Bass player guilty of murdering concert pianist wife, former Leeds artist Natalia Strelchenko

Natalia Strelchenko pictured on one of her concert programmes
Natalia Strelchenko pictured on one of her concert programmes

A CLASSICAL musician has been found guilty of murdering his world renowned concert pianist wife, who was a former Leeds artist, after beating and strangling her to death.

Norwegian national John Martin, 48, showed no reaction at Manchester Crown Court as he was found guilty of killing 4ft 11ins tall Natalia Strelchenko who was found with serious head and neck injuries at their home in Newton Heath, Manchester, on their second wedding anniversary.

Martin was cleared of the attempted murder of a male youth who cannot be named for legal reasons.

He will be sentenced on Monday.

Martin stood in the dock wearing a grey pin-striped suit over a grey-and-black striped, open-neck shirt as the foreman of the jury of six men and six women read out the verdicts.

He was led away by security guards.

The judge, Mrs Justice Cox, thanked the jury - which had been deliberating for just over a day - before saying the defendant will not be sentenced until next week.

During the trial, a friend who had been staying at the couple’s home described how the double-bass player flew at petite Ms Strelchenko - who was also known by the surname of Strelle - “like an animal”, throwing both himself and wife down the stairs before delivering repeated punches to her body.

When the female guest pleaded with him to stop, Martin, a computer science and maths graduate who had worked for computer giant IBM was to say: “I want to kill her”.

“Controlling” Martin had claimed that he had no recollection of the killing after taking a mix of alcohol and diazepam which he said he had mistaken for his anti-depressant medication.

When police arrived at their home in Culcheth Lane on August 30 last year, Martin repeatedly said “kill me, kill me please, I have nothing to live for, I do not deserve to live” which was caught on an officer’s bodycam.

Ms Strelchenko, who had been artist in residence at Leeds College of Art and a research fellow at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, died a short time later in hospital.

She had 76 injuries including 45 separate marks to her head and neck having suffered repeated blows to the front of her face.

Her central and left-sided facial bones were left free floating from the rest of her skull and her jawbone was snapped in half. Parts of her skull were left severely fractured.

Jurors had been told that hours earlier, Ms Strelchenko had texted her ex-husband to say “we are having bad times here with John Martin”.

The pianist who at the “peak of her powers” had performed in concerts with a full orchestra, had also disclosed that she was scared of her three-times married husband who had allegedly tried to strangle her whilst driving.

The trial had been told that the police had been called out to their home on two occasions following arguments between the couple, and that Martin “couldn’t live with her, couldn’t live without her”.

The Crown said that Martin, who began the relationship whilst he was still married, had been “jealous” of her career taking off whilst his did not and said he had felt like her “servant”.

On the evening of August 29, the couple - who were said to have had a volatile relationship and would row about Ms Strelchenko’s lack of household chores and financial contributions, had rowed again.

Classical music producer Arne-Peter Rognan who had been a guest at the house said that Martin had “exploded” in front of the group of musicians after arriving with £20 worth of food for a barbecue, only to learn that his wife had already prepared food.

Martin, was to tell Mr Rognan that he had been “afraid” of what he could do during one of their explosive arguments, saying, “I don’t know what I can do if she drives me any more crazy. I’m afraid that when I explode I don’t know what will happen”, but added that he would get help in the coming week.

The defendant had also texted “she drives me crazy and it has to be stopped when it happens”.

After drinking around four cans of cider Martin left the house before returning at around midnight after learning that Ms Strelchenko had advertised the address on a property exchange website for people who wanted to swap homes for short periods.

He claimed he had no memory of pushing her, falling down the stairs or of the struggle that followed.

A consultant psychiatrist for the defence told the jury that, in his opinion, Martin was suffering at the time from “a severe depressive episode”.

Ms Strelchenko made her debut at the age of 12 with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.

She had performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall, winning praise from the classical music press.

In a statement, her family said: “She was extremely talented with much life ahead of her. She was taken from us in August in completely unnecessary circumstances. We cannot express how devastated we are that her life has been stolen from her.”

Ms Strelchenko had moved to Manchester in 2009 following the breakdown of her first marriage three years earlier, before she began a relationship with John Martin who had trained at the Oslo Conservatoire.

They played together in an orchestra and Martin was still married to his second wife when he began the relationship with divorcee Ms Strelchenko.

The statement added: “We miss Natalia every minute of every day. We can try to repair our heartache although no matter how long the sentence is, it will not bring Natalia back or make our loss any easier.”