On 25th March 2000, the body of Charalambos Christodoulides (known as Charles) was found in a car inspection pit in a warehouse in Kilburn, North London. He had been beaten and strangled, his body wrapped in duvets and binbags and covered in paint stripper. It would be ten years before his killers were brought to justice.
Charles moved over from Cyprus in the mid-60s. Although he was highly educated, he was a reclusive character who would spend his days going to the bookies before travelling to Leicester Square, where he would sit watching the world go by until 3am. Working as a live-in caretaker at a warehouse, it was his livelihood which would lead to his death.
Police quickly established that Charles was totally innocent of any real crime, but there was still a vast amount of work to do. The warehouse was huge, and police had to search every inch for clues, finding a wealth of forensic evidence throughout. Along with DNA evidence taken from cigarette butts and brown tape used to wrap Charles’s body, police also found footprints and fingermarks which appeared to belong to the Charles’s killer or killers. With thousands of pages of documents, hundreds of witness statements, and a mass of telecommunications data to trawl through, it was inevitable that the investigation would take some time. But, despite the size of the investigation, police gradually exhausted all their early leads.
By late 2001, when DI Brent Hyatt came on board, the focus of the investigation was beginning to move to one man, Thanos Papalexis. The son of a Greek shipping magnate, Papalexis had attempted to make his own way as a property developer, racking up massive debts in the process. As Hyatt and his team began digging into Papalexis’s financial dealings, they began to suspect that Papalexis had planned to buy the warehouse where Charles was living, before selling it on for a quick profit. But there was one problem; the man looking to buy the warehouse had no idea that Charles lived there, and Papalexis thought he would call off the deal if he found out.
Suddenly, it appeared that Papalexis had a motive for getting rid of the caretaker. Coming under increasing pressure to complete the deal from both sides, it seems that Papalexis panicked and decided to get rid of the problem – Charles.
The tape used to wrap Charles's body
As Police trawled back through their evidence, they found evidence linking Papalexis to the scene. This did not mean he was guilty – he had been in the warehouse on a number of occasions attempting to seal the property deal. Police were closing in on Thanos, but they had another issue to deal with. Fingerprints and footwear impressions recovered from the scene suggested that more than one man had committed the murder. Detectives had to find out who these men were.
As the murder team continued their painstaking search for the killer, Papalexis was long gone. With his business failing and blood on his hands, he decided to make a fresh start by moving to Palm Beach, Florida. Living a playboy life, he threw lavish parties at his rented mansion, spending vast amounts of money on private jets and prostitutes. In 2004, while dating the high–class escort Rebecca DeFalco, he even admitted to killing a “nobody” who was getting in the way of a deal. It would come back to haunt him in court.
The car pit where Charles's body was found
In 2003, detectives had their first major breakthrough. Ylli Xhelo, an Albanian asylum seeker, was arrested on a drugs charge. His DNA matched that taken from the scene. 3 years later, Robert Baxhija, another Albanian, was again arrested on a similar charge. Again, his DNA linked him to the scene of the crime. The following year, while re-examining hundreds of old exhibits, police found Baxhija’s fingerprint on the binbag used to tie up Charles’s body. Police, beginning to build a strong case, had also found out that both the Albanians had worked for Papalexis at the time of the murder. The net was tightening.
With enough evidence to charge, police finally arrested Baxhija and Xhelo in 2008. Following a search of Papalexis’s solicitors, they now had proof that he had planned to sell on the warehouse after purchase. With this proof of motive, police were ready to make an arrest. In November that year, he was arrested in a pizza restaurant in Palm Beach and extradited.
During a lengthy trial, Papalexis denied all knowledge of the murder while Baxhija and Xhelo claimed that Papalexis had forced them into it. In September 2009, a jury unanimously decided that Papalexis was guilty. The other two were convicted following a retrial in 2010.
Still devastated ten years after Charles’s murder, the conviction is finally a chance for his family to get some peace.