda Walker.
Ken and Freda Walker.

What happened during the sentencing hearing?

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. 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.

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“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.”

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.”

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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.

What happened to Freda and Kenneth Walker?

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

He also claimed to have targeted the property, where he spent more than three hours; after over-hearing 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.

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CCTV showed Culea first arrived at their address about 5.30pm, where he then claimed to have climbed over their fence, before waiting in their garden.

He then claimed in evidence that he opened their unlocked back door, and hid in their utility room, while the couple chatted nearby, but was then later discovered by Mrs Walker and her husband when they came looking for their cat.

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 and lengthy 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” and “with coverings to her face obstructing her airway”, according to Michael Auty KC, prosecuting.

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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 pillow case and a bin liner.

Culea, who left under cover of darkness with £300 from a handbag after claiming he was “scared” and “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.

Jurors were told Culea had claimed he found out about the cash after over-hearing two men talking in a Polish shop, about the cash 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.

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Vasile Culea murdered pensioner Freda Walker and left her husband Kenneth injured.Vasile Culea murdered pensioner Freda Walker and left her husband Kenneth injured.
Vasile Culea murdered pensioner Freda Walker and left her husband Kenneth injured. | Derbyshire Police / SWNS

How was Culea caught?

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

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

Culea, who had broken into the couple’s home in a quiet corner of north-east Derbyshire, was snared by DNA found on a baseball cap left at the scene, Derbyshire Police said.

That breakthrough was described as a “huge moment”, allowing officers to put a “name and a face” to the man they were hunting, according to Detective Inspector Carolyne Van Shaick.

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

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 Bolsover district councillor – gravely hurt.

It also emerged from family friends that Mr Walker had been diagnosed with lung cancer only a short while before he was attacked in his home.

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.

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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 Walker’s 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.

After the verdicts, Ms Van Schaik said the methods used by Culea had been “truly shocking”, adding it was her hopes the verdicts brought “some consolation to those affected by this horrific crime”.

“Whilst Kenneth may have survived the attack, he had lost his wife and lived out his remaining days requiring constant care before he sadly passed away shortly before this case was due to be heard,” she added.

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While, Andrew Baxter, deputy chief crown prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Mr and Mrs Walker were targeted by Culea as he had found out they had a significant amount of cash in their home. His attack was savage, sustained and beyond any justification. He showed no mercy, subjecting them to a terrifying ordeal.”

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