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Fugitive jailed for life for 1984 murder after cold case probe

Paul Bryan (Met Police)
Paul Bryan (Met Police)

A murderer who assumed the identity of a dead man and travelled around Europe to evade justice for 39 years has been jailed for at least 24 years.

Enforcer Paul Bryan was 22 when he fatally stabbed 62-year-old Roman Szalajko in the stomach at his flat in Kennington, south London, in February 1984.

Afterwards, he took on the identity of a dead Welshman with the same name and embarked on a new life in Portugal, Crete, Spain and France.

The Army reject and “fantasist” became a suspect when his fingerprints were identified from a bottle at the scene during a cold case review in 2013.

DNA from Bryan’s late mother’s hairbrush was later found to be a familial match to traces on the victim’s vest and clump of hair.

Tenacious Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant Quinn Cutler took a decade to track down the defendant and arrest him at Stansted as he stepped off a plane from Portugal in November last year.

The defendant, now aged 62, originally from Hammersmith, west London, admitted having a false passport and was found guilty of murder following a trial at the Old Bailey.

Jailing him for life with a minimum term of 24 years on Friday, Judge Nigel Lickley KC said: “There was no need to use violence of such an extreme nature towards Roman Szalajko.”

The “suffering and damage” he caused had affected people to this day, the judge said.

Paul Bryan court case
Roman Szalajko, who was fatally stabbed after he answered the door to his flat in south London in February 1984 (Met Police/PA)

In a victim impact statement, disabled pensioner Mr Szalajko’s daughter-in-law Julie spoke of the “shadow” cast over the family for nearly 40 years.

Her husband Gerard fell under suspicion over his father’s death and turned to alcohol, which ultimately led to his early death aged 48 in 2006.

She said: “I want Paul Bryan to know that even though this happened almost 40 years ago, the impact on my family has been a painful and long-lasting one.

“Roman was always a gentleman towards me and knowing the truth about his murder is a great comfort to me and my family. Seeing Paul Bryan being brought to justice gives us great peace and comfort after all these years.”

Her son Dean said: “I know being accused of his father’s murder caused my dad grief, pain and anger which deeply affected him personally.

“He told us the person who had killed Roman had ruined his life. It is so sad to think that he lived his life not knowing the truth and not ever seeing justice done.

“I know my dad was not the person he ended up as but unfortunately, my dad’s life ended the day Roman’s did, the pain and stigma it caused eating into him for the rest of his life.”

The judge found Bryan, who had a previous conviction for going equipped for theft and having a knife, had gone to the victim’s flat to extract paperwork connected with Mr Szalajko’s role as an unofficial financial adviser.

The Polish victim, a divorced father of two, was known to gamble and keep large amounts of cash at his home, which has since been demolished.

On the day of the murder, Mr Szalajko was on the phone to a builder friend, Michael Peddubriwny, when he broke off, saying in Polish: “Excuse me a moment, there’s someone at the door.”

Paul Bryan
Paul Bryan in 1989 (Handout/PA)

As the line was left open, Mr Peddubriwny heard the victim say loudly in English: “What do you want? Help! Help!”

Mr Peddubriwny shouted down the phone: “Roman, what’s going on?” but the line went dead, having been deliberately cut by Bryan.

Two police officers went to the flat and found Mr Szalajko slumped in a chair in the living room with a fatal stab wound.

The case went unsolved until the cold case review led to the identification of Bryan’s fingerprints on a “Polish mead” bottle in the victim’s wardrobe.

Murder site
The murder site (Historic England/PA)

Mr Cutler then picked up a paper trail and scraps of evidence to track down the suspect, who appeared to have vanished in the late 1980s.

He told the PA news agency: “There was no record of him having a job since the Eighties, he had not paid any tax, he did not have a passport and he did not have a driving licence.

“It was like he did not exist and we could not find him and that’s when I became involved and we had to look at methods to locate where the real Paul Bryan was at that time.”

He discovered that three days after the murder, Bryan, who was born in 1961, had applied for an emergency passport.

The only other record related to his arrest in London in 1997 for a minor drug offence while with a woman called Sylvia Bryan, who worked as a tour operator.

This opened a “window” into Bryan’s life, Mr Cutler said: “We were able to use family trees and genealogy to find out Sylvia Bryan must have been his wife.

Paul Bryan
A DNA breakthrough led to Bryan being brought to justice (Handout/PA)

“It was from that we were able to track Paul Bryan’s marriage certificate and when we got the marriage certificate we found out it was a different date of birth. Not 1961 but 1955 and a man named Paul Bryan.

“However, when we checked 1955 Paul Bryan we found out he was actually dead and this Paul Bryan had then gone on to get a passport and driving licence and was living in Portugal married to Sylvia Bryan.”

On his arrest last year, Bryan tried to pass himself off with his false identity but “eventually he realised the game was up”, Mr Cutler said.

The defendant made no reaction as he was sent down from the dock.

Judge Lickley commended Mr Cutler and the other officers and scientists involved in the case.