A robber has been found guilty of murdering a father with an overdose of the drug GBL, as part of a plot to steal from gay men he met online.
Gerald Matovu, 26, of Great Guildford Street, Southwark, was found guilty on Monday, 15 July, at the Old Bailey of killing 52-year-old human resources executive Eric Michels.
He was also found guilty of multiple counts of administering a poison with intent to endanger life, fraud and theft, along with his partner Brandon Dunbar, 24, of Romford Road, Forest Gate.
They were caught when they lured their last victim back to Forest Gate and dumped him unconscious and naked in rubbish nearby, three days after killing Mr Michels. Police investigating the two crimes bumped into each other there – and the duo were both arrested with stashes in their pockets of GBL – which converts to GHB when it is in the body.
The court heard how over 19 months Matovu and Dunbar targeted 12 gay men by arranging to meet them through apps such as Grindr. Ten of those men then had property stolen from them and 11 had photos taken of their bank cards to be stored on a laptop for later use in frauds.
Eight of the men were drugged to the point of unconsciousness so the pair could steal from them. Mr Michels died after being given a fatal dose.
Detective Inspector Mark Richards, of the Homicide and Major Crime Command, said: “Matovu and Dunbar had a well-rehearsed plan to take advantage of men they met through apps such as Grindr to steal their property. This was their overwhelming motive, rather than sexual assault. Matovu described himself in evidence as a hustler, a liar and a thief – apt words.
“Their method in most cases was to drug their victim with enough GBL to render them unconscious so they could then search their homes, selecting items of interest and photographing bank cards and personal documents for subsequent fraudulent use. They did this at their leisure, sometimes spending hours at an address.
“But Mr Michels was different – Matovu gave him a fatal dose of GBL. Despicably, while Mr Michels lay dead or dying, Matovu raided his address of many of his belongings, leaving his devastated family to find his body the following day.
“Just three days later Matovu and Dunbar targeted another man at Dunbar’s flat. When he was no longer of use to them, they dragged him naked out into the street and dumped him on a pile of rubbish bags.
“Attending officers linked those two events and a string of other victims. Matovu and Dunbar had done very little to cover their tracks – their only focus moving onto their next victim and what else they could steal. There is every chance there are more victims out there – please have the confidence to come forward and report this, or any similar crime to us.
“Matovu and Dunbar are to blame for what happened to these men and the crimes they committed against them. But as with any situation, there are things people can do to help protect themselves when meeting people online, such as talking as much as possible before agreeing to meet, being careful not to share too many details about yourself, telling a friend or relative what you are planning to do and being generally cautious and vigilant.
“The Met has LGBT liaison officers available to anyone who needs crime prevention advice or support and there are variety of LGBT+ organisation and charities willing to help.”
Between 10 December 2016 and 25 July 2018 the defendants targeted ten men aged between 20 and 61 at the time.
On 16 August 2018, Eric Michels told his son he was going for a night out in central London. He visited bars before contacting Matovu via Grindr around midnight.
Mr Michels arranged to meet him in Great Guildford Street before they took a cab back to Mr Michel’s home in Bolton Road, Chessington.
Around 6am Mr Michels’ son, Sam Michels, was awoken by Matovu entering his room and claiming he was searching for the bathroom. At 6.47am, Matovu photographed Mr Michels’ bank cards – the prosecution said the victim was either dead or unconscious at that time as he had been given GBL by Matovu. This suggestion was supported by evidence from a friend of the victim who messaged him at 7.35am asking if he was OK. He got no response which was unusual as he said the victim would always reply to messages.
At around 9am Sam left the house.
At 11am Matovu left Mr Michels’ house in a cab, taking a suitcase and bank cards belonging to the victim.
Mr Michels’ daughter sent a text inviting him for dinner at 7.35pm.
When there was no reply she sent a follow-up text the following day, Saturday, 18 August 2018. The reply came as “hello hun im a little busy talk soon”. This was unlike him and she tried to call but an unknown male answered – the call was later traced to the area of Matovu’s address.
The alarm was raised after family members then visited Mr Michels’ address later that same day and found his body. He had been dead for several hours.
Police found an empty syringe on the floor by the bed. Tests later showed it had traces of DNA belonging to both the victim and Matovu. Analysis showed it contained revealed traces of GBL.
A post-mortem concluded cause of death was acute GHB intoxication. Matovu’s DNA was also found on Mr Michels’ body.
After Matovu fled the scene, he began to use Mr Michels’ bank cards, including transferring £300 into Dunbar’s bank account which he then spent on two litres of GBL.
Matovu denied murder, claiming Mr Michels’ took his own GHB willingly, but was found guilty. Dunbar admitted two counts of fraud and dishonestly retaining a wrongful credit.
Two days later, on the evening of 19 August, a 27-year-old man surfing Grindr was invited to Dunbar’s flat in Romford Road and greeted by Matovu. Dunbar and the victim then took drugs and had sex. The victim was given a drink, which tasted horrible; when he questioned it, Dunbar confirmed there was ‘G’ in it. Afterwards the victim felt disorientated; it was during this time Matovu took photos of his bank card and driving licence.
At around 11pm, Dunbar sexually assaulted the victim with a syringe. The victim became confused and his vision blurred before he passed out.
He was found shortly after midnight by passers-by naked and lying across some rubbish bags outside the entrance to Dunbar’s flat. He was taken by ambulance to hospital with injuries including cuts and bruises, breathing difficulties and a broken nose. Tests confirmed he had taken or been given GBL.
His possessions were later recovered from Dunbar’s flat, including a wallet, bank cards and rucksack.
Both defendants denied administering a poison or noxious substance to endanger life, assault by penetration, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and theft but were found guilty.
Police investigating the circumstances of Mr Michels’ death raided the Romford Road flat at 3.40am on 20 August to find uniformed officers dealing with the discovery of the naked 27-year-old outside the address.
Matovu was arrested there for theft of Mr Michel’s phone and was found to be carrying a small container filled with GBL . A rucksack inside the flat that Matovu said was his contained property belonging to the 27-year-old. Also found in the flat were more items belonging to Mr Michels and another victim. A phone also had images of stolen bank cards and documents.
More cards belonging to Mr Michels were found at Matovu’s flat in Great Guildford Street, as well as 500ml of GBL in a plastic bag, which Matovu claimed was for personal use only. Matovu was found guilty of possessing GBL with intent.
Uniformed officers had arrested Dunbar, found hiding on a flat roof outside his bedroom window. Next to him were a pair of shoes belonging to the 27-year-old victim. He also had GBL in a small plastic bottle in his pocket.
Further searches of Dunbar’s flat a few days later found a blowtorch, believed to have been used on Victim 12’s buttocks. A laptop, containing images of stolen bank cards and other documents, was also seized.
Pictured: Matovu and Mr Michels buying items in a shop in Waterloo Road