Burglar who modelled himself on American ‘nightstalker’ serial killer is jailed
- Credit: Archant
A serial burglar who tied up his last two victims after breaking into their homes in Colchester while they were asleep has been jailed for 12 years.
Conor Ashton, 23, will also be on licence for four years once he is released from prison following what police described as a “very disturbing case”.
Chelmsford Crown Court heard how Ashton modelled himself on 1980s American serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the “nightstalker” and victims told police he wore gloves and a balaclava.
Ashton was arrested following burglaries in the Greenstead area of Colchester between March and August in 2017.
Most of the time, the victims were not at home. But on the last two occasions before he was arrested, he broke into the homes of two women while they were asleep.
Armed with a knife, he bound them with cable ties and demanded their bank cards.
DI Alan Pitcher, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said after the hearing: “The judge said Conor Ashton is a dangerous individual whose offending had clearly escalated from breaking into empty homes to arming himself with a knife and targeting victims as they slept.
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“I’ve no doubt there was a significant risk he could have committed further offences if he hadn’t been caught when he was.
“When we seized a computer he had used, we found evidence that he had searched the internet using the search term ‘original night stalker’, which suggested he was looking for inspiration for his crimes.”
Ashton carefully planned and executed his crimes, leaving little forensic trace in his attempts to avoid detection.
However during their investigation, detectives found similarities between the spate of burglaries.
The victims were mostly female and a number were also students.
Once inside the homes he targeted, on some occasions the burglar had thrown food and drink around and in others had rifled through underwear drawers. Graffiti was also left at some scenes, which included images of a pentagram, the words “Stalking Ransacker” and derisory comments about the police.
Detectives started to look for similarities with other reported burglaries and linked it to one particular incident in January 2014, in which a laptop and money were stolen from a student’s room. A derisory comment about the police had been written on the wall.
They discovered the laptop had been re-registered to someone else, who told officers he had bought it from Ashton the month after it was stolen.
This led to his arrest on September 21 last year. A balaclava, black gloves and two cable ties were found in his bedroom at his home in Purcell Close.
A handwriting expert compared Ashton’s writing to some that was left at burglary scenes and found clear similarities.
During their investigation, detectives linked him to further burglaries dating back to 2013 and 2014.
Many of the victims were students and a number of stolen computer games, laptops and games consoles stolen during those burglaries had been sold by Ashton to pawn shops.
Ashton appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court on March 31 this year, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated burglary in Avon Way on July 10 and off Acacia Avenue on August 14.
He also admitted six counts of burglary.
He was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court today to 12 years for the aggravated burglaries and three years for each of the burglaries, to run concurrently.
He will then be on licence for four years once he is released from prison, making a total sentence of 16 years.
DI Pitcher said: “This has been a very disturbing case and I can’t begin to imagine how terrified Ashton’s last two victims in particular must have felt.
“I want to thank them and the other victims he targeted for their support throughout this investigation and I hope today’s sentence gives them some comfort that he is now behind bars.”
A 23-year-old woman who was one of the two women that Ashton tied up spoke of the trauma she continues to suffer a year on from the incident.
The victim, who lived in Avon Way at the time and does not wish to be identified, said: “I thought that I would be traumatised only for a short period of time but I was totally wrong.
“I am currently still having issues sleeping at night and am easily disturbed and panicked by small noises and movement.
“If I am awake in the early hours of the morning, I often have trouble getting back to sleep. “There have been more than a couple of nights in which I only fall asleep after the sun has risen because I think that somebody is going to break in if I fall asleep at night.
“It’s really tiring, especially when I need to go to work that very same day.
“It is true that the stolen money had been compensated by the bank but I don’t think that the mental trauma that I suffer after that horrible incident can be compensated by anybody.
“It is really unfair too that other people went to their graduations while reminiscing about their good days in university but I went to mine with a messy mind and a tainted memory.”