Sick Kostadin Kostov, 43, even googled 'how long would it take for a corpse to decompose?' days after killing his former lover
A jealous ex-boyfriend who murdered a mother-of-three then dumped her naked body in a suitcase by a railway line has been jailed for life.
Sick Kostadin Kostov, 43, even googled 'how long would it take for a corpse to decompose?' days after killing his former lover.
The Bulgarian national Kostov was today convicted of her murder by a jury following a four-week trial.
Kostov had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Gergana but the jury took just over an hour to convict him.
He was branded as callous, cold hearted, selfish and cruel by a juge as he was sentenced to serve at least 19 years in jail.
Judge Sir John Royce told him: 'Gergana was 38 when she came her from Bulgaria, in my judgment in substantial part to get away from your violent, controlling behaviour. Her employers described her as a very humble, hard working lady.
'It must have been clear to you on the evening of August 4 that Gergana and Mr Todorov were not going to part and she was going to cook him a meal and go round there.
'That was no doubt the trigger for you killing her. You then wove a devious web of deceit with what you thought were clever messages purporting to come from her and create a false scenario of her having returned to Bulgaria to deal with the death of her mother.'
He said it was in a 'tangled web' that revealed Kostov's true ruthlessness and determination.
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Kostov donned a baseball cap and tight-fitting clothes in a bid to disguise himself before going out under cover of darkness to dispose of Gergana's body
He said the police's work 'surprised him'. He said: 'The fact is you are not as clever as you thought. By the time the suitcase was recovered the body was badly decomposed and ravaged by maggots. You would have been happier if it had been totally eaten away.
'The pitiful pictures and description must, for her family and friends, be immensely and permanently distressing. What you did was callous, cold hearted and selfish.
'There was a history of violent behaviour which was a major reason why she came to this country. Mothers do not easily leave their children behind.'
The judge also quoted from the victim impact statement of Gergana's seriously ill mother Stefka Ilyeva, who is worried about who will look after the three children.
It said: 'Gergana was my hope. I am very ill and I cannot see my grandchildren. I am very concerned about their future. She did not deserve this fate. No-one deserves such a fate.'
Gergana Prodanova, 38, went missing on August 4 last year from the home she shared with her ex-partner, Kostadin Kostov
During the trial, jurors heard how Gergana Prodanova, 38, was attacked after she refused to go back to an abusive relationship with him and fell in love with another man.
Kostov donned a baseball cap and tight-fitting clothes in a bid to disguise himself before going out under cover of darkness to dispose of Gergana's body.
The court heard Kostov also concocted a series of fake Facebook messages as part of, what the judge called, a 'devious' and 'ruthless' cover-up to convince people she was still alive.
Police said afterwards that the evidence against Kostov was 'overwhelming'.
Exeter Crown Court heard that Kostov overpowered Gergana before stuffing her body into a suitcase and then carrying her across the city.
His journey took him from their home in Mount Pleasant along Sidwell Street and Pennsylvania Road and ended near Blackall Road.
Police say 19 CCTV sightings of a man with a baseball cap bear an uncanny resemblance to him.
Footage captured a man as he struggles to haul the suitcase - occasionally stopping to take a breather.
Kostov murdered Gergana on August 4, 2016. He was arrested on August 10, but her body was not discovered until August 16.
He had returned to the scene in the days after her murder on his way to and from work at Exeter College.
Ms Prodanova, who worked as a housekeeper at city's Great Western Hotel, was last seen on Sidwell Street in Exeter on August 4
The court heard he searched the internet posing the question 'How long would it take for a human corpse to decompose?'
A massive police search was launched on August 8 after colleagues at the hotel where she worked, reported Gergana missing.
Kostov told police she had returned to Bulgaria at short notice after her mother died.
In the following days he kept up the pretence she was still alive by sending fake messages on her phone and on Facebook to family and friends.
The trial heard how police analysis of phone and social media proved Kostov was swapping SIM cards and sending messages in her name in an attempt to spread lies.
Gergana's body was found on August 16 by a Network Rail employee who noticed a 'foul smell' on the embankment near HMP Exeter.
The suitcase was half buried in undergrowth and covered in twigs to conceal it.
Gergana's naked body was inside. It was too badly decomposed to establish cause of death
Pictured: Police released a map of the distance Kostov hauled the suitcase to and from carrying his former lover's body
Gergana's naked body was inside. It was too badly decomposed to establish cause of death.
Chilling CCTV footage was released by police to show jurors in the court case.
The video showed Kostov hauling a suitcase on Sidwell Street, York Road, and Pennsylvania Road in Exeter and periodically stopping to take breaks, according to detectives.
The CCTV subsequently shows him walking past a KFC, the Duke of York pub and Exeter mosque before the final sighting in Pennsylvania Road just after 5am.
During the opening of the trial on April 20, Simon Laws, QC, prosecuting, said the couple had been in a relationship for 15 years prior to Ms Prodanova moving to Exeter, Devon, in December 2015.
He said: 'It was a complex and very troubling relationship. He had used physical violence against her on a number of occasions.
'He was a jealous and controlling man. He would lose his temper, especially when he had had a drink, and he would hit her.
'She stuck with him for many years. She seems to have found it very hard to break free from him.'
The jury heard Ms Prodanova moved to England on her own, leaving Kostov and her children at home in Bulgaria and soon formed a relationship with another man, who Mr Laws said treated her 'kindly' and made her happy.