Serial rapist finally convicted of murdering Hainault woman 11 years ago

Michelle Samaraweera's body was found in a playground in 2009. Picture: Met Police

Michelle Samaraweera's body was found in a playground in 2009. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Archant

A violent rapist who preyed on lone women in the dark has been convicted of murdering one of his victims more than a decade ago.

Aman Vyas was found guilty of the rape and murder of Michelle Samaraweera and several other rapes. P

Aman Vyas was found guilty of the rape and murder of Michelle Samaraweera and several other rapes. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Archant

A Aman Vyas, 35, was found guilty on Thursday, July 30 of the murder of Hainault woman Michelle Samaraweera and five counts of rape, causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

He had pleaded guilty to a separate count of rape at an earlier hearing.

Croydon Crown Court heard Vyas had been extradited from India to face trial for the crimes committed against four women in Walthamstow between March and May 2009.

Vyas was 24 at the time, living in Walthamstow and working at a dry cleaner’s. The court heard he would go out in the early hours of the morning looking for lone women to target; he covered a relatively small area of Walthamstow, centred around Markhouse Road.

CCTV shows Michelle Samaraweera entering the shop in Markhouse Road. Picture: Met Police

CCTV shows Michelle Samaraweera entering the shop in Markhouse Road. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Archant

The first incident happened in the early hours of Tuesday, March 24, 2009. The victim, a woman who was then aged 59, had gone out to top up her meter key. As she walked back home she was followed by Vyas. He followed her into the communal area of her block of flats where she spotted him on the stairs. There was a brief conversation and as the woman returned to her flat Vyas pushed his way in.

The woman asked him to leave, at which point Vyas punched her repeatedly in the face. He then raped her, apologised for his actions and left.

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The woman was taken to hospital where doctors noted bruising and swelling to her face and bleeding in the white of one of her eyes.

As a result of forensic examination, partial DNA was recovered. A partial profile means that not all DNA components were present to complete a full DNA profile. However, police could confirm that the person who carried out the offences was not on the DNA database.

Aman Vyas in the shop in Markhouse Road, Walthamstow. Picture: Met Police

Aman Vyas in the shop in Markhouse Road, Walthamstow. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Archant

The second attack happened on Wednesday, April 22. A 46-year-old woman, out for a walk, was approached by Vyas who said he was looking to buy drugs. She agreed to take him to somewhere to buy them. When they arrived, he pulled out a knife and forced her down an alley, telling her she had better do as he said.

When she screamed, he punched her in the face, raped her and then fled the scene. The woman made her way to a public phone and called police. A forensic examination of the scene again found only a partial DNA sample. However, in 2019 a full forensic review did locate a full DNA sample that could provide a definitive link.

The third attack was on Wednesday, April 29. The victim, a 32-year-old woman, had visited a local supermarket and as she walked home, passed near to St Saviour’s Church; this was the last thing she could remember before she woke up in hospital.

In the early hours, a member of the public heard screaming and groaning coming from the graveyard. Police were called and found the victim. She had a deep cut to her head, her clothing was awry and she was hypothermic.

She was immediately taken to hospital where her head wound was stitched and she was found to have a fractured jaw and nose. In all, the woman was in hospital for more than a month while her injuries were treated.

It was not until June that she was able to speak formally to police about the incident. A DNA sample was obtained from a blanket paramedics had used to cover the woman and detectives were able to link this attack to the others.

The last attack culminated in the murder of Ms Samaraweera, a 35-year-old widow who lived alone in Kielder Close, Hainault, but had a boyfriend in Walthamstow.

On Saturday, May 30 CCTV cameras recorded her buying snacks at a shop in Markhouse Road. A man, later identified as Vyas, entered the shop. Ms Samaraweera left the shop and began walking along Queens Road, where there is a small park with a playground.

At about 1.30am members of the public heard screams coming from the park, however police were not called. At about 5.15am, a dog walker found Ms Samaraweera’s partially clothed body. Police and the London Ambulance Service were called and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

A post-mortem examination revealed that she had been strangled and subjected to a sexual assault; once again a DNA sample was retrieved.

Police investigations had been immediately launched into the first two offences, however the samples did not match anyone on the database. The subsequent DNA recovered at murder was also linked to the first two rapes and, later still, to the third attack.

Homicide detectives took over the investigation and, on the day of the murder, two men were arrested, followed by two more the next day. However all were subsequently eliminated from the inquiry.

On June 6 2009, officers conducted house-to-house enquiries in the local area.

Men who matched the description of the suspect were asked to provide a DNA sample to eliminate them from the inquiry. By late August 2009, 1,815 addresses had been visited and 750 DNA swabs had been taken. By early December, the number of DNA swabs had risen to more than 1,100.

Despite further arrests, extensive enquiries, an e-fit of the suspect being circulated and repeated media appeals, no suspect was identified.

Between November 8 and 13, 2010, 60,525 posters were despatched by investigating officers via Royal Mail to addresses in the Walthamstow area. These posters contained an image of the suspect from the shop CCTV and it was this that resulted in a breakthrough.

A man recognised the suspect as a former employee of his. He also recognised the distinctive jacket worn by the suspect as being one worn by the former employee.

The man contacted police, identified the suspect as Vyas and explained that he left the country in July 2009, adding that a family member still worked for him. Vyas’s former boss provided police with a water bottle that the family member had drunk from. This was compared against the DNA sample of the suspect and showed a familial link between the water bottle sample and the as yet unidentified suspect’s DNA sample. The former employee was Aman Vyas.

It was established that on July 2, 2009, a month after Ms Samaraweera’s murder and just a few days after a Crimewatch appeal about the case, Vyas purchased a one-way ticket to India, leaving the same day.

A manhunt commenced to find Vyas and extradite him back to the UK. In 2011, enquiries revealed at one stage that Vyas was in New Zealand, he then made his way to Singapore and the trail went cold.

Then on July 4, 2011 police were informed by Indian authorities that they had arrested Vyas, an Indian national, at New Delhi Airport as he tried to take an outbound flight.

Extradition proceedings commenced at that time but it was not until October 4, 2019 that Met officers escorted the defendant from Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi to London Heathrow that he was arrested. Vyas was charged with the abovementioned offences that same day and kept in custody to appear at court.

It was now possible to get a full DNA sample from Vyas. The DNA findings were 1 billion times more likely to have come from Vyas, rather than from some other person.

The case officer, Det Sgt Shaleena Sheikh, said: “There has been a long wait for justice in this case but finally the victims and their families have seen the person responsible brought to account. Vyas did all he could to avoid responsibility for his crimes. He fled abroad and then added to the distress of those he hurt by making them go through the ordeal of a trial. However, the injuries Vyas inflicted told the true story of this violent criminal and the jury have seen right through his lies.

“Although we had DNA from the scenes of his crimes, Vyas was not on the DNA database and was a complete stranger to his victims; to bring him to justice required an extraordinary investigation. This case lasted more than ten years, needed enquiries in many different countries and finally a lengthy extradition process.

“The sheer scale of the investigation was also remarkable. There were extensive media appeals, and thousands of homes and businesses were contacted, in person or through leaflets. Thousands of men volunteered to assist by voluntarily giving DNA. I would like to personally like to thank all those who helped, it was through those extensive efforts that Vyas was finally identified and brought to justice.

“Vyas’s crimes were wicked and relentless and I am thankful that such violent predators are rare. To anyone who is the victim of sexual assault or violent crime, this case shows the determination of the Met to bring those responsible to justice. If you are a victim of sexual crime, please tell us - you will be supported.”

Vyas was found not guilty of one count of possession of a bladed weapon.

Following his conviction Aisling Hosein, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This has been a long and arduous journey for the victims and their families who have waited more than a decade for Aman Vyas to be held accountable for his depraved actions.

“These were violent attacks by a sexual predator who prowled Walthamstow by night looking for lone women.

“I would like to highlight the courage of the victims who came forward to assist in bringing this man to justice and those that bravely gave evidence in court against their attacker.

“I would also like to thank all the criminal justice partners involved in extraditing Vyas.

“I hope today’s verdict will provide some comfort to the victims and their families – and in particular for the loved ones of Michelle Samaraweera, who were finally able to get justice for her murder. Our thoughts remain with them all at this time.”

Vyas will be sentenced at Croydon Crown Court on August 21.