Old-fashioned detective work solves case of Dead Man's Hollow

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It read like a script from a television detective show. An off-duty fireman out on an early morning bike ride is alerted to a small fire in a field by the smell of burning flesh.

The police discover the remains of a man, who is later found to have been shot several times in the head, repeatedly stabbed, wrapped in a blanket, and drenched with petrol before being set alight.

The body had been dumped on 21 December 2002 at Upton, a short drive south of Peterborough, near a beauty spot known as Dead Man's Hollow.

The only surviving clues were a small part of the man's back, a fragment of shirt, scraps of charred paper, two pairs of latex gloves, packet for the gloves containing a serial number, and a fingerprint.

Forensic science teams recovered a DNA sample and teeth but searches on national and international databases drew a blank.

What followed was an extraordinary piece of police work, which resulted on Thursday in the conviction of the mystery man's killer.

But the hero in this particular tale turned out not to be a Morse, Dalgliesh or Frost, but Detective Inspector Bert Deane of Cambridgeshire Police. The judge in the trial was so impressed with the detective work that he singled out DI Deane for praise.

The detective began his inquiry by calling in a series of scientific specialists. They created an impression of the victim's face and, following a minute examination of his teeth, concluded that he had picked up pollutants carried in the air in Eastern Europe and eastern England.

The scraps of charred paper appeared to be from a medical appointment letter. One contained the handwritten name "Talbot", another the typewritten name "Armstrong". DI Deane decided to write to every person with the name Talbot or Armstrong in eastern England.

Eight months after finding the body and sending out 2,099 letters, the team had its first major breakthrough. A secretary named Vanessa Armstrong, who worked at a factory in King's Lynn, Norfolk, contacted police to say that the letter was a medical check-up appointmentshe had sent to a machinist, Paul Talbot.

Detectives discovered the letter had been thrown into a waste bin in the factory medical room. In the same room they found a glove packet with the same serial number as the packet found near the body - and blood spatters which matched the DNA of the dead man. Police then discovered that the factory had closed for Christmas a few days before the body was found and was being looked after by security guards. One of those guards was Nishan Bakunts, 28, an Armenian living in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Bakunts had been working nights and had been accompanied by another man when arriving for his shifts. That man's description matched the expert's impression of the dead man.

That man was a 42-year-old Armenian, Hovhannes Amirian. He had arrived in England a few months earlier after leaving Belgium, where he was wanted for questioning about a murder in Ostend. He had been staying at Bakunts' home.

Police then discovered that Amirian had a long-standing dispute with Bakunts' father-in-law, Misha Chatsjatrjan, 44, who was living in the Netherlands. Detectives learnt that Chatsjatrjan had arrived in England a few days before the body was found and left shortly afterwards.

Police believed that Bakunts had contacted his father-in-law and told him that Amirian had arrived in England. Police believe the two then plotted to lure him to the empty factory where Bakunts killed him. The medical room was cleaned, everything was bundled into the waste-paper bin, then into a bag and burnt. The charred appointment letter was all that was left of the bin's contents.

Bakunts and Chatsjatrjan denied murder. Bakunts was found guilty by a jury at Norwich Crown court. Chatsjatrjan was cleared of murder but found guilty of assisting an offender. Mrs Justice Cox jailed Bakunts for life and Chatsjatsrjan for three years.

The judge singled out DI Deane and his team for praise. She said: "It seems to me that the meticulous investigation in a case in which there was very little to go on demonstrated consummate skill and merits the highest praise."

DI Deane said: "It is ironic that for all the scientific experts we were able to call on -who gave us invaluable help - it was old-fashioned detective work that proved the key."