Jolanta Bledaite murder trial: Macabre discovery that foiled 'the perfect murder'

TO VITAS Plytnykas and Aleksandras Skirda, murdering their fellow Lithuanian Jolanta Bledaite must have seemed the perfect crime.

Plytnykas and Skirda asked themselves: "Who will miss her?" and decided the answer would be "no-one".

She had few close friends and had told Skirda and others that she was planning to return to her homeland soon.

Over several years, Ms Bledaite, 35, had saved about 10,000 from working on farms in Angus. But her terrible fate was sealed the moment she disclosed her hard-earned savings to her flatmate, Skirda.

The 20-year-old not only shared a home in Brechin with Ms Bledaite, but also worked with her on potato farms. Plytnykas had also worked with Skirda on farms in Angus.

Police say the two men became friends around the middle of 2007, and they soon hatched a plan to torture Ms Bledaite to force her to give them her bank account PIN, before murdering her, chopping up her body and dumping it in the sea.

The pair chose Saturday, 29 March last year to carry out their plan. The previous weekend, they bought refuse bags at a Lidl store to dispose of her head and hands.

A Polish worker was to move into the flat in Earlsdon House that day – so Plytnykas and Skirda had to get rid of her, making it appear she had packed up and left before he arrived.

"The window of opportunity for these men to commit murder was closing. They had to move fast," said Detective Chief Inspector Graham McMillan, who led the murder investigation.

Skirda rose at around 7am, and when another flatmate left for work half an hour later, he phoned Plytnykas.

Plytnykas arrived at the flat and the pair went to Ms Bledaite's room, where she was in bed, reading a book.

Skirda described how they committed the murder.

"Vitas said to her to be silent,'' he said. "She was shocked. I put tape round her hands and ankles and on her mouth. She did not know what was happening."

She was put on the floor while the men searched for her bank cards. Plytnykas found them, but could not find her number.

"We said if she did not give us her PIN number we would kill her," said Skirda. "She gave us her number. Vitas left the flat with the cards. I put the tape back on her mouth. I smoked a cigarette and waited. Jolanta was on the floor.

"Vitas came back and said she had given the incorrect number. We again asked her for her number by threatening her. Vitas punched her on the body."

Her body showed signs of minor wounds that suggested she had been repeatedly prodded with a knife.

DCI McMillan said the victim displayed remarkable courage by giving a false PIN. "It may have been terror, or her trying to deflect the men from getting her money," he said.

Plytnykas left and returned a short time later with 200.

"Vitas put a pillow on her face. I was holding her by the legs. She was moving ... trying to get out," he added. After a few minutes, she stopped struggling. She was dead. I felt bad. I smoked a couple of cigarettes," said Skirda.

The pair carried her body to the bathroom and placed her in the bath. Skirda brought knives from the kitchen.

"Vitas cut off her head. I held a bag and Vitas put it in. Vitas cut off her hand. I held a bag and he placed the hand in the bag. He cut off her other hand. It was placed in a bag."

They put her body in a rubbish bag inside a suitcase, which they hid in a storage room. The whole barbaric scene ended around 8:45am.

Plytnykas and Skirda then cleared out the victim's room, putting her personal belongings into bags and dumping them. Her personal documents, including her passport, were burned before they wiped the bathroom clean.

Two kitchen knives and a ceremonial knife used in the crime were later recovered from the South Esk river, near the flat.

That afternoon, Plytnykas and Skirda boarded a bus for Arbroath, the latter carrying a Lidl shopping bag containing Ms Bledaite's head and hands.

At Arbroath harbour, they weighted the bags with stones and threw them into the sea.

The following day they travelled to Arbroath with the suitcase containing Ms Bledaite's body and threw it, too, into the harbour.

"It must have seemed the perfect crime," said DCI McMillan.

But their decision to dump the body in the harbour proved their ultimate undoing. The tides were sure to wash the bags up on the nearby beach.

On the morning of Tuesday, 1 April, two young sisters found a plastic bag containing the head as they played on Seagait beach.

