A 26-year-old who murdered a father with an overdose of the drug GBL, as part of a plot to steal from gay men met on social networking sites, has been jailed for life.
Gerry Matovu, 26 (29.06.93) of Great Guildford Street, SE1 was found guilty on Monday, 15 July, at the Old Bailey of killing 52-year-old HR executive Eric Michels.
On Wednesday, 11 September, Matovu was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation to serve a minimum of 31 years.
Matovu had also been found guilty of multiple counts of administering a poison with intent to endanger life, fraud and theft, along with partner Brandon Dunbar, 24 (17.06.95) of Romford Road, E7. Dunbar was jailed for 18 years with an extended licence period of five years.
In total Matovu was sentenced for 39 offences and Dunbar for 23.
The court heard that, over a period of 19 months, Matovu and Dunbar targeted 12 gay men by arranging to meet them through apps such as Grindr. Ten of those men then had property stolen and 11 had photos taken of their bank cards. Other personal items were also stored on a laptop for later use in fraudulent activities.
Eight of the men were drugged, it is believed with GBL (which converts to GHB when it is in the body), to the point of unconsciousness so the pair could steal from them. Mr Michels died after being given a fatal dose.
Detective Inspector Mark Richards, Specialist Crime, said: “Today’s sentencing marks the end of a long and complex police investigation and the nature of Matovu and Dunbar’s crimes mean their lengthy jail terms are more than justified.
“The pair had a well-rehearsed plan to take advantage of men they met through social networking sites and apps such as Grindr to steal their property. This was their overwhelming motive, rather than sexual assault. Matovu was described in evidence as a hustler, a liar and a thief - apt words.
“Their method in the majority of cases was to drug their victim with enough GBL to render them unconscious so they could then search their homes, selecting items of interest and photographing bank cards and personal documents for subsequent fraudulent use. They did this at their leisure, sometimes spending hours at an address.
“But Mr Michels was different - Matovu gave him a fatal dose of GBL. Despicably, while Mr Michels lay dead or dying, Matovu raided his address of many of his belongings, leaving his devastated family to find his body the following day.
“Just three days later Matovu and Dunbar targeted another man at Dunbar’s flat. When he was no longer of use to them, it is suspected they dragged his prone naked body out into the street and abandoned him on a pile of rubbish bags.
“Attending officers were quickly able to join those two events together, and enquiries then revealed a whole host of other victims. Matovu and Dunbar had done very little to cover their tracks, their only focus moving onto their next victim and what else they could steal. There is every chance there are more victims out there – please have the confidence to come forward and report this, or any similar crime to us.
“Matovu and Dunbar are to blame for what happened to these men and the crimes they committed against them. But as with any situation, there are things people can do to help protect themselves when meeting people online, such as talking as much as possible before agreeing to meet, being careful not to share too many details about yourself, telling a friend or relative what you are planning to do and being generally cautious and vigilant.
“The Met has LGBT liaison officers available to anyone who needs crime prevention advice or support and there are variety of LGBT+ organisation and charities willing to help.”
Between 10 December 2016 and 25 July 2018 the defendants targeted ten men (Victims 1 – 10), aged between 20 and 61 at the time.
On 16 August 2018, Eric Michels (Victim 11) told his son he was going for a night out in central London. He visited various bars before contacting Matovu via Grindr around midnight.
Mr Michels arranged to meet Matovu in Great Guildford Street before they took a cab back to Mr Michel’s home in Bolton Road, Chessington.
Around 06:00hrs Mr Michels’ son, Sam Michels, was awoken by Matovu entering his room and claiming to be searching for the bathroom. At 06:47hrs Matovu photographed Mr Michels’ bank cards and other items – the prosecution said the victim was either dead or unconscious at that time as he had been given GBL by Matovu. This suggestion was supported by evidence from a friend of the victim who messaged him at 07:35hrs asking if he was OK. He got no response which was unusual as he said the victim would always reply to messages.
At around 09:00hrs Sam left the house.
At 11:00hrs Matovu left Mr Michels’ house in a cab, taking a suitcase belonging to the victim plus bank cards and other items.
Around 19:25hrs, Mr Michels’ daughter sent a text inviting him for dinner.
When there was no reply she sent a follow-up text the following day (Saturday, 18 August 2018). The reply came as “hello hun im a little busy talk soon”. This was unlike him and she tried to call but an unknown person answered – the call was later traced to the area of Matovu’s address.
The alarm was raised after family members then visited Mr Michels’ address later that same day and found his body. He had been dead for several hours.
Police attended and found an empty syringe on the floor by the bed. Tests later showed it had traces of DNA belonging to both the victim and Matovu. Analysis of the residue of the liquid it contained revealed traces of GBL.
A post-mortem examination was carried out and concluded cause of death was acute GHB intoxication. Matovu’s DNA was also found on Mr Michels’ body.
After fleeing the scene, Matovu began used Mr Michels’ bank cards, including transferring £300 into Dunbar’s bank account which he then spent on items including two litres of GBL.
Matovu denied murder (Count 20 on the indictment), claiming Mr Michels’ took his own GHB willingly, but was found guilty. Dunbar admitted two counts of fraud (Counts 19 and 21) and dishonestly retaining a wrongful credit (Count 20).
