Catherine Wells-Burr lived in Somerset, England. At the age of 23 years old in 2010, she got a part-time job at Numatic International in Chard, Somerset, where she met her 29-year-old Polish boyfriend, Rafal Nowak.
Rafal Nowak wanted to make a new life in the UK, having abandoned his wife and child in Poland. He fled Poland with massive debt. When Rafal met Catherine, he already had a girlfriend, Anna Lagwinowicz. From the get-go, this was a man who was cheating on Anna with Catherine and the two girlfriends were unaware of each other. He could not keep up the charade while living with Anna as the double life he led was catching up with him. In the end, he chose Catherine, buying a house with her, making plans for the future.
With a boyfriend and a house of their own, a happy Catherine graduated from Bath Spa University in 2011, having studied Business and Management. She was ambitious, quite intelligent, and had plans to better her life. Catherine decided to apply for a graduate program that her current employment at the factory was offering.
In September 2012, Catherine failed to report to work. Rafal Nowak started his shift earlier than Catherine, and when he became aware that she has not shown up for work, he sought out her manager, asking why she was not at work. Both Rafal and Catherine worked at the same factory, but on that morning, he was getting overly concerned, noting that this was out of character for Catherine. The problem was complicated as she was not answering his calls. After his shift, he went home looking for Catherine, but she was nowhere to be found, and her car was not in the driveway either. He called her family to see if she was with them. The family decided to search for her and her missing car. Catherine’s mother Jenny had this gut feeling something awful was wrong. She called it ‘a mother instinct.’
Threatening emails from an ex-boyfriend
Rafal revealed that Catherine has been receiving a threatening email from her former boyfriend and that he was worried for her safety and her mental health. According to him, she feared for her life, and he was very concerned she may have done something to herself. This was when the family decided to get the police involved. The police immediately started searching for Catherine as Rafal and her family stayed home, comforting each other.
The charred body of Catherine
Catherine’s burned body was found in her car on a side road, 7 miles away from her home. Her car was set on fire with her body inside. The cause of death was suspicious, and according to the police, it certainly could not have been a suicide as no one kills themselves by setting the whole car on fire. The police decided to investigate and interviewed Catherines’ friends and family, including Rafal. They have assured the family that this was just a routine and had to cover all bases. According to Rafal, nothing out of the ordinary occurred the night before Catherines’ disappearance. They went to the supermarket to get groceries, came home, ate dinner, and slept.
Suspicions against Rafal
While staying with the family, Rafal was acting weird, and this set the alarm bells off with the family. Few things did not add up. When Catherine disappeared, Rafal was devastated and kept on saying, ‘my future is gone. I lost my whole world.’ But she was just missing at the time. And when her body was found, he kept silent, and at one point even asked for a steak. Catherines’ parents recalled few things that made them think, ‘Maybe Rafal had something to do with their daughter’s murder.’ One of those things was the life insurance policies, totaling £123,000 taken out by both Catherine and Rafal. They made each other sole beneficiaries. Why would someone so young take out such an expensive life insurance policy? The police looked further into Rafal after Catherine’s family went to report their suspicions to the police.
The investigation led to few truths that Rafal tried hard to hide.
1- He had continued seeing Anna Lagwinowicz. It is likely he has not stopped seeing her at all.
2- There were text messages back and forth between him and Anna, in which Anna was furious and jealous. These texts also showed that Anna And Rafal have secretly been meeting for months.
3- His history in Poland was quite revealing when the Police investigated his background. He was convicted in Poland for drink driving and violence against women.
4- The police also decided to look into Catherine’s life. They found few adult dating sites that Catherine was a member of, supposedly suggesting that Catherine was not the wholesome girl her family believed her to be. When police compared her profile to those of her phone texts and emails, they did not match. These casual sex profiles were fake. Having checked further, the detectives found pornographic images with Catherine’s face imposed on, contacting men for casual encounters. These images were dated months before the victim’s murder. However, there was a recent message Catherine was supposed to send to her lover on the night of her murder. The police traced the text the victim sent on the night of the murder.
The autopsy revealed the cause of death to be asphyxiation. The detectives theorized that the victim was murdered in her home, and someone drove her car to a remote area and burned it around 6 am. Therefore it could not have been Rafal as he was at work at 5.30 am in that morning. He had an alibi. So who drove the victim’s car and burned it if it was not Rafal?
According to forensic detectives, the victim was wearing shorts when she was murdered. Who goes out to meet her lover in her pajama shorts? The autopsy revealed the final piece that connected the dots. There was undigested food in the victim’s stomach at the time she was killed. The forensic team stated that it would be impossible to have undigested food still in her stomach if she was killed any later than 5 am. Therefore the time of death was estimated to be between 2 am to 3 am while Rafal was at home.
Rafal Nowak was arrested as the evidence stacked against him. However, since he had a tight alibi, it was left to the detectives to determine if he had an accomplice. Based on the text messages between Rafal and Anna Lagwinowicz, the police also decided to arrest Anna. At the very least, she might know something about this, or maybe even involved.
While they were both in custody, the police traced the phone the SIM card was associated with that Catherine was supposed to have texted on the night of the murder to Anna Lagwinowicz’s car. Furthermore, the police traced Anna’s movements days before the murder. Anna’s 38 yrs old uncle was seen with Anna at a gas station with a jerry can of petrol, which was possibly used to burn the victim’s car. It now appeared that there was a third accomplice.
How it unfolded
- Catherine was planning to spend the rest of her life with her boyfriend Rafal while he was plotting her murder for the life insurance and the home they purchased together
- Rafal Nowak smothered the victim in the early hours of the morning
- Anna Lagwinowicz and her uncle, Tadevsz Dmytryszyn, 38, have driven the victim’s car to a remote area 7 miles away, setting the vehicle on fire at 6 am. At that time, Rafal was at work, giving him an iron cast alibi.
- Rafal reported Catherine missing and pretended to search for her while seeking comfort from her family.
- In the months preceding the murder, the plotters Rafal, Anna, and her uncle have created a fabricated back story to throw the police off the scent. This murder was premeditated for months; fake profiles on dating sites with pornographic images, messaging random men asking for a meet and then canceling, etc.
Turning on each other
Both Rafal Nowak and Anna Lagwinowicz have realized their lies will not get them far. So each has blamed the other. Rafal blamed Anna for Catherine’s murder out of jealousy, while Anna claimed that Rafal hired a hitman to kill his girlfriend for the insurance money. During the trial for the murder of Catherine Wells-Burr, it was overheard the accused declaring their love for each other, which led the court to believe that they have planned the murder together and that no one coerced the other.
All three of them were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to a minimum of 32 years each in a UK prison.
Catherine’s mother, Mrs. Wells-Burr, spoke after the verdict,
“Leanne, Phil and I are here today because of the cruel, callous, wicked, evil, and sickening act of murder against our beautiful Catherine.”
“Catherine was an inspirational, amazing, caring, kind, intelligent young woman, who had her whole life ahead of her with so much potential after gaining her First Class Bachelor of Honours Degree in Business Management at Bath Spa University.”
“We were all very proud of her and the person she had become.”
“The hatred shown to her has truly shocked us, especially the hatred shown by Rafal Nowak, a man who was meant to have loved her.”