Jailed for 23 years: 'Evil' predator who murdered vulnerable woman on her way home from hospital

Maria Rawlings death Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A man who murdered a vulnerable woman in a "savage" attack on her way home from hospital after a fall has been jailed for life.

Valentin Lazar, 21, hit 45-year-old Maria Rawlings with a wooden stick embedded with nails more than a 100 times, stabbed her and strangled her before leaving her naked in shrubbery in Romford, east London, in May last year.

The manual labourer, who admitted the murder, was branded "evil" by Rawlings' devastated family as he was jailed at the Old Bailey on Thursday.

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.

Valentin Lazar admitted the murder of Maria Rawlings Credit: Met Police/PA

The court heard Rawlings had visited King George Hospital in Chadwell Heath complaining of a headache after suffering a head injury on the evening of May 3 last year.

She left hospital without being seen and got on a bus just after 11pm.

The mother-of-two, who had alcohol issues and had been staying with her daughter in Witham, Essex, got off the bus when it terminated, along with her killer.

CCTV showed them engaging 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 and took a bus home.

Rawlings’ battered body was found by a dog walker at about 2.30pm the next day in the Little Heath area.

A post-mortem examination found she had died from neck compression and a blunt force head injury.

Little Heath in Romford

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.

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

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones QC suggested a possible "sexual motive" to the murder because Rawlings had bruises on her inner thighs and was found naked.

"It was an assault of exceptional violence, savage and sustained," he had earlier told the court.

Maria Rawlings with her father Tony Credit: Family handout//PA

Judge Lucraft 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."

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

Lazar, a Romanian national living in rented accommodation in East Ham, was identified following an ITV News London facebook 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, Rawlings was described as a "fun-loving soul who would never cause any harm to anyone".

L-R: Maria Rawlings' daughter Charlee Rawlings, father Tony Rawlings and daughter Katie Rawlings following the sentencing of Valentin Lazar

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."

Older daughter Katie Rawlings said: "My mum was such a bubbly person. She loved everyone and wore her heart on her sleeve."

Father Tony Rawlings added that she had bipolar disorder, saying "sometimes life was a struggle for her".

In mitigation, Jennifer Dempster QC said Lazar would regret what he had done for the rest of his life.