River Lea body-in-bag murder: Rough sleeper jailed for life

River Lea murder under Canning Town Bridge [Google image] showing killer Saulius Urbanavicius (left)

River Lea murder under Canning Town Bridge [Google image] showing killer Saulius Urbanavicius (left) and his vitim Vaidas Sakalauskas [Met Police photos] - Credit: MPS+Google

A homeless man has been jailed for life for the sleeping-bag murder of a fellow rough sleeper whose body was discovered in the water as the tide ran out in the Bow Creek in east London.

Lithuanian Saulius Urbanavicius, 24, is to serve a minimum 18 years for the murder of 22-year-old fellow patriot Vaidas Sakalauskas on the banks of the River Lea at Blackwall, near where it runs into the Thames.

He was sentenced at the Old Bailey yesterday, after being found guilty at an earlier trial.

Vaidas’s body was spotted by a woman walking her dog over Canning Town Bridge at 7.20am on November 25.

He was in his sleeping bag dumped on the riverbed which only became visible from the bridge as the tide receeded.

A post-mortem examination at Poplar Mortuary gave cause of death as blunt trauma force to the head and drowning.

Urbanavicius knew his victim. Both had been sleeping in the underpass below the A13 East India Dock Road for several weeks.

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Police are still not clear what the murder motive was.

“Vaidas invited his friend to join him in an area where he felt safe as a rough sleeper,” Det Insp Euan McKeeve from the Met’s Homicide Command said.

“But Urbanavicius launched a violent and unprovoked attack on Vaidas who was asleep and defenceless in his sleeping bag, then dumped him in Bow Creek. He took Vaidas’s property and sold it.”

Detectives quizzed rough sleepers and made inquiries at homeless shelters in the area to try and identify the victim in the hunt for his killer.

Det Chief Insp Ken Hughes told the East London Advertiser at the time: “We found the body in his sleeping bag in the water. We have spoken to other rough sleepers in the area and to outreach workers from homeless shelters to find out who he was.”

Police eventually identified Vaidas through fingerprints. He had been in Britain several months, but couldn’t find work and was sleeping rough under Canning Town Bridge.

They tracked Urbanavicius to Beckton as a suspect three days later and subsequently charged him with murder. He appeared at Thames Magistrates’ Court where he was committed for trial at the Old Bailey and found guilty by a jury.