For a man who had the body of his wife in the freezer at home, it was the ultimate act of bravado.
As sobbing mourners paid their last respects, Peter Wallner took off his wedding ring and dropped it into the urn he claimed contained her ashes.
He announced: ‘I never believed in heaven, but now I know I had heaven on earth with Melanie.’
But there had never been a cremation. The blue urn which was being interred on Melanie Wallner’s father’s farm in her native South Africa contained not her remains, but ashes from her husband’s barbeque.
And as his wife’s frozen body lay undiscovered, Wallner had at least three affairs, fathered a daughter with a woman he met at a biker’s club and shared his home with a lover for six months.
His last girlfriend, Lilia Fenech was never allowed into the storeroom containing the icy tomb at the rented house in Cobham, Surrey.
Wallner told her: ‘There’s just an old freezer in there.’
But the whole elaborate charade was about to collapse because of a parking ticket when he fled with Lilia to start a new life in her home country of Malta in the summer of last year.
Wallner pulled the body of the wife who had adored him from the chest freezer and bundled it into a plastic wheelie bin, as if it was a sack of leftover food from the kitchens he ran with such German efficiency.
The bins were unloaded with a mechanical grab and Wallner covered the body with rubbish and used cat litter, hoping it might never be discovered.
The highly regarded chef had applied for jobs in Malta and believed there was a chance the body could be buried for him in a landfill.
He did not forget to sell the bloodstained freezer to a neighbour for £25 before he left for the continent with all his belongings, his girlfriend and three pets packed into a rented Luton van.
When the body was found by refuse collectors Wallner was already hundreds of miles away on a tour across Europe.
But when he saw the news on satellite TV at his lover’s parent’s home in Malta, Wallner knew he had no alternative but to return to Britain and hand himself in.
He told police he had fought with his wife and hit her with a griddle pan to defend himself.
THE VITAL DETAIL
But Wallner had forgotten one vital detail.
To try and stop his wife’s blood dripping around the house, he had pulled a Tesco carrier bag over her head and tied it around her neck.
He put the body in a sleeping bag they had used on a Scottish camping trip the day before and wrapped it in their tent groundsheet.
Wallner had carefully removed his wife’s wedding ring, which had his name and the date of their marriage inscribed on the inside.
Crucially, he did not remember that his wife was still wearing a sleeping mask – which showed he must have killed her as she lay in bed.
The following day he went to work as normal and celebrated his 31st birthday at an Italian restaurant with his lover as if nothing had happened.
They even slept on the mattress he had killed his wife on after Wallner had scrubbed it clean and covered up some of the larger bloodstains with fabric dye.
When he consigned his wife to the freezer later that week he froze the sleeping mask with her.
COLD HEARTED KILLER
Three years later it would expose Wallner as a cold-hearted killer.
Born in a village outside Munich, Wallner was an only child and his parents, now in their 70s, are both still alive.
He trained as a chef at the prestigious Four Seasons hotel in Munich but spent three years in the German Army as a paramedic before returning to his catering career.
After two years as chef in one of Munich’s top restaurants, he moved to the UK in 2000.
Wallner’s skills as a chef were widely admired but he was also described as ’emotionless’ and ‘a typical German.’
He met his wife at the Marriot Regents Park in 2000.
Melanie Wallner was born in Pretoria and had done various jobs in South Africa including waitressing and filing before coming to Britain in 1996.
After taking a series of menial jobs she began to work in hotel banqueting and moved through the ranks of the industry into food and beverage management.
She was described as ‘bubbly’ ‘loud’ and ‘an organiser.’
STILL A VIRGIN
Her parents, who have now divorced, believe she was still a virgin when she met Wallner.
Melanie did not have a visa to stay in Britain and their marriage after less than a year of courtship in 2001 was partly one of convenience.
Initially, Melanie was frustrated by her husband’s cold Teutonic manner and precise habits.
Her mother, Jeanne Oosthuizen recalled: ‘She had to do certain things on certain days and at certain times. She said he was very unemotional.
‘She wanted to discuss things but he would not. At times she wanted to scream.’
Wallner would also complain about his wife’s ‘unnecessary expenses’ in towels and shampoo.
But gradually Melanie fell desperately in love with the young chef.
She wrote in her diary: ‘I would never have thought I would have said it but I am incredibly in love with my husband’ and recorded how she would wake up early just to talk to him.
Melanie even read sex manuals to try and make up for her lack of experience.
‘There are still things in our sex life I do not understand,’ she confessed.
After Melanie worked in the catering department at the House of Commons her career moved from strength to strength.
Wallner was also regarded as a rising star and had been asked to contribute his favourite recipe to a book which contained the specialities of celebrity chefs.
