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Jolanta never had a chance against men with no mercy

Shy and polite, Jolanta Bledaite was one of the most conscientious of eastern European migrants who toiled in the daffodil fields and vegetable farms of Angus, diligently saving as much as she could from the £100 she took home every week.

The 35-year-old was close to fulfilling her dream when two fellow Lithuanians concocted and then executed a plan to kill her, chop up her body and dump it in the North Sea so they could get their hands on the few thousand pounds she had saved for a better life back home.

Yesterday Vitas Plytnykas, 41, was found guilty of murdering Ms Bledaite. With his accomplice, Aleksandras Skirda, who admitted the murder last year, he tortured Ms Bledaite at her flat in Brechin until she gave them the PIN number for her bank account. They then killed her, cut up her body and threw the parts into the sea.

The horrific murder shocked the people of Scotland, but back home in southern Lithuania, Ms Bledaite's grandmother and mother prefer to remember the positive side of her life – a story of a dream, persistence and the drive to succeed.

Albina Sapalaite, 82, and her daughter, Ona Lazauskiene, should now be spending time with Jolanta, as she should have returned home. But instead, all they are left with is memories.

MS SAPALAITE told The Scotsman: "I remember Jolantukas (a childhood name for Jolanta] when she was just a baby. Her daddy brought her mother and the little one to me just after she was born.

"My mother, her great-grandmother, was still alive. When I had to do my work in the collective farm, she helped me to take care of Jolantukas. Her parents were working in the city and came back in the evenings."

A black-and-white picture of Ms Bledaite, framed and banded with black ribbon, is the first image one sees on entering the family home.

Ms Bledaite's grandmother doesn't like her haircut in the picture. "Why didn't she hide the tails of her hair? She would have looked more beautiful." But the pictures are all they have left.

Ms Bledaite lived with her grandmother until she was seven when the family moved to Alytus, the sixth biggest city in Lithuania, where they lived in a two-room flat.

Nijole Zakareviciene, who was Ms Bledaite's teacher, still works at the same school. She remembers a girl who was not extraordinary. Quiet, a good student, someone who caused no trouble and only had a couple of friends.

"The only thing I remember brightly is that she was like a punk – she used to make a spike with her hair, probably forming it with sugar," she recalls.

Ms Bledaite's best friend at school, Kristina Ginkeviciute, who now lives in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, disagrees. "I had my hair up, she had it as well. It was just a type of haircut, just back-combed. But there were times when teachers asked us to leave classes until we made our hair look decent again."

Ms Bledaite's mother is sure her daughter was not too interested in boys: "She hadn't had a lot of contact with men, didn't go out at all. She lived until 35, maybe she felt something bad about it? But even when the boys from the village came to ask her out to dance, she didn't go. She was afraid – better stay at home."

Ms Ginkeviciute says instead that, compared with the other girls in the class, Jolanta was more serious, concentrating on other things than just boys.

Ms Bledaite left school at 16 and moved to Kaunas, Lithuania's second city, where she worked as a meat seller, her mother remembers.

Even though she and her family no longer lived in Zydaviskis, she visited her grandmother every weekend. According to her relatives, the wood was where she usually spent her spare time, picking berries and mushrooms.

"When the collective farm was flourishing, Jolantukas had been working in the gardens from the first grade," says Ms Lazauskiene, adding that the girl's father, Sarunas Bleda, who had passed away just three weeks after Jolanta's funeral, was strict on getting his daughters to work from a young age.

Meat seller, shop worker, bakery assistant – Ms Bledaite took any job that would bring her decent money, whether in Lithuania, Russia or Norway, often with her sister. "They were saving up every kopek, poor girls," says Ms Lazauskiene.

Ms Sapalaite says: "She was saving up, God, she really was! Once she told me, 'Baba ("grandmother"], I won't ask anything from anybody, I'll earn it myself and will buy a flat'."

MS BLEDAITE'S biggest dream was to have her own apartment in Kaunas.

"She was prudent. I believe she wanted to earn for her own place," says Ms Ginkeviciute. "Maybe she wanted to earn money in the fastest and most realistic way. After her parents divorced, I assume, she wanted to have a normal life, maybe to find someone special, have a baby."

Ms Sapalaite recalls the moment when Jolanta got her job in the UK where she could earn more money.

"I was sitting in the outside kitchen, when she came running towards me, shouting with joy, 'Finally, baba, I'm leaving!'.''

In early 2005, Jolanta Bledaite arrived in Cornwall to pick daffodils. Within a few days, she was joined in the fields by another Lithuanian – Vitas Plytnykus.

Philip Brown, the area manager of Ashcroft Employment Services, which arranged work for Ms Bledaite, Plytnykus and several other Lithuanians, including Aleksandras Skirda and his mother, Milda, remembers her, like everyone else who knew her, as industrious.

"She was always on time, always worked hard. She was the ideal employee," he says.

After a couple of months in Cornwall, Mr Brown took the group to Angus, where the longer winter means a later flowering season.

At first they lived in portable cabins in Arbroath. Ms Bledaite then moved to a cottage in Edzell provided by Mr Brown, where she lived with Skirda and his mother. Work consisted of weeding carrots and grading potatoes.

LIKE her fellow migrant workers, Ms Bledaite was paid a minimum wage, which, after deductions were made for rent and transport to and from the farms, left her with about £100 for every 40-hour week.

She moved to a caravan site in Brechin, where she stayed for about a year before moving into Earlsdon House, a rundown block in Southesk Street where she met her death.

Ilga Pantoka, 48, lived with Ms Bledaite at the caravan site. The Latvian said: "She would just work and sleep."

In the last few weeks of her life, Ms Bledaite worked in the potato grading shed at Gask Farm, a few miles from Forfar.

The farmer, Robert Lumgair, remembers Jolanta, who also spent the first half of 2007 at the farm, as his star worker.

"She was a delight to employ. We had absolutely no problems with her at all.

"She'd get dropped off in the morning, usually in plenty of time. But if she was ever slightly late, or even when she was just on time, she would always run to her place. She couldn't help herself."

Mr Lumgair remembers the day he found out her body parts had been dumped in the sea at Arbroath.

"I went up to the farm at 1pm. There were tears from the other girls. Three of our men arrived. I've never seen three men stand aghast like they did. She was like one of the family."

In Zydaviskis, Jolanta's grandmother cries. "I always dream of her as a little girl with a white dress," she says.

Meanwhile, Ms Ginkeviciute holds on to memories: "What I most remember about Jolanta… I've never wanted to agree with it, but now I see she was so right.

"She kept telling me, 'Kristina, if you want anything in life, you can do it.' I was always arguing, 'How? If my mum doesn't let me go to the party, how can I do it?'

"Jolanta always replied, 'Then your wish is not strong enough. All is possible!'"


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Added: Feb-14-2009 Occurred On: Feb-14-2009
By: berlin_hamann
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Tags: uk, murder, woman, immigrant, rest, in, peace, jolanta
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