'Lady in the Lake' trial: British victim had life insurance

14th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A French court heard Wednesday how the husband of a British woman found dead in a lake in France stands to profit from her life insurance if he is cleared of killing her.

Robert Lund, 59, is on trial in southern France for the third time, having appealed against his 2007 conviction for involuntary manslaughter in a case the press in his homeland have dubbed that of "The Lady in the Lake".

Lund reported his 52-year-old wife Evelyn missing on New Year's Day 2000, telling investigators he believed she had an accident after drinking heavily and setting off to visit friends in the picturesque rural Tarn region.

Her body was found in her car in nearby Lake Bancalie two years later when a drought lowered the water level. Lund was arrested and later sentenced to 12 years in jail. He lost his first appeal but is now trying again.

Hearings began on Monday with Lund again protesting his complete innocence. On Wednesday as the case continued, Judge Corinne Chassagne told the hearing: "We are looking for the motive."

Prosecutors think they may have found one.

In 1996, Evelyn Lund changed her life insurance to make her second husband the sole beneficiary, cutting out her three daughters, whom witnesses said she adored, and who have pushed for the conviction to be upheld.

Investigators taped a call between Lund and his brother in which he said that he was pushing as hard as he could to be acquitted because "that's the only way... to get the life insurance and inheritance."

The defence argues that Lund could still be innocent and strongly want to clear his name without a financial motive, but the court heard much evidence that their rural idyll far from their homeland had turned ugly.

The Lunds moved to the Tarn region, home to a large British expatriate community, in 1997, and rebuilt a farmhouse in the village of Rayssac.

Lund was popular. He learned French and was a member of the village fete committee, and a local pressure group formed to support him after his arrest.

But Evelyn did not learn French and did not fit in so well. She became depressed and may have turned to drink.

"She did not hate the environment," the victim's 42-year-old daughter Patricia Taylor