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'John Travolta lookalike' convicted of 1982 rape-murder after DNA breakthrough

Published 15/07/2016

Yiannoulla Yianni was 17 when she was murdered (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Yiannoulla Yianni was 17 when she was murdered (Metropolitan Police/PA)

A John Travolta fantasist will die behind bars after being found guilty of the "horrifying" rape and murder of a teenage girl 34 years ago.

For half a lifetime, self-employed tiler James Warnock, 56, evaded justice for strangling 17-year-old Yiannoulla Yianni in her own home, just half a mile from where he lived.

The murder shocked the nation and led to high-profile police appeals which led detectives as far afield as Australia in their search for the killer.

But it was not until December last year that Scotland Yard got a "lucky break" when Warnock was caught sharing indecent pictures of children with an undercover officer online.

His DNA was added to the national database and found to be a match for samples taken from Yiannoulla's body.

The divorced father-of-two, who was still living in the local community, tried to explain away the evidence by claiming to have had a secret affair with Yiannoulla, even though the teenager was brought up in a traditional Greek Cypriot family and never had a boyfriend.

Her brothers and sister broke down in tears as a jury at the Old Bailey took just over two hours to find Warnock guilty on Thursday.

They said the loss of their beautiful sister had left the family "saturated by grief" although they never gave up hope.

Her brother Rick said: "Thankfully the long arm of the law has reached out from the past to bring this evil being to justice."

The verdict could only be reported after the defendant had admitted six charges of distributing indecent images of children in 2013 and 2015.

James Warnock, 56, who has been found guilty of the rape and murder of Yiannoulla Yianni, 17, in 1982, and is facing life behind bars after evading justice for 34 years. PA
James Warnock, 56, who has been found guilty of the rape and murder of Yiannoulla Yianni, 17, in 1982, and is facing life behind bars after evading justice for 34 years. PA

On August 13 1982, the victim, known as Lucy or Noodles, had been with her parents at their shoe repair shop minutes away from their Hampstead home.

Yiannoulla's mother, Elli, had sent her home to start preparing a leg of lamb for supper, saying she would join her soon.

She was playing the latest Patrice Rushen hit Forget Me Nots on the record player when Warnock knocked on her door at about 2pm.

Her parents arrived home half an hour later to "a sight beyond their worst imagining" - Yiannoulla's partially naked body lying on their bed, prosecutor Crispin Aylett QC said.

Despite a high-profile public appeal, including a televised reconstruction featuring her sister Maria, no real suspects were identified.

More than 1,000 people came forward with information but police were no closer to finding the doorstep stalker and the case remained unsolved for decades.

In efforts to keep the investigation going, her heartbroken father, George Yianni, appealed to then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the commissioner of Scotland Yard. He contracted a brain tumour and died in 1988.

At the time of the murder, 5ft 6in Warnock was aged 22 and gave the impression of being a "cocky ladies' man", with his hair carefully salon-styled and blow-dried like his Saturday Night Fever idol.

But when officers tracked him down after matching his DNA to the crime scene, they found the balding and portly defendant awaiting their arrival, quietly drinking beer in his underpants.

In a police interview he was asked what he looked like in the 1980s and he said: "How can I put it? Er, John Travolta?"

During the trial, Yiannoulla's brothers and sisters relived the nightmare of her violent death while her now 86-year-old mother was among those to give evidence.

The dignified family were even forced to listen as Warnock, formerly of Harrington Street in Camden, north-west London, maintained his claim that he used to go to their home to have sex.

Following the verdict, Detective Inspector Julie Willats told how she was at the theatre in December last year when she received a text informing her of her "lucky break" in the case.

She said: "He must have known we would be coming for him. It's the science that has solved this one for us." At the time of the murder, techniques in DNA testing had yet to be invented.

Yiannoulla's three siblings described the catastrophic effect of her murder in statements read to the court.

Her brother Rick said: "The magnitude and horror of what happened that day is indescribable."

He said the family had been scarred for life by what happened and their "soul was ripped prematurely from us all".

He went on: "We never gave up hoping and are truly grateful to the police for finally bringing him to justice."

Warnock's lies which sullied the honour of his sister had "rubbed salt in the wound".

Her other brother Peter said: "This man took my sister's life in the most horrifying and violent way and to save himself, fabricated the most ridiculous story ...

"Lucy, we defended your honour and everyone knows what a lovely innocent girl you were and you can rest in peace."

Maria added that throughout the "testing time" she had been trying to remember the kind, beautiful, passionate and funny Lucy that they all knew.

Sentencing was adjourned by Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC until Monday.

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