Classical musician jailed for 18 years for '˜brutal murder' of his concert pianist wife, former Leeds artist Natalia Strelchenko

A 'controlling' classical musician has been jailed for at least 18 years after he was convicted of murdering his world-renowned concert pianist wife.

Natalia Strelchenko.
Natalia Strelchenko.

Norwegian national John Martin, 48, beat and strangled Natalia Strelchenko, 38, on their two year wedding anniversary at their home in Newton Heath, Manchester.

Jailing him at Manchester Crown Court for life with a minimum term of 18 years, following time spent in custody, Mrs Justice Laura Cox told the defendant that it had been a “brutal, sustained and unprovoked attack”.

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Martin who has served a prison term in Norway for assaulting Ms Strelchenko on two previous occasions, must serve a minimum term of 17 years and 164 days before being released on licence.

The prosecution had claimed that double-bass player Martin had been jealous of his Russian-born wife’s career taking off while his did not, and said he had felt like her “servant” because of her lack of household chores and financial contributions.

When police arrived at their home in Culcheth Lane on August 30 last year following the frenzied attack, Martin repeatedly said, “kill me, kill me please, I have nothing to live for, I do not deserve to live” which was caught on an officer’s bodycam.

A friend, who had been staying at the couple’s home, described how Martin flew at 4ft 11in Ms Strelchenko “like an animal”, throwing himself and his wife down the stairs before repeatedly punching her body.

When the female guest pleaded with him to stop, Martin, a computer science and maths graduate who had worked for computer giant IBM, turned his head and said: “I want to kill her.”

The pianist who was also known by the surname of Strelle was found with some 71 injuries, including 45 separate marks to her head and neck, having suffered repeated blows to the front of her face using “severe force”.

Her central and left-sided facial bones were left free floating from the rest of her skull and her jawbone was snapped in half. Parts of her skull were left severely fractured.

Ms Strelchenko, who at the “peak of her powers” had performed in concerts with a full orchestra and had attended the prestigious St Petersburg State Conservatory in her homeland, died a short time later in hospital.

Mrs Justice Cox said that Martin had intended to kill the pianist in what she described as a “prolonged and ferocious attack”:

“On all the evidence I have heard I am satisfied that this attack occurred against a background of controlling and sometimes aggressive behaviour by you.

“But the evidence shows that you came to resent her success and her friendships with those she met. I am satisfied on the evidence that you were jealous of her being the focus of attention and praise and of her meeting other people when she was working away from home.”

“You were, as witnesses have described, unable to live with her and unable to live without her and I have no doubt that you would not allow her to be free.”

Hours before the attack, Martin, a double-bass player, had “exploded” in front of a group of musicians in a row with Ms Strelchenko about barbecue food.

Three-times married Martin was to leave the house after drinking around four cans of cider, returning home at around midnight.

Martin had claimed that he had no recollection of the killing after taking a mix of alcohol and diazepam which he said he had mistaken for his anti-depressant medication.

But Mrs Justice Cox said Martin had intended to kill his wife, although she accepted that he had been suffering from a moderate to severe depressive episode at the time of the attack.

Before sentencing, the court heard that Martin had been convicted at Oslo District Court in 2012 for four offences relating to assaults against Ms Strelchenko for which he was sentenced to a prison term of 90 days.

Prosecutor Mr Rob Hall said that he had assaulted and threatened Ms Strelchenko with violence on two occasions in November 2012.

He said that upon Ms Strelchenko telling him she was not taking his aggression any more, he grabbed her and dragged her into the house, led on top of her and grabbed her around the neck and put his hand over his mouth.

Martin then repeatedly pressed her face into the pillow and said, “you are not leaving me, first you die then I will die, I will kill you now you will die”.

On another occasion on November 28 2012, following an argument he pulled her into the bedroom and said “now you will die” and threw her onto the bed.

Defending, Mr Stuart Denney QC denied that the fatal attack had been a case of jealousy, adding that it was “a moment of madness”, a “slow building frustration that suddenly boiled over”.

He said: “He loved her dearly, he was besotted with her but they just didn’t fit. Over the years a frustration grew and grew. It’s probably impossible to know what was the trigger, but it was the last straw, he lost all self-control and was no longer himself. As a result he killed the woman he loved and that is a burden he will have to carry for the rest of his life.”

Martin was earlier cleared of the attempted murder of a male youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

In a statement on behalf of Ms Strelchenko’s family, her sister Julia said that she had been “much loved by all her family and friends” and hoped that the sentencing would provide closure for the family.

The statement added that the family would “never forget Natalia or the many memories she has given us”.

It continued: “She was taken from us in August in completely unnecessary circumstances. We cannot express how devastated we are that her life has been stolen from her.

“She was extremely talented with much life ahead of her. We miss Natalia every minute of every day

“Today her killer has been sentenced, and justice has been served.

“We can try to repair our heartache although no matter how long the sentence is, it will not bring Natalia back or make our loss any easier.”

Senior investigating officer Bob Tonge for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: “This is a horrific and saddening case in which a woman lost her life in an act of horrific violence. Nobody should suffer at the hands of a violent partner and this single act has devastated a family.

“Our thoughts are with Natalia’s family at this time, the grief they must be experiencing is unfathomable.”