Man, 80, convicted of strangling 22-year-old woman nearly 50 years ago after DNA breakthrough

Pensioner guilty of 1974 manslaughter of Eileen Cotter after DNA breakthrough Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

An 80-year-old man has been found guilty of strangling a 22-year-old woman in Islington nearly 50 years ago after a DNA breakthrough.

John Apelgren hit sex worker Eileen Cotter in the face and throttled her before throwing her body out of his car in 1974, the Old Bailey heard.

The incident came two years after Apelgren indecently assaulted an 18-year-old guest at his own wedding, it was alleged.

The case was reopened in 2012, when DNA was extracted from samples from Ms Cotter’s body and compared with a then-prime suspect, who was ruled out.

The trail went cold for seven more years until 2019, when former minicab driver Apelgren came to the attention of police for attacking his third wife.

He accepted a caution for the assault and his DNA was flagged as a match to the historic killing, which happened just six weeks after the birth of his first child with his ex-wife Ann.

She went on to reveal to investigators he had mistreated her too – and once applied force to her neck with both of his hands.

The mother-of-two also told officers she felt he had been seeing other women within months of their marriage in 1972 and later discovered he was having an affair with her brother’s wife.

Apelgren, from Sydenham, south London, declined to give evidence in his trial and was found guilty of manslaughter and indecent assault after a jury deliberated for 11 hours and 24 minutes.

He was found not guilty of Ms Cotter’s murder, with the jury instead finding him guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.

Prosecutor Alexandra Healy KC said during the trial that Ms Cotter was seen on the night of her death at a hotdog stall in Finsbury Park where she would sometimes go for a cup of tea.

Her partly nude body was found on June 1 1974 outside garages.

She was lying on her front and her handbag, glasses and shoes were missing.

One resident described seeing what she thought was a “bundle of rags”, while another realised it was a body and asked her father to call the police.

Post-mortem tests found Ms Cotter died from manual strangulation and had a black eye and bruising after being hit in the face.

Her death went unsolved despite police speaking to 92 potential suspects and carrying out an extensive operation to identify local kerb crawlers.

The case was reopened after advances in DNA testing and samples taken from the body in 1974 were tested, the court was told.

Ms Healy said samples from two areas of the victim’s body were matched to Apelgren but did not come from her tights and underwear.

After the DNA match in 2019, Apelgren was interviewed by police and denied knowing the victim or paying for sex.

He admitted having affairs with four women, initially saying Ms Cotter could have been one of them, but later denied it.

The jury was also told South African Apelgren attacked a young woman at his wedding to second wife Ann Apelgren on October 14 1972.

Ms Healy said the woman had come out of the ladies’ toilets at the reception and found Apelgren waiting in the corridor.

He pushed her against a wall and indecently assaulted her, it was alleged.

The prosecutor said: “She did not tell anybody about this at the time, but eventually some many years later she was to tell Ann after the defendant and Ann were divorced.

“The allegation came to the attention of the police when Ann was spoken to as part of the investigation into Eileen Cotter’s death.”

Apelgren had previously been married in South Africa to a woman with whom he also had two children.

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