Pensioner, 80, jailed for 10 years for strangling young woman 49 years ago

 photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of Eileen Cotter
Eileen Cotter was 22 when she was strangled by John Apelgren in 1974. Credit: PA

An 80-year-old man who strangled a young woman nearly 50 years ago has been jailed for 10 years and 6 months.

John Apelgren, 80, hit Eileen Cotter in the face and throttled her before throwing her body out of his car, the Old Bailey heard.

Ms Cotter’s body was found on June 1, 1974 outside garages in Finsbury Park.

Her half-brother Patrick Cotter, who was five years old at the time of her death, said the impact of her death was “indescribable”.

“No-one ever spoke to me about my sister’s death. I have no memory of her funeral. I have no idea where she was laid to rest," he said in a statement.

Ms Cotter's violent death led to the breakdown of his parents’ relationship and he was taken into care.

John Apelgren strangled 22-year-old Eileen Cotter by a block of garages in Finsbury Park on the afternoon of 1 June 1974. Credit: Met Police

Mr Cotter said: “As a result of the traumatic event during my childhood I shut down emotionally. It’s made it difficult for me to form close relationships.

“I only have very faint memories of my sister but I believe she cared for me.”

He concluded: “To sum it up in simple terms, the impact of Eileen’s killing had on my life: I was not only deprived of a sister I had little time to get to know, the knock-on effect also meant I lost my mother to suicide and my father to mental illness and alcoholism, all brought about because John Apelgren took Eileen’s life.

“I would like to see justice for Eileen whose life was cruelly cut short 49 years ago.”

The 22-year-old’s death in Islington came two years after Apelgren sexually assaulted an 18-year-old guest at his own wedding to second wife Ann in October 1972.

Prosecutor Alexandra Healy KC had told jurors the incident only came to light years later when police interviewed Ann Apelgren as part of the re-investigation into Ms Cotter’s death.

Eileen Cotter was killed by a block of garages in Finsbury Park. Credit: Met Police

That case had been 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 historical killing, which happened just six weeks after the birth of his first child with 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.

Apelgren, from Sydenham, declined to give evidence in his trial.

He was acquitted of murder but found guilty of manslaughter and indecent assault.

On Friday, Mrs Justice May jailed him at the Old Bailey for 10 years for the killing and a further six months for the earlier assault to run consecutively.

John Apelgren in 1972. Credit: Met Police

In a statement from the 1970s, the victim’s late father – also called Patrick – detailed his daughter’s short life marred by family tragedies.

Ms Cotter was born three years after Irish labourer Mr Cotter moved to England in 1949.

She was aged just 15 when she found the body of her mother after she committed suicide.

She left school at 16 and worked at a holiday camp in Barry Island in Wales and at a care home in Ireland.

The court was told Ms Cotter had given birth to a son around 1970 but the child died in infancy and she left the family home in Battersea months before her death.

In mitigation, Justin Rouse KC listed Apelgren’s health problems saying the defendant would be affected “significantly” by serving his sentence.

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