The couple had lived in Kensal Rise and Hammersmith, but decided they wanted to live out of London.
Eventually both took jobs at the Woodland Park Hotel in Cobham, Surrey and rented a house in the town.
Wallner was already having an affair with Maltese exchange student Lilia Fenech before his wife joined him as food and beverages manager at the hotel.
Working closely together proved a disaster and when Melanie caught her husband having a whispered conversation with Lilia on the phone he confessed to the affair.
But Melanie was still so much in love with her husband she agreed to give their marriage a second try on condition that he end the relationship and attend counselling sessions.
Melanie also left the Woodland Park Hotel and joined the staff of the Thistle Hotel in Kensington Park to give each other space.
The couple had at times slept in separate beds and sought marriage guidance.
Lilia returned to Malta and Melanie believed the marriage had turned a corner.
She wrote in her diary: ‘I’m going to fight for this marriage with every bone in my body. I’m not willing to give up. I have enough hope for us both.
‘Ultimately I love this man and I’m so happy to do so much work to make this marriage work.’
But by the following year Wallner had began an affair with workmate Emma Harrison.
The relationship was common knowledge at the hotel and colleagues believed they were ‘very much in love.’
Wallner still maintained the pretence of a happy marriage with his wife and in August 2006 they drove to see the Edinburgh fringe festival.
The last row between them started on the day after the couple returned from Scotland, before they had unpacked their camping gear from the car.
In court Wallner was to claim for the first time that his wife saw one of the explicit emails he had exchanged with Miss Harrison.
He said she attacked him with the Le Creuset griddle pan and he grabbed it from her to hit his wife in the face.
But the fact the sleeping mask still over his wife’s eyes showed his story was a sham.
‘TIRED OF HIS WIFE’
Prosecutor Bobbie Cheema said: ‘The reality was that Peter Wallner had tired of his wife, decided she did not fit into his plans for the future and wanted to get her out of the way.’
Wallner hit his wife over the head as she slept then washed her body in the bath and fetched the sleeping bag and tent groundsheet from the car.
He wrapped it and put the carrier bag over her head before laying the body to the storeroom where he would later install the freezer.
The following day he and Miss Harrison toasted his birthday with champagne and that night she returned to the house in Hamilton Avenue for the first time.
Wallner had cleared all his wife’s belongings from the downstairs rooms and piled them in to a spare room, while telling his mistress he had separated from her.
Two days later he sent Melanie’s mother a text message from his wife’s phone pretending to be her and telling Mrs Oosthuizen she had been granted British citizenship.
Later that week the freezer was delivered from Argos. Wallner dumped his wife’s body inside and hastily set the programme to ‘quick freeze.’
He called his wife’s parents in South Africa to begin the story he would maintain for three years.
Wallner told the Oosthuizens he had heard a crash in the middle of the night and came downstairs to find his wife collapsed on the floor.
He claimed the cause of death was an aneurysm, or blood clot on the brain.
Wallner encouraged her parents to come to Britain, but made them promise not to try and see the body when they arrived
‘REMEMBER HER AS SHE WAS’
‘He said we should remember her as she was,’ Mrs Oosthuizen said.
‘He said the paramedics had hurt her and her face looked as though she had been battered with a brick.’
Wallner insisted it was tradition for families not attend cremations in Britain and told the parents Melanie could not donate her organs as she had wished because she had once suffered from malaria.
Melanie’s younger brother Petrus Van Der Merwe allowed Wallner to stay with him and his family in Feltham, west London, after the death.
Wallner later wrote a letter thanking Mr Van Der Merwe for his help and added: ‘Let’s stick together.’
He said: ‘I sometimes find things easier to say if you right them down. I don’t know how you feel, but if you feel as bad as I do, well life’s a bitch.
‘I cannot explain how angry I am about Melanie’s death. I keep thinking about the life we thought we are (sic) going to have together. I felt it very hard to believe in anything right now.
‘There is a good chance I will not stop in a church for the rest of my life.’
He added: ‘As far as I am concerned Melanie’s life was one full of love and laughter.’
After signing off, Wallner added: ‘Can you imagine your sister standing in the corner telling us all to pull ourselves together and get on with it.
‘I can and it makes me smile.’
Wallner then flew to South Africa with the urn Melanie’s parents had helped him chose on the internet for the internment ceremony.
‘CALM AND COLLECTED’
Recalling the occasion, Mrs Oosthuizen said: ‘Peter was very calm, very collected.
‘Peter was acting as if what was happening didn’t happen to him. It was as if he was a spectator.’
He organised a memorial service for Melanie at the Thistle Hotel and even decorated the function room with her favourite flowers.
Melanie’s colleagues remember he took charge ‘like he was arranging a business meeting.’