The first indication of identification came from one of DCI McMillan's colleagues, who recognised photographs of Ms Bledaite's head. She recalled that the Lithuanian had acted as an interpreter in a robbery case.

Confirmation came when Philip Brown, the gangmaster who employed Ms Bledaite, went to the police on Wednesday after hearing about the discovery of body parts.

"The police showed me photographs of the head – I knew it was Jolanta," he said.

Scenes-of-crime officers swooped on the top-floor flat in Brechin where Ms Bledaite had lived, noting a large dark stain on a carpet in the bathroom.

Skirda and Plytnykas, who lived nearby and was a frequent visitor, became prime suspects.

Interpreters were drafted in as officers questioned other migrant workers in Angus. About 80 officers were put on the case.

Skirda and Plytnykas at first denied involvement. Both men were, initially at least, "calm and matter of fact", said DCI McMillan. "Despite the callousness of their actions, they seemed unperturbed," he added.

But in the face of mounting evidence and relentless questioning, Skirda soon provided detectives with a full confession.

Plytnykas continued to stonewall – but was undone when his partner-in-crime told police the full, shocking story.

The tiny village Jolanta left looking for a new life in the UK

JOLANTA Bledaite was brought up in Zydaviskis by her grandmother, Albina Sapalaite.

The village, in the south of Lithuania, has no more than ten houses and separated by the main road and woods.

Just along the road, Miss Sapalaite lives in a green house with two rooms and many small windows – a typical Lithuanian country abode.

Nervously toying with her stick, the elderly woman welcomed the Scotsman's journalist, Viktorija Rinkeviciute, into the house.

It was about 11am and the house was cold. Jolanta's mother, Ona Lazauskiene, who also lives in the village explained: "We still haven't put up the fire – usually we do that only for the night.

"The wood is expensive and I have to pay a lot of money for my medicine," added the grandmother, whose monthly income is just her pension – 600 litas, around 152.

Ms Bledaite is buried about three kilometres from the village.

Providing labour for Scottish farms

FOR many, travelling to Scotland to work on potato farms or pick fruit provides the perfect chance to earn good money and broaden horizons.

But the life of a migrant worker can be akin to slavery.

Every year, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 migrant workers are employed in agriculture and food processing.

Angus, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and East Lothian are among the most favoured areas with year-round demand for manual labour. In winter, potatoes are graded, which involves taking out stones and diseased potatoes from the harvest.

Perhaps the biggest source of employment for migrant workers becomes available in May, as the soft fruit season begins.

The use of plastic tunnels means berry picking can now continue until November.

Berry pickers are usually paid a piece rate – perhaps 25p per punnet of strawberries – and can earn several hundred pounds a week. Others typically earn the national minimum wage, 5.73 an hour.

About 7,000 migrant workers in Scotland each year are employed by gangmasters, who provide accommodation and transport in return for a slice of the workers' gross wage.

They are regulated by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), set up after the Morecambe Bay disaster, in which 23 cockle pickers drowned.

The GLA recommends gangmasters should earn about 50p per worker per hour – 400 a week for one supplying 20 workers. It suggests charges of 30 to 40 a week for accommodation, and 4 for transport.

About a third of gangmasters have been found in breach of the law, and some have been found guilty of blatant exploitation. In extreme cases, migrant workers have received less than 1 an hour over a full working week.

The accommodation that many migrant workers live in has also caused alarm.

A GLA investigation in 2007 found that more than 2,000 workers in Angus were living in uncertified accommodation. In one case, there were ten people in a single room.

A spokesman said: "Over the last two years of operations the GLA feel the standards of gangmasters and the treatment of and conditions for workers have improved. However, there are still significant problems and the GLA are receiving calls daily about issues ranging from violence and intimidation to non-payment of holiday pay."

JOLANTA TRIAL: MORE COVERAGE

• Jolanta never had a chance against men with no mercy

• 'Truly monstrous and evil' pair with no respect for life

• Damning evidence shows how killers calmly disposed of woman's body in a suitcase

• 'Blue-eyed innocent' who hid a dark secret