Murder probe launched after woman found dead in shrubbery

A post-mortem examination gave Maria Jane Rawlings’s preliminary cause of death as neck compression and possible blunt force head trauma.

Maria Jane Rawlings
Maria Jane Rawlings

A woman whose body was found in shrubbery is believed to have been murdered.

Maria Jane Rawlings, 45, who lived in the Chelmsford area of Essex, was found dead in Little Heath, Romford, east London, by a man walking his dog at around 2pm on Tuesday.

The Metropolitan Police said a post-mortem examination gave the mother-of-two’s preliminary cause of death as neck compression and possible blunt force head trauma.

Maria Jane Rawlings death
Little Heath in Romford, east London, where Maria Jane Rawlings was found dead (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Officers are still examining the scene and are expected to remain in the area in the coming days.

On Monday evening, Ms Rawlings attended the King George Hospital in Goodmayes, Ilford, before leaving on foot to Barley Lane in the direction of the A12.

Detectives believe someone may have approached her while she was walking on that road.

There have been no arrests, the Met said as the force appealed for information.

Detective Chief Inspector David Hillier, who is leading the investigation, said: “My team and I are working around the clock, following a number of inquiries in our work to establish what happened to Maria.

“Her family are understandably distraught and we are doing all we can to help them as they begin to come to terms with their loss.

“Now I am asking for the public to help us. I want to hear from anyone who knew Maria and knows about where she had been and who she had been associating with.

“Have you seen her in the area in the company of another person? Had you recently heard or seen a disturbance or struggle in the area but did not think it significant at the time?

“You might have dashcam or doorbell footage that could have captured her – please think carefully and if you can help, contact police.”

Chief Superintendent Stephen Clayman, head of the borough command unit for Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge, said: “I understand the concerns around safety that will arise from this, particularly from women, and we have increased patrols in the area from our local policing teams.

“Community safety remains a high priority and I urge anyone who has any concerns to speak to my officers when you see them, or contact us.”

A bouquet of flowers and some police tape tied to a wooden post are all that mark the scene off Barley Lane, close to a busy junction with the A12.

Maria Jane Rawlings death
Flowers left at the scene (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The shrubbery is at the edge of an open area of grass in front of New City College’s Redbridge Campus and close to a care home.

Housewife Amina Ali, 35, who lives opposite, said police closed the street on Tuesday and forensic investigators were on scene.

She said: “It’s been quite traumatic.

“It’s usually such a nice quiet area.

“I walk past that shrubbery every day to get to school and back.

“It was a shock for us.”

She added: “It’s always busy, you wouldn’t expect this to happen on such a busy junction.”

Another neighbour said the first she knew of the incident was when police arrived on Tuesday and asked residents to stay indoors.

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