'Evil' predator jailed for battering and strangling lone woman

Lazar Valentin, 21, of Hockley Avenue in East Ham, admitted to murdering Maria Rawlings in Ilford

Lazar Valentin, 21, of Hockley Avenue in East Ham, admitted to murdering Maria Rawlings in Ilford - Credit: Metropolitan Police

An evil predator who battered and strangled a vulnerable mother-of-two after their paths crossed on a bus has been jailed for life.

Valentin Lazar, of Hockley Avenue in East Ham, killed 45-year-old Maria Rawlings on May 3 last year after meeting her on the EL3 bus.

The 21-year-old attacked the victim with a wooden stick embedded with nails and a knife before leaving her naked in bushes in Little Heath.

Her body found on May 4 by a dog walker, with a baseball cap containing the defendant’s DNA discovered nearby.

Lazar was charged on May 10.

The manual labourer, who admitted the murder, was branded “evil” by Ms Rawlings’s devastated family as he was jailed at the Old Bailey today - February 3.

Maria Rawlings was aged 45 when she was murdered in Ilford

Maria Rawlings was aged 45 when she was murdered in Ilford - Credit: Metropolitan Police

Addressing Lazar in court, her father Tony Rawlings said: “Your 15 minutes of anger towards a defenceless grandmother has caused me and my family a lifetime of pain.”

Judge Mark Lucraft QC jailed Lazar for life with a minimum term of 23 years and six months.

He said: “This murder involved an intoxicated woman alone late at night and she was particularly vulnerable.

“This was a savage and sustained attack and a high degree of pain and suffering was inflicted prior to death.”

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Leaving the victim naked added to her “humiliation and degradation”, he added.

Earlier, prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones QC told the court: “It was an assault of exceptional violence, savage and sustained.”

Outlining the facts, he told how the victim had visited Goodmayes' King George Hospital on the evening of May 3 complaining of a headache.

Having left hospital without being seen, Ms Rawlings got on a bus just after 11pm where she crossed paths with Lazar.

The mother-of-two got off the bus when it terminated, as did her killer.

They appeared on CCTV to engage in a brief conversation before Lazar guided his victim by the arm towards some shrubbery where they disappeared from view.

After 31 minutes, he emerged from the undergrowth alone, with the victim’s white handbag slung over his shoulder.

He rifled through the bag then discarded it on the pavement, the court heard.

After the attack, Lazar boarded another bus, eventually arriving home after 1am.

The killer had a “drug-like energy” - with his eyes being very wide and fixed - according to a bus driver who saw him run across the road.

A post-mortem examination found that Ms Rawlings died from neck compression and a blunt force head injury.

The court heard there were more than 100 sites of blunt force trauma: 15 rib fractures, injuries from multiple blows to the head, defensive wounds to the hands, and foot prints consistent with being stood on.

A piece of wood with nails poking out of it - believed to have caused the victim's facial injuries - was found at the scene.

Other injuries to the face and knee were inflicted with a single-edged blade, observed pathologist Dr Matt Cieka.

Mr Emlyn Jones QC suggested a possible “sexual motive” to the murder because Ms Rawlings had bruises on her inner thighs and was found naked.

Romanian national Lazar was identified on social media following an appeal.

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

In statements by her two daughters and father, Ms Rawlings was described as a “fun-loving soul who would never cause any harm to anyone”.

Her daughter Charlee Rawlings said: “That evil man took a loving daughter, mum and nan.

“I hope that he gets everything he deserves and experiences the pain he has put us all through.”

Mr Rawlings spoke about his daughter's battle with bipolar disorder, acknowledging that “sometimes life was a struggle for her”.

Defence barrister Jennifer Dempster QC accepted it was a “cowardly and unprovoked” attack which she could not provide an explanation for.

She told the court Lazar had said: “When I left Ms Rawlings she was alive. I did not intend to kill her.”