The sneering rapist: How Beeston probe became West Yorkshire’s biggest since Shannon Matthews

1
Have your say

IT WAS a manhunt that would ultimately cost £250,000, involve more than 100 officers and hinge upon the co-operation of police forces worldwide.

But the inquiry into one of the most disturbing crimes Leeds has seen for several years began when the 18-year-old victim stumbled, disoriented and physically traumatised, towards two passersby before mustering a single word: “Rape”.

Zdenko Turtak is brought into custody

Zdenko Turtak is brought into custody

West Yorkshire Police’s homicide and major enquiry team quickly discovered that, unusually, the whole incident had been captured in full harrowing detail on a private CCTV camera overlooking the garden where it happened.

After initial inquiries and public appeals hit a dead end, a week after the attack police released an edited version of the footage which was seen hundreds of thousands of times online.

The victim was said to look much younger than her 18 years, leading detectives to fear they were dealing not just with a violent sex offender but with a predatory paedophile. It only served to intensify the urgency of the investigation.

DNA recovered from the victim failed to result in a match on the UK database and a request was made via Interpol for the profile to be checked against police databases around the world.

Zdenko Turtak is brought into custody

Zdenko Turtak is brought into custody

Beeston bus stop rapist ‘did not care’ whether victim lived or died

Raised in a Slovakian slum: Profile of Beeston rapist Zdenko Turtak

At the same time, a mass swabbing exercise was launched in the Beeston area, with officers obtaining saliva samples from men more than 600 men.

Among them was Turtak’s brother, who lived roughly a minute’s walk from the scene of the attack.

His furtive behaviour when officers knocked on his door meant that they were suspicious enough to make him walk up and down the road to compare his gait to that of the man caught on CCTV.

However, his DNA did not match that which the police had obtained from the victim and he failed to disclose the fact that Turtak had been living with him.

Detective Superintendent Nick Wallen said: “I think Turtak’s brother was deliberately vague and probably did what any brother would do in that situation,”

The brother was later arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, but was released without charge.

With the attacker still at large, the scale of the inquiry quickly surpassed anything undertaken by West Yorkshire Police since the investigation into the disappearance of Shannon Matthews in Dewsbury in 2008.

Officers visited 2,644 addresses and handled 1,307 lines of enquiry; 176 statements were taken, 98 officers’ reports were created and 542 messages were received, mainly from the public.

A geologist was consulted to examine the rock Turtak used in the attack to try to determine where it had come from.

Worryingly, two other women contacted police following publicity to report they had been followed in the city centre and Burley Road on the night of the attack by a man matching Turtak’s description.

Examinations of CCTV showed him stalking one of them and a third woman who was apparently oblivious to his attentions.

As weeks passed and with public concern understandably growing, police also had to contend with numerous calls about similar but unrelated incidents.

Rumours and hearsay spread quickly on social media.

It later emerged that Turtak had in fact left the UK for Slovakia via Dover three weeks after the attack on March 27.

Despite continuing appeals and a reconstruction on BBC’s Crimewatch there remained little prospect of a breakthrough.

Then, as part of a review of the investigation, detectives followed up their request for checks on DNA databases in other countries.

Det Supt Wallen said: “In the end I sat down with a map of Europe and tried to identify which countries people are most likely to come to the UK from. Slovakia was top of the list.”

Police attachés in the British embassies in various countries were contacted, including Slovakia.

The crucial breakthrough came in May, when Slovakian police obtained a DNA match to the Beeston rapist’s profile.

Turtak’s DNA had been taken when he was arrested some years before for a burglary at the large steelworks next to the Roma settlement he lived in.

It still took some time before it was established that he had returned to his home in Velka Ida.

With the net closing in, the investigation team presented their evidence to a district judge at Leeds Magistrates’ Court and were granted a European Arrest Warrant for Turtak.

The Slovakian police were notified of the warrant on June 4 and Turtak was arrested the same day.

He was transferred to prison in Bratislava to await extradition and, on July 6, the Slovakian authorities notified West Yorkshire Police that he could be returned to the UK.

Three days later, detectives flew to Bratislava and Turtak was flown back to Liverpool, where a police van transported him to the custody suite at the Leeds policing headquarters in Elland Road.

It brought to an end what Det Supt Wallen called the worst example of a violent sexual attack by a stranger he has seen in 27 years as an officer.

He said: “Sexual attacks of this magnitude are relatively rare but when they do occur they will always attract a thorough and comprehensive response from the police. We hope this case will demonstrate how seriously West Yorkshire Police treats offences of this nature and the lengths we will go to get justice for victims and to keep our communities safe.”