LONDON (Reuters) - A millionaire philanthropist, she mixed with European royalty and counted Britain’s Prince Charles among her acquaintances.
But her American youth had been marred by drug abuse and when, as a middle-aged mother of four, she was caught smuggling crack cocaine in her handbag into an embassy function, it was clear Eva Rausing was leading a double life.
That life ended in tragedy when she was found dead, aged 48, in her London mansion on Monday, after her husband was arrested for drug offences. He may have lived with her body for days.
The six-storey, white-stucco townhouse on Cadogan Place, one of the city’s most desirable addresses, was cordoned off with blue and white tape on Wednesday as detectives came and went, watched by journalists. “Police Line,” it read. “Do Not Cross”
It was an unusual scene for a well-tended garden square in exclusive Belgravia, and one that symbolized the fracture at the heart of Eva Rausing’s privileged life.
She and her husband, Hans Kristian Rausing, 49, an heir to the Tetra Pak packaging fortune, enjoyed a life of leisure and luxury open only to the very, very rich.
Hans Kristian’s Swedish grandfather Ruben invented the now ubiquitous foil-lined drinks carton after his wife complained about heavy glass milk bottles. Ruben’s sons, Hans and Gad, turned their father’s firm into a global empire worth billions.
Hans Rausing took his wife, two daughters and only son to England three decades ago to avoid high Swedish inheritance tax and, at 86, is said by Forbes to be the 88th richest person on the planet with assets estimated at $10 billion.
But for all their wealth, Hans Kristian and his American wife, who first met at a U.S. drugs rehab clinic in the early 1990s, could not shake off their problems with addiction.
Hans Kristian was arrested on Monday on suspicion of drugs possession after driving his car erratically. When police later searched the couple’s house they found Eva’s body in a bedroom. Hans Kristian is under arrest and receiving medical treatment.
British media, apparently citing police sources, said his wife may have lain dead in the house for a week or more. Police officially neither confirmed nor denied that the 49-year-old man they say they are holding is Hans Kristian Rausing.
The couple have four children, all under 18.
Photographs of the Rausings arm in arm and smiling at society parties, and one of a laughing Eva in a bright pink dress and sunglasses with her blond hair tousled, appeared in the British newspapers after her death was announced.
In a poignant juxtaposition, a more recent snapshot showed a gaunt and frowning Eva, while another showed her husband hunched forward and scruffily dressed. Both look older than their age.
Eva Rausing’s death was met with an outpouring of emotion from charities to which she had donated millions of pounds over the years, including many involved in the fight against drugs.
“I was absolutely devastated and shocked,” said Nick Barton, chief executive of Action on Addiction, who knew her.
He described her as engaging and conscientious in her work as a trustee of the charity, whose patron is the Duchess of Cambridge, wife of second in line to the throne, Prince William. Barton said he had never noticed signs of Rausing’s own problem with addiction, but said that was not surprising.
“I think sometimes, some people who suffer from the condition get tarred with a particular brush and we forget that they are human beings with talents and intelligence and generosity, much like other people but who just suffer from a particular condition,” he said.
The Rausings’ philanthropy had led them into the most rarefied of social circles. They had donated to one of Prince Charles’s charities and were known to the heir to the throne, who said he was “saddened” by the news.
It was not, however, the first time the Rausings had come to the attention of British police, and newspapers, over drugs.
Four years ago, Eva Rausing was stopped on her way into a reception at the heavily protected U.S. Embassy. In her bag, along with heroin and a banned stimulant, was crack cocaine, the “ghetto drug” normally associated with the poorest of addicts.
More drugs, including cocaine, were found in her car and at the Cadogan Place house. Charges were dropped and she issued a contrite statement promising to seek help and saying “I consider myself to have taken a wrong turn in the course of my life.”
Her husband could probably have said the same, according to Peter Andersson, a Swedish journalist and co-author of “Tetra - The History of the Rausing Dynasty”.
He told Reuters that Hans Kristian and his two sisters grew up in Sweden without extravagances as their father wanted to ground them in strong values unadulterated by extreme wealth.
The siblings did not wish to spend their lives working for the family company so Hans sold his share of it to his brother in the 1990s and Hans Kristian has never been involved.
“He has never had a job in his life,” said Andersson, adding that the young man had studied for a year but never graduated.
“Instead, he went off to India to find himself. He came back from there seriously ravaged by drugs. We are talking 1986 or 1987. What he did in India is wrapped in mystery, but he came back as a serious drug addict.”
It was after that Indian journey that Hans Kristian went into rehab and met Eva, daughter of American businessman Tom Kemeny. He and his wife Nancy Kemeny described her in a statement on her death as “a devoted wife for 20 years and mother of four much-loved and wonderful children.
“She bravely fought her health issues for many years.”
Those battles she once described herself as falling into a “hole”: a posting on the social networking site Myspace, apparently written by Eva Rausing in the year or two before her run-in with the U.S. embassy security, reads:
“I fell back into the same hole as before and have been there for nearly 7 years.
“I once read that I would have 7 bad years,” she said, before ending the post on a note of hope that turned out to be misplaced. “I’m hoping for 7 good years, starting 2007.”
Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Alastair Macdonald