On the evening of 19 August, a 27-year-old man (Victim 12) was surfing Grindr. He was invited to Dunbar’s address in Romford Road and greeted by Matovu. Dunbar and the victim then took drugs and had sex. The victim was given a drink, which tasted horrible; when he questioned it, Dunbar confirmed there was ‘G’ in it. Afterwards the victim felt disorientated; it was during this time Matovu took photos of his bank card and driving licence.
At around 23:00hrs, Dunbar sexually assaulted the victim with a syringe. The victim became confused and his vision blurred before he passed out.
He was found shortly after midnight by passers-by naked and lying across some rubbish bags outside the entrance to Dunbar’s flat. An ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital with injuries including cuts and bruises, breathing difficulties and a broken nose. Tests confirmed he had taken or been given GBL shortly before.
Various items of property belonging to the victim were later recovered from Dunbar’s flat, including a wallet, bank cards and rucksack.
Both defendants denied administering a poison or noxious substance to endanger life (Count 22), assault by penetration (Count 23), assault occasioning actual bodily harm (Count 24) and theft (Count 25) but were found guilty.
Police investigating the circumstances of Mr Michels’ death arrived at the Romford Road flat at 03:40hrs on 20 August to find uniformed officers dealing with the discovery of Victim 12 outside the address.
Matovu was arrested there for theft of Mr Michel’s phone and searched; a small container filled with GBL was found in a pocket. A rucksack inside the flat contained property belonging to Victim 10. Also found in the flat were more items belonging to Mr Michels and Victim 8. A download of a mobile phone found, revealed images of a number of stolen bank cards and documents.
Matovu’s address in Great Guildford Street was searched and more cards belonging to Mr Michels were found as well as 500ml of GBL in a plastic bag, which Matovu claimed was for personal use only. Matovu was found guilty of possessing GBL with intent (Count 26).
Uniformed officers had arrested Dunbar, found hiding on a flat roof outside his bedroom window. Next to him were a pair of shoes belonging to Victim 12. He also had GBL in a small plastic bottle in his pocket.
Further searches of Dunbar’s flat a few days later found a blowtorch, believed to have been used on Victim 12’s buttocks. A laptop, containing images of stolen bank cards and other documents, was also seized.
Matovu and Dunbar were subsequently charged.
In extracts from a victim impact statement Mr Michels’ son Sam said: “Ordinary people cannot begin to understand why you would do the things that you have done and how you can show no remorse for any of your actions. As we have unfortunately learned throughout this trial, you are evidently very far from ordinary, decent and hardworking people.
“You have taken away someone who gave so much more than you have given, cared so much more than you care, respected people and was indisputably successful throughout his life. You have taken away my immediate family and left me alone in the home that I shared with my Dad. A home that we had worked on together since we moved in.
“You have taken away all the lessons my Dad was yet to teach me and all the experiences he deserved as a father - like meeting his grandchildren and walking his daughter down the aisle. He talked about these things regularly and was so excited for the future.
“To me, my Dad had the answers to everything and he was always the first person I would call for advice. He was everything to me, and I am completely and utterly lost without him. I use to call him to tell him about what I was doing, or a new achievement. He was always able to make me feel so proud of myself. He can never, ever be replaced.
“I now struggle with the stress of having to grow up so much quicker than I ever expected to. I feel like I cannot enjoy being young and having fun with my friends like I used to. My responsibilities are way beyond anyone my age and that is so daunting to me every day. If I go away for a short period of time, I am always greeted with an unwanted level of stress on my return - if he was here, this would not be the case.
“Alongside us, his children, my father was also loved by our large extended family. I have struggled so much having to see my grandparents fall to pieces accepting the loss of their only son. His sister, cousins and friends are all distraught having had an angel taken from them. Losing Dad affects so many people, not just us.
“My mother has had to take on a different level of responsibility that she shouldn’t have had. She has now had to become mum and dad while trying to pick up the pieces herself. She loved my father dearly and their relationship had stayed strong despite their divorce.
“Sitting in court and listening to lies about my father has made me feel physically sick at times. We knew him better than anyone, and hearing the defendant accuse my father of rape was soul destroying. He was gentle and caring and would never do such a thing.
“I have also had to experience both of the defendants laugh and smile as we enter the court room, as if they have something to be proud of. On multiple occasions while giving evidence, Mr Matovu turned to us and grinned. This only tells me about the type of person he is. His lack of empathy or respect for anyone else in unimaginable…
“…I am so proud of my father and I will continue to be until I die. He made such an impact on my life that can never be forgotten. He deserves nothing but justice for what happened to him last year.”
+ Anyone who thinks they may have been a victim of Matovu and Dunbar’s crimes, or any other similar incident, can contact police on 101, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or the charity Galop at http://www.galop.org.uk/ or via their Shoutline on 020 7704 2040.
+ Galop has information about meeting people online and personal safety at http://www.galop.org.uk/crime-safety-and-hook-up-apps/ There is also good advice about meeting people via apps here http://www.brook.org.uk/your-life/online-dating-and-staying-safe
+ Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, cut off contact or if you’re with someone leave or ask them to leave
+ Protect your app/social profile, be careful not to share too many details about yourself.
+ If you arrange a meeting tell a friend or relative about it; meet in public
+ Keep an eye on drinks and anything else you may have or be using
+ It is not your fault if you become a victim of crime, whatever the circumstances – have the confidence to report what has happened to you
+ The Met has LGBT liaison officers available to anyone who needs crime prevention advice or support. Call 101 to contact your local officer.