Zdenko Turtak, aged 22, from Slovakia, was extradited back to the UK to face justice after officers from the Homicide and Major Enquiry Team (HMET) liaised with authorities in his home country to match his DNA to the attacker’s profile.
Today at Leeds Crown Court he was given a 14 year custodial sentence and a six year extended licence.
Turtak’s transient existence and the fact he had no criminal record in the UK had made for one of the challenging investigations the Force has ever faced.
The 18-year-old victim had been stood at a bus stop in Beeston Road at about 10.40pm on Friday March 6, when she was grabbed from behind and dragged into a nearby garden. Hidden from view behind a large hedge, she was struck over the head 18 times with a rock and raped.
Unusually, the whole attack had been captured on a private CCTV camera overlooking the garden. Although the footage was not of sufficient quality to identify the offender, it gave investigators a disturbing eye-witness insight into the prolonged and violent nature of the attack.
Everything suggested they were dealing with a sexual predator who had no connection with the victim and had targeted her at random.
With genuine concerns that the man could strike again, a decision was made to release a sanitised version of the footage of the attack to the media to bolster the appeal to trace him.
This captured the public’s interest but also heightened concerns and the appeal became a major focus on social media.
A full DNA profile had been recovered from the victim but there was no match on the UK database.
The victim described her attacker as being aged in his early twenties and Asian, Pakistani or Middle Eastern. This description was later widened to include Mediterranean and Eastern European.
Given the potential for the offender to be from outside the UK, a request was made via Interpol for the DNA profile to be checked against police databases around the world.
Work with specialist offender profilers from the National Crime Agency suggested the attacker was likely to live locally. As it would later be established, Turtak had been staying with his brother just a few minutes’ walk from the scene at the time of the attack.
A targeted DNA swabbing exercise was launched that saw officers visiting addresses in zones radiating out from the scene to request voluntary mouth swabs from any males living there that fitted the general description of the offender.
Over the course of the investigation they visited 2,644 addresses and took 620 elimination swabs from males aged 18 to 30. A total of 1,307 lines of enquiry were generated during the investigation; 176 statements taken, 98 officers’ reports created; and 542 messages generated, mainly information from members of the public.
Detectives had trawled CCTV in the area and began to build up a picture of the attacker’s movements as he walked from the Holbeck area to the scene and further media appeals were made.
The large stone that Turtak brought with him to attack the victim was recovered from the scene. A geologist was consulted to see if it could be established where the stone had come from or whether it was of a particular type used in building or road laying material that might assist in identifying its origin.
As a result of the continued publicity, two woman came forward separately to report being followed by a suspicious man around the Kirkstall Road, Wellington Street and Burley Road area of the city earlier on the night of the attack. Checks on CCTV uncovered footage of the man in a distinctive green hoody following them closely.
Detectives were satisfied this was the Beeston attacker stalking other potential victims prior to the attack. Although his face was not completely visible it provided them with the clearest images yet of the man’s clothing and characteristics.
The footage was released to media in a further appeal for information which also heightened public concern and fuelled the ongoing interest on social media.
This in turn prompted a flurry of reported sightings and other incidents which people thought were linked, which continued throughout the investigation.
During the course of the investigation, a number of separate sexual offences were reported and while most were subsequently detected, many were wrongly linked to the Beeston offence in the minds of an understandably concerned public despite police statements to the contrary.
It would later be found that Turtak actually left the UK for Slovakia via Dover on March 27 and so posed no further risk here after that time.
It is believed the two elements that caused him to flee the country were the release of the CCTV images of him in Burley Road in his distinctive green hoody and the fact that his brother had been spoken to by officers and had his DNA swabbed when they called at his flat as part of their enquiries in the area. He offered no information about his brother’s existence when asked and his DNA was not a match to the suspect profile.
Despite extensive enquiries and continued appeals for information that generated a number of calls from members of the public, detectives were still unable able to identify him.
As part of a comprehensive review of the investigation, detectives followed up their request for checks on DNA databases in other countries.
Looking at the known characteristics of the offender, they pored over a map and ranked the countries he was most likely to come from before contacting their embassies. Among the countries targeted was Slovakia where the police came back towards the end of May to say they had a DNA match to the Beeston rapist’s profile.
Zdenko 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 at in Velka Ida, in the Kosice region.
This was the breakthrough that detectives in Leeds had been waiting for but there was still some way to go to establish his current whereabouts and have him detained.
Through close co-operation with the Slovakian police, officers were able to establish that Turtak had returned to Velka Ida and was living there.
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 that day Turtak was arrested in Velka Ida and taken into custody.
He was transferred to prison in Bratislava to await the outcome of the court process around extradition.
On July 6, the Slovakian authorities notified West Yorkshire Police that Turtak could be extradited back to the UK.
Three days later, HMET detectives flew to Bratislava and Turtak was placed into their custody. They flew him back to Liverpool where a police van transported him to the custody suite at Leeds District Headquarters, in Elland Road.
Of note, the van was driven by the first officer on the scene on the night of the attack. Detectives had arranged for him to do it after he requested “the honour” of being involved in his detention having “witnessed first-hand what this male did to the victim”.
Turtak was booked into custody at Elland Road in the early hours of July 10 (shown in YouTube video below) and appeared at Leeds Magistrates Court that morning on charges of rape, attempted murder and Section 18 wounding with intent. He later pleaded guilty to rape and the assault charge.