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by Tim Lamden
Thursday, January 9, 2014
The detective who led a murder probe into a millionaire property developer’s killing of his pregnant wife said he feared her body may never be found as her husband was jailed for life this week.
Robert Ekaireb, 39, was handed a life sentence at the Old Bailey on Tuesday for murdering his Chinese bride Lihua Cao, 27, in their luxury Hampstead apartment in October 2006, just three months into their volatile marriage.
During a painstaking seven-year investigation, police found no activity on Ms Cao’s bank card or mobile, no contact with her family and no trace of her having flown out of the country following her disappearance.
Ekaireb, of Corrigan Close, Hendon, was eventually arrested on June 7, 2012 and charged the following day.
Det Sgt Martin Sloan, who led the murder probe, said: “There’s no closure for the family. They are searching and they’re looking for answers that might never come.
“There’s only one person who knows the answer to all of this and that’s Robert Ekaireb.
“My feeling is, because of what I know about him as a man, that he’ll never tell us because he’ll never admit his guilt.
“But that doesn’t stop us asking and stop us looking and we will at some point in the future go and visit him [in prison] and give him that chance.”
Ekaireb, who denied murder, was convicted last month after a two-month trial at the Old Bailey.
The court heard how he murdered Ms Cao after months of jealousy and paranoia about her past as a lapdancer before having their flat in Pavilion Court on the gated Mount Vernon estate, in Frognal Rise, Hampstead, redecorated and recarpeted the next day.
Ms Cao, who left China in 2002, was 19 weeks pregnant when she disappeared and was finally reported missing by her brother in February 2007.
She had been working as a lapdancer in Dublin, Ireland, when she met Ekaireb in June 2006, marrying him weeks later and moving into his Pavilion Court flat.
The trial heard that he had admitted to his psychologist a month before Ms Cao vanished that he had thought about stabbing her to death and felt unsafe with his own anger.
Police believe Ekaireb murdered Ms Cao on October 23, 2006, following an argument at their flat about Ekaireb’s suspicion that his wife was still working as a lapdancer behind his back.
It is thought he lost control and lashed out, killing Ms Cao - probably with a knife - before rolling up her body in a bedroom carpet and loading it into his car boot to dispose of.
Around the estimated time of the killing, a witness reported hearing a woman’s scream while a security guard at the Mount Vernon estate later saw a carpet being carried out of the couple’s flat.
Officers believe Ekaireb, father to a two-year-old daughter with his current partner, who is expecting another child, used his links to an organised criminal network to dispose of Ms Cao’s body.
Judge Nicholas Cooke QC ordered Ekaireb, owner of more than 50 properties worth £65million, to serve at least 22 years before he could be considered for release.
He cited Ekaireb’s refusal to reveal the whereabouts of Ms Cao’s body as an aggravating factor.
Sentencing the property developer, the judge said: “This was the murder of a pregnant wife, a woman pregnant with a viable foetus when you killed her: in that sense you ended two lives.
“The evidence exposed you as a callous, manipulative and selfish hypocrite.”
Judge Cooke will decide in coming weeks if he is to order Ekaireb to pay compensation to the victim’s family in China, who were receiving regular payments from Ms Cao before her death.