An Eastbourne mother whose body lay under builder’s rubble in a back garden for over 12 years had been strangled by her former husband in a crime of passion, a jury heard today.
Natalia Wilkanowska, 50, disappeared in 2003 after visiting her ex-husband Gerald Doherty in Luton from her home in Eastbourne.
Her niece Allison Diamond-Roberts told Luton Crown Court that after Gerald committed suicide in 2003 she asked why his ex-wife Natalia was not at the funeral.
She said she was told by her uncle Daniel Doherty that her aunt had gone back to Eastbourne and could not be contacted.
Giving evidence, via a video link from Malta, the former Metropolitan police officer said that she asked another uncle, Joseph Doherty, the head of the family, why Gerald had killed himself when he had three lovely children.
She said: “Uncle Joe said that he had done something and would have gone to prison for a very long time. I wanted to understand more, but he ended the conversation.”
In 2013 at the funeral of another relative, she spoke to Natalia’s daughter Natalie, who told her she had been looking for her mother for a long time, the court heard.
She said she asked her uncle Joseph Doherty for more information. “I went to his farm in Port Glasgow. I told him I wanted to speak about Auntie Natalia.
“He said it was a crime of passion. My aunt had been strangled. He said my uncle (Gerald) had strangled her.
“He said there was no point looking for her as we wouldn’t find her. He said she had been cut up and her body put in black bin bags and distributed all over Luton and that’s why we would never find her.”
She said she was told she had been chopped up in a caravan which was later set on fire.
The jury of eight men and four women has been told Natalia had not been chopped up. Her body was left under rubble in the garden of her brother-in-law Daniel Doherty in Icknield Way, Luton and was discovered only in December 2015.
Her remains had never been buried. She had suffered trauma to the skull, according to a pathologist.
Prosecutor Neil King said Gerald Doherty hanged himself in a flat in Robert Street, Port Glasgow, in July 2003. The couple had married in 1978, but separated in September 2001.
His two elderly brothers, who both wore hearing loops in the dock, face a total seven charges.
Daniel Doherty, 67, of Icknield Way, Luton, denies two charges of perverting the course of justice and two charges of obstructing the coroner, by aiding and abetting the concealment of the body and by lying to the police.
Joseph Doherty, 73, of Old Greenock Road, Port Glasgow, Scotland, denies perverting the course of justice and obstructing the coroner by giving a false account of her death.
Both men deny preventing the lawful burial of Natalia.
Mr King said: “In April 2003 Natalia Wilkanowska was taken by her ex-husband Gerald in a car to Luton. There was no evidence of her being seen alive again.
“Months later, Gerald Doherty was released from psychiatric care in Scotland and hanged himself on the anniversary of his wedding to Natalia Wilkanowska.”
He told the jury that the couple’s children had believed their mother was missing.
He alleged Daniel, who worked as a builder and had been a publican at the Regent’s Arms in Luton, must have connived in the deposition of the body.
He said both defendants lied to the police and obstructed the coroner.
Earlier, giving evidence via a video link from Greenock, the defendants’ sister Mary Mullen said Natalia was a lovely woman, but had a problem with alcohol.
When her brother Gerald arrived in Scotland from Luton in 2003 she said he was ‘very agitated and withdrawn’.
She said she took him to Inverclyde hospital in Greenock and he was sectioned.
When he was released, she said Gerald went to stay in Port Glasgow. She went to the flat in July 2003 and found Gerald hanging. She said there was no suicide note.
Under cross-examination by Alan Wiseman, for Daniel Doherty, she agreed that Gerald’s first wife had gone missing for many years, but returned after 20 years.
She agreed with Benjamin Temple, for Joseph Doherty, that there had been a history of mental problems in the Doherty family.
Daniel Doherty told the police he did not know the remains were in his garden and did not have exclusive access to the property. He said he had no idea his brother was responsible for the death and he did not know it had been placed at his address.
Joseph Doherty told the police he did not know the body was in Daniel’s garden. He will say he was honestly reporting what Gerald had told him years before, said the prosecutor.
The trial continues.