He faked a death certificate which he produced to human resources staff at the Thistle hotel so he could obtain her final pay cheque.
He also continued to use her Marks and Spencer credit card, running up a £6,600 debt after faking a letter from his wife which claimed she had undergone throat surgery and needed him to have conduct of her account.
Mrs Oosthuizen had begun to ask for her daughter’s death certificate but Wallner tried to stall her as he carried on life as normal.
He delayed the inquiries by claiming both his mother and father had fallen seriously ill in a short space of time.
When Miss Harrison received an email from them, alive and well in Germany, his lies were ‘laid bare’.
She then dumped him after she met a new man on a backpacking trip in Australia but he had two more affairs.
He was also keeping in touch with Miss Fenech.
Wallner promised Mrs Oosthuizen he would bring the death certificate out with him on a visit to South Africa in 2007 – but then told her he had to cancel the trip at the last moment because his father had suffered a heart attack
In 2008 he was due to meet his wife’s stepfather at the airport with the document when the stepfather flew into the UK.
DIED OF A STROKE
But Wallner did not make the meeting and explained this time his mother had died of a stroke.
The parents felt so sorry for Wallner they let the matter drop for the rest of the year.
But in 2009 they decided to try again after they were given an outstanding parking ticket for their daughter and needed the certificate to deal with it.
A friend helped them make inquiries and they found there was no record of Melanie attending any hospital.
The net was closing in on Wallner and he would have been caught had he not chosen to hand himself in.
Wallner was eventually sacked from the Woodlands hotel in October 2008 after he began to show signs of depression which affected his work.
He was late paying the rent on Hamilton Avenue and landlord Roy Crabbe took the decision to evict him, asking Wallner to leave the property by June 14 last year.
Mr Crabbe was the unfortunate person left to find the body as he cleaned the property, after binmen claimed the rubbish was too heavy to lift.
Challenged with the evidence of the sleeping mask in court, Wallner was icy cool to the end.
He calmly demonstrated how he killed his wife with the griddle pan and appeared more interested in the technicalities of the blow used than the death of a woman he had loved.
‘I wasn’t sure if it was front hand or backhand,’ said Wallner as he waved the pan in the air.
He insisted Melanie had not been in bed when he attacked her and said perhaps he had put the sleeping mask on her face after she had died.
‘MAYBE I DIDN’T WANT TO LOOK AT HER FACE’
Without a trace of emotion he looked up at the jury and said: ‘Maybe I didn’t want to look at her face.’
Melanie’s father Petrus Anthonie Van-Der-Merwe said in an impact statement: ‘Peter Wallner arrived in South Africa with a lot of lies about Melanie’s death, how she died and why we could not say out goodbyes and be present at her cremation.
‘He looked us all straight in the eyes knowing that it was actually him that had taken Melanie’s life. He pretended to be devastated when we laid Melanie’s supposed ashes to rest on my farm.
‘How can such an evil person live amongst other people in this world? How can we ever get on with our own lives when we miss our daughter so much?
‘The man that asked for my blessing for my daughter’s hand in marriage has gruesomely killed her. Who does Peter Wallner think he is to just take such a precious life?
‘It haunts me every day to think that while I was staying in Melanie’s house after her supposed passing in September 2006 she was right there in a freezer outside the house without my knowledge. That thought eats away at my soul every day of my life.
‘Peter Wallner thought it good to gruesomely murder her in the most unthinkable manner and put her lifeless body in a sleeping bag and freeze her in her own property for three years.
‘After that he threw her away, like trash, like rubbish in a wheelie bin.
Wallner was jailed for life with a minimum of 20 years behind bars before being considered for parole.
Judge Stephen Kramer QC told him: ‘I am satisfied she was either resting or sleeping on the mattress and she was defenceless against your attack.
‘Over nearly three years you were engaged in a course of conduct in which amongst other things you bought a freezer for the purpose of hiding the body.
‘LIED TO MELANIE’S FAMILY’
‘You lied to Melanie’s family, your work colleagues, your own girlfriends and other friends as to how Melanie died.
‘You lied about your own parents saying they were seriously ill or had died in order to elicit sympathy so Melanie’s family did not ask for the death certificate.
‘Eventually you took Melanie’s body from the freezer and dumped it in a wheelie bin so that it might be dumped by the refuse collectors and disposed of.
‘You doubtless thought that the body once hidden in the bin would be loaded in a dustcart, compacted and disposed so that what you had done would never be discovered.
‘By your action sand deceptions and total breach of trust in your self centred desire to escape responsibility for what you did you have devastated Melanie’s family.
‘I am quite satisfied you are calculating and deceitful, both from the sequence of events on the day of the murder right up until the trial.
‘What you did over those many months was indeed appalling.’
Wallner showed no emotion as he was led to the cells.