Broke businessman executed couple for their money

A broke businessman who executed an elderly couple in cold blood for their money was jailed for life today and told he would serve at least 30 years in prison for their murders.

Debt-ridden Odai Salah, 29, stabbed and suffocated disabled Maurece Smith and stabbed his partner Rosemary Windle, both 71, to get their cash.

He took their cheque books and credit cards and callously went back to their flat in Torquay, Devon, at least twice to ensure he was still in the clear to use them.

Salah, of Windsor Road, Torquay, denied two counts of murder but a jury at Exeter Crown Court took less than three hours to convict him.

A smartly dressed Salah, surrounded by five dock officers, stood expressionless as the jury foreman returned the guilty verdicts.

There were gasps of joy from the public gallery, where the families of Mrs Windle and Mr Smith were sitting.

The elderly couple each had two sons with previous partners.

Michael Wolkind QC, defending, offered no mitigation on behalf of his client.

Mr Justice Jack jailed Salah for life and fixed a minimum term of imprisonment of 30 years before Salah could apply for parole.

The judge said Salah had gone to the couple's flat armed with a knife to get money from them.

"I am satisfied the reason for killing Maurece Smith and Rosemary Windle was to get at their money," he said.

"Not only did you stab Maurece Smith and put a sack over his face, you cut his face with two pairs of parallel cuts on the cheek.

"That must have been done when he was unable to move. You also strangled Rosemary Windle.

"These were the people that you were pretending to organise a trip to the Lebanon.

"Both Maurece Smith and Rosemary Windle were elderly people who thought you were a responsible man and treated you as a business acquaintance who was genuine in his business dealings.

"You used that as an opportunity to visit them and kill them, for what you wanted was their money."

The judge added: "You have been shown during this case, and even at your own admission, to have lived a life of considerable dishonesty.

"Hearing you give evidence was to hear lie after lie with you always having a keen eye on the ambit of the evidence.

"The manner in which you gave your evidence was always of complete callousness. You have shown no shame for the many dishonesties you committed.

"I come to the conclusion that you are devoid of any morality."

During the trial the court heard the defendant was £170,000 in debt at the time of the murders in January this year.

He had gotten to know the couple the previous year when he tried to do business with them through his failed Lebanese food and wine company.

Mrs Windle had a successful business selling linen and other goods to wealthy clients in the Middle East.

Prosecutor Paul Dunkels QC said: "This was a cold-blooded execution by the defendant of an elderly couple in order to get money from them.

"He saw Rosemary Windle and Maurece Smith as an opportunity to get money. He murdered them and he then stole from them.

"He took their cheque books and credit cards and used them. He stole an expensive camera and camera lenses and sold them."

Originally from Jordan, Salah married a British woman and became a UK citizen in 2009.

He had moved to the UK as a student in 2002 and at the time of the killings he was studying for a PhD at the school of law and social sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University.

He set up a food and wine business which failed after two years in 2009.

Mr Dunkels said: "The defendant had been in financial difficulties for some time. He had resorted to various deceptions to get money or credit.

"Credit card companies, banks and other organisations that had lent money to him were pressing him for repayment or for arrears of monies due to be paid. He had no money to repay them."

Salah told the couple he could help Mrs Windle's business by putting her in touch with contacts in the Middle East.

Mr Dunkels said: "He was falsely representing himself to the victims as someone who could put valuable business their way.

"His purpose must have been to convince them that he had financial standing so as to win their confidence and to then somehow persuade them to advance money to him."

It was not clear what triggered the attack, Mr Dunkels said. "Perhaps he realised that he could not sustain the story of taking them all to Lebanon for big business any longer and that they could not be persuaded to hand over money to him willingly.

"He must have determined that the only way to get money from them was to kill them both. That is what he did."

After murdering the couple he went to a bank in Exeter and tried to pay a forged cheque for £27,000 into his own account.

Nine minutes later he went into another bank and tried to pay in another forged cheque.

The next day he posed as Mr Smith over the telephone to try to pay off a £4,658 debt. He even used one of Mr Smith's cards to pay off a charge after his car was clamped.

Three days after the murder police were alerted by relatives concerned they had not been able to get in touch with the couple.

Police found Mr Smith's body in an armchair covered with blankets and pillows and a cushion over his face.

A broken knife blade was found under his body. Mrs Windle's body was found in the garage lying on the floor covered by a blanket.

Salah denied the murders and said he had no contact with the couple on the day they died.

From the witness box, he said claims he killed them to steal money from them to pay off his debts were false.

"I had £200,000 debts. The prosecution says I killed them for £30,000. It's a drop in the ocean," he told the jury.

"It doesn't make sense. I will never, ever under any circumstances kill another person, especially Maurece and Rosemary. They were very warm people, very close, very generous to me."