In a small children’s play area, in the early hours of the morning, Michelle Samaraweera was raped and murdered by a man police believe she had never met before. The man followed her as she walked home, attempted to befriend her and then attacked.
It was Walthamstow, in May 2009, but the incident was not an isolated one. The man has raped three other women and sexually assaulted at least five more – all within a six month period and all within the same square-mile of East London.
But, despite having the attacker’s DNA and a picture of him, Scotland Yard detectives have so far been unable to catch him. His DNA is not on the database and eight men arrested have subsequently been ruled out of the investigation.
Today detectives will step up their investigation when they post leaflets showing CCTV footage of the man to 60,500 homes in the Waltham Forest borough of London. Officers hope it will provide a breakthrough in the hitherto fruitless manhunt. But the mystery of how he has evaded capture for so long still persists.
Mrs Samaraweera’s case is the most recent that police are linking the man to, but there may have been others since. The 35-year-old was staying at her boyfriend’s house when left at about 3am on 30 May 2009 to the Somerfield supermarket on Markhouse Road. She was followed into the store and then followed out. Her body was found later that morning in a children’s play area. She had been raped and then strangled.
DNA evidence has conclusively linked the man to three other rapes which happened in the two months before Mrs Samaraweera’s death. And analysis of other sexual assaults in the area – including the man’s modus operandi and his appearance – have led the Metropolitan Police to conclude he is responsible for at least five other sex attacks dating back to December 2008.
Detective Chief Inspector Stewart Hill, from the Metropolitan Police’s homicide team admits it is worrying that the man is still at large and concedes it is possible he has fled the country.
“These types of case are exceptionally rare and obviously it greatly concerns us that we have not caught this man yet,” he said. “Usually when we have got DNA and CCTV it doesn’t then take us very long to catch the perpetrator. But in this case it hasn’t happened yet.
“We are probably looking at someone who has moved into the area shortly before he began his attacks and has now possibly left. If that is the case it means that the footprint he has left is not as deep as we would like.”
Police have worked on the theory that the man has carefully selected vulnerable victims who are unlikely or unable to report their experiences to police. One of his victims has learning difficulties, while another was a sex worker. Others have been drug users. But, conversely, one of the woman assaulted was a doctor.
DCI Hill said: “Many of them are vulnerable people, but I think it is more the case that they have been in vulnerable positions, namely that many of them have been out alone in the early hours of the morning.”
The man, who is described as Asian in appearance, usually attempts to engage the victims in conversation before assaulting them. He is also prone to attacking in the same area repeatedly.
St Saviours Church sits on the busy Markhouse Road, but it is surrounded by its relatively secluded churchyard. Three women were assaulted there. South Grove is a street no longer than 200m, but it has been the scene of three attacks.
Yet despite the confined area the man stalks, and the belief of detectives that they are close to catching him, Mrs Samaraweera’s family say that the search is akin to “finding a needle in a haystack”.
Ann Chandradasa, Mrs Samaraweera’s sister, said: “The police are doing the best they can, but no one is coming forward with information. He might not be in the country anymore, but he was obviously living in the area at the time. Someone must know him.”
Crimes committed by the same man who has sexually assaulted nine different women in east London
16 Dec 08, 21:00, woman grabbed
11 Feb 09, 08:05, girl assaulted
19 Mar 09, 22:00, woman grabbed
24 Mar 09, 01:00, woman raped
26 Mar 09, 23:30, woman grabbed
16 Apr 09, 02:00, woman attacked
22 Apr 09, 01:00, woman raped
29 Apr 09, 01:30, woman raped
30 May 09, woman raped and killed