A “fantasist” killer who assumed a dead man’s identity and traveled across Europe has been found guilty of murder after nearly four decades on the run. Paul Bryan, then 22, fatally stabbed Roman Szalajko, 62, in February 1984 in Kennington, South London.
After the murder, Bryan assumed the identity of a deceased Welshman with the same name as himself and embarked on a new life, traveling through Portugal, Crete, Spain, and France. His true identity was uncovered during a cold case review in 2013 when his fingerprints were identified from a bottle of Polish mead found in the victim’s wardrobe.
Despite the initial discovery, it took a Scotland Yard detective another ten years to locate and arrest Bryan as he arrived in the UK from Portugal in November of the previous year. Bryan admitted to possessing a false passport and was subsequently found guilty of murder following a trial at the Old Bailey.
Detective Sergeant Quinn Cutler, who had pursued Bryan for over a decade, expressed satisfaction with the outcome and emphasized the closure it brought to the Szalajko family, who had been in the dark for 40 years.
Describing Bryan as a “fantasist,” Det Sgt Cutler revealed that he had lived off his wife’s earnings as a tour operator before returning to the UK after her death. Bryan had fabricated various aspects of his life, claiming to be American and pretending to be a former army member who had gone AWOL.
“Fantasist” Killer Found Guilty of Murder
The detective pieced together a paper trail and gathered evidence to track down Bryan, who seemed to have disappeared in the late 1980s. It was also discovered that Bryan had applied for an emergency passport just three days after the murder.
Advancements in forensic technology played a crucial role in the case. DNA testing of Bryan’s late mother’s hairbrush, compared to traces found on the victim’s vest and a clump of hair, resulted in a familial DNA match. This breakthrough led to Bryan’s arrest when he applied for a new passport in November of the previous year.
During his trial, Bryan denied the murder but chose not to provide any evidence in his defense. His defense claimed that he had gone to Mr. Szalajko’s flat as a “minder” to retrieve documents, and another man who had since passed away was responsible for the stabbing. However, the jury dismissed these claims after deliberating for two days, finding Bryan guilty.
Judge Nigel Lickley KC remanded Bryan into custody, and his sentencing is scheduled for December 8. Detective Chief Inspector Kate Blackburn, the senior investigating officer, credited advanced forensic technology, enhanced police tactics, and the dedication of her team for bringing Bryan to justice after years of pursuit.