Life term for killer who dragged ex-partner's body in a suitcase through Exeter
Kostov to serve at least 19 years
A Bulgarian man who killed his ex-partner before dragging her body concealed in a suitcase through Exeter has today [19 May] been jailed for life for her murder.
Kostadin Kostov, 43, denied killing fellow Bulgarian Gergana Prodanova but was convicted at Exeter Crown Court of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment to serve a minimum of 19 years.
The court was told that Kostov killed her on 4 August 2016 and placed her naked body in a suitcase which he then hauled through Exeter city centre in the early hours of the morning of 7 August.
He eventually dumped the suitcase by the side of the railway line in Blackall Road, not far from the prison, and tried to conceal it in the undergrowth.
During the trial the court heard that Kostov murdered 38-year-old Gergana in a jealous temper because she had found a new partner.
Kostov and Gergana had been in a complex and troubled relationship in Bulgaria for 15 years during which they had three children together.
Gergana had moved to Exeter in December 2015 to escape his violent and controlling behaviour and to start a new life for herself.
But Kostov followed her to Exeter, moving himself into her flat in Mount Pleasant Road in April 2016. She believed he may change and allowed him back into her life. However the relationship soured when she met a new man, Tihomir Todorov, who treated her kindly and made her very happy.
Gergana became frightened to be around Kostov and she would only return briefly to the shared flat each day to collect clothes and food for her and Mr Todorov. The atmosphere was strained, the couple barely spoke to each other but Kostov refused to leave.
Police were called on the morning of 8 August when concerned colleagues reported that Gergana had failed to show up for work as a cleaner at the Great Western Hotel in Exeter.
Officers launched a major missing person enquiry with extensive searches covering large parts of Exeter, supported by specialist dogs, search teams and the Force drone.
When questioned Kostov told police that Gergana had made an emergency trip to Bulgaria on the night of 4 August as her mother had died. The prosecution said that he had in fact killed her sometime between 8.16pm and 9.37pm on that night.
Tihomir Todorov received a text from Gergana’s phone around 9.20pm on that evening saying she was at Bristol Airport to catch a flight to Bulgaria because of the bereavement.
He became suspicious because the language and tone of the message did not sound like Gergana. He tried to phone and text her several times but there was no response.
In the coming days texts were sent from Gergana’s phone and messages sent from her Facebook account. But evidence proved that Kostov had sent the messages to make it seem that she was still alive.
His story was unravelled by forensic phone analysis which proved that Kostov’s SIM card had been placed in Gergana’s phone in the Exeter area on 6 August when she was supposed to have it with her in Bulgaria. This was to prove the fatal error made by Kostov who was arrested on 10 August due to this evidence.
A team of six Devon and Cornwall officers travelled to Bulgaria and worked with Bulgarian police to establish background about Gergana and Kostov’s relationship. They found her mother was very much alive.
Some 12 days after she went missing, on 16 August 2016, a railway worker aware of the missing person search discovered the suitcase containing Gergana’s badly decomposed body by the railway line.
Police immediately halted the 17 August bin collection in a large radius around the flat and deposition site to preserve precious evidence.
Officers painstakingly picked through 14 tonnes of rubbish, uncovering Gergana’s clothes which had been cut off her body. They had Kostov’s blood on them. Evidence matched the clothes to scissors found in the flat and the clothes were those she wore on the final CCTV sighting of her outside Best One International in Sidwell Street on 4 August. In the same rubbish bag was a beer can carrying Kostov’s DNA; the batch number matched cans found in the flat.
Her phones were never found but the rucksack that she never went anywhere without was also located by police at the flat.
A trawl of 100s of hours of CCTV revealed chilling footage of a baseball-capped man hauling a heavy suitcase through the city centre in the early hours of 7 August, pausing for breath at intervals. Kostov denied that it was him.
For the first time Devon and Cornwall Police consulted a national expert in gait analysis to prove that the man was Kostov, matching his walking pattern from other CCTV footage of him going to work.
In the days after Gergana’s death Kostov detoured from his usual walk to work as a cleaner at Exeter College to visit where her body had been left. The court heard that while there he had googled: ‘how long would it take for a human corpse to decompose’.
A post mortem failed to determine the cause of death due to the level of decomposition on her body and Kostov consistently denied any involvement in Gergana’s death, despite the evidence against him.
Throughout the trial he maintained that he had last seen Gergana on 4 August when she left for Bulgaria, that he was happy to see her content in a new relationship and that the man in the CCTV footage was not him.
Detectives from the Force Major Crime Investigation Team were commended by the judge, Sir John Royce, for their work on the case.
Detective Inspector Gregg Dawe, senior investigating officer, said: “We are delighted with the verdict and the sentence in this case. There was a mountain of evidence against Kostov – more than I have ever seen in a murder investigation – yet he still believed he could somehow get away with this crime.
“Throughout this investigation and trial Kostov maintained that he knew nothing about Gergana’s disappearance or death, but overwhelming evidence has proven that it was he who killed her and disposed of her body.
“He was a violent and jealous man and couldn’t bear to see Gergana happy with someone else. This was an abusive relationship and he could feel control slipping away when she would not take him back. The motive was plain and simple – old-fashioned jealousy. His actions were cold and calculating, blatantly carrying the suitcase in open public view through the city centre.
“I would like to praise the team of detectives from the Major Crime Investigation Team who have worked tirelessly on this case to disprove Kostov’s lies. I would also like thank the Bulgarian police for their assistance with this investigation and members of the public who assisted in the search for Gergana.
“This was a heart-breaking case which has deprived a hard-working mother of her life and her three children of their mother. Our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time. We hope today’s verdict brings some comfort that justice has been done.”
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