Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Greed and lies caught up with property developer killer

By Chris Summers
BBC News

Two Albanian labourers have been jailed for life for murdering a tenant who got in the way of a £2m deal. The property developer who organised the killing was convicted last year.

Thanos Papalexis - pic from Palm Beach Post
I have regaled her with stories which would make a screenwriter envious
Thanos Papalexis

Charalambos Christodoulides, known as Charles, was a 55-year-old recluse who had lived for many years in a flat above a deserted warehouse in Kensal Rise, north-west London.

But the quiet routine of his life unwittingly put him on a collision course with a property developer who turned to murder to help him achieve his goal.

Thanos Papalexis, the handsome and charming son of a wealthy London-based Greek shipping magnate, had been trying to force through a £2m deal to buy the warehouse and then sell it on for a quick profit.

He hoped the money would prop up another property development in Holloway, north London, which had gone over budget and threatened to destroy his company.

But Mr Christodoulides, an unemployed loner and a creature of habit, was reluctant to move out and Papalexis, panicked by the financial consequences of the deal not going through, moved to get rid of him.

In 2000, Papalexis hired two Albanian labourers, Robert Baxhija and Ylli Xhelo, who tortured and then strangled Mr Christodoulides at the warehouse.

'Totally amoral'

At his Old Bailey trial in September last year, the men claimed Papalexis killed Mr Christodoulides and forced them, at gunpoint, to hide his body in a vehicle pit in the basement of the warehouse.

Robert Baxhija
Robert Baxhija was jailed for life after a retrial

Papalexis was convicted but the jury was deadlocked on the Albanians. After a retrial the pair were convicted last week and on Monday were jailed for life.

Sentencing them, Judge Jeremy Roberts said: "I am sure that without your assistance, Thanos Papalexis would not have been able to commit the murder."

Detectives believe Mr Christodoulides might have died after being tortured.

Sentencing Papalexis to a minimum of 20 years in jail, Judge Roberts said he was a "totally amoral person" who had treated Mr Christodoulides as someone who was "expendable".

His background meant he had everything going for him, but his character was flawed by greed, impatience, lust and indiscretion.

Ironically the Kensal Rise deal later collapsed, despite the removal of the sitting tenant "problem", and after his company folded, Papalexis moved to Florida.

New life in Florida

He married his girlfriend, Karina, had a child and started a new life as a property developer and businessman.

One of his scams was setting up "fractional membership clubs" on the internet which allowed people to have access to a luxury lifestyle of hotels, villas, speedboats and private jets.

The building Thanos Papalexis wanted to buy and develop

Jose Lambiet, a gossip columnist on the Palm Beach Post newspaper, told the BBC: "It was a sham; it was all smoke and mirrors. It's a brilliant idea but had to be done honestly and Papalexis didn't know how.

"He was a pathological liar. He wasn't even supposed to be working in Florida. He would renew his visa every couple of months but he had no right to work."

He claimed Papalexis threatened to have him killed after he wrote a couple of articles about him.

But Papalexis charmed other people and publicly exuded wealth and chutzpah.

In January 2008, he hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign at a mansion in Manalapan, Florida, which was attended by Bill Clinton.

But back in London detectives had not been idle. They had spent years amassing evidence against him. In the summer of 2008, they sought his extradition.

'Sexual predator'

Papalexis, who was described in court as a "sexual predator", was arrested in a pizza restaurant while dining with his mistress Marie-Helene Jarry, who later died after turning to drink when she discovered the truth about her lover.

Charalambos Christodoulides
Charalambos Christodoulides was tortured before his death

Another former girlfriend, Rebecca DeFalco, was Googling his name when she discovered he was suspected of a murder.

DeFalco went to the police and told them about a conversation she had had with him in June 2004, during their brief but "turbo-charged" affair.

Papalexis had told her a string of lies, telling her he was an agent of the CIA and MI6 and would be retiring after one last mission in Iraq.

'James Bond' figure

She recalled asking him if he had ever killed a man, during his "James Bond" work for the secret services.

DeFalco told the court: "I didn't expect an answer. He turned around and there was a very long pause.

"He walks up towards me, pulls up a chair and sits in front of me and reaches for my hands. He looks me in the eye. He says 'yes, yes I have'."

His defence counsel, Michael Borrelli QC, sought to portray the 41-year-old as a deluded, attention-seeking liar who was seeking to cash in on Papalexis's predicament.

I'm not interested in selling my story to the press. I'm so offended
Rebecca DeFalco

When Papalexis gave evidence he was polite and articulate but came across as smarmy, deceitful and dishonest.

He claimed his wife had agreed to him having sex with prostitutes as long as he kept it "discreet".

Admitted lying

Papalexis also admitted fooling DeFalco and lying to her about loving her.

He said: "I wanted her to feel loved and to feel that I was a super-spy and that we would have great sex and great fun together."

The Noko building in NW London
A luxury apartment block now stands on the scene of the crime

He said: "I have regaled her with stories which would make a screenwriter envious. But I have never mentioned anything to do with this murder.

"She thought I was a spy. I had told her many episodes about missions, explosions, car chases, gun battles in the desert, stories that you would see in a movie.

"But nothing to do with the murder of a 55-year-old gentleman in a warehouse in London."

He also admitted lying to her about a set of rosary beads he had given her.

He claimed they had been taken from the hands of his mother after her body was exhumed.

In a family impact statement, the victim's sister Annina Lanitis said of Papalexis: "I truly believe he is like a devil for what he has done.

"Regardless of the length of sentence given to Papalexis, it will never justify how a multi-millionaire playboy then put the value of money over and above the life of my innocent and harmless brother," she said.

"Without being vindictive, I wish him as much pain and suffering as I have suffered and will continue to suffer throughout my life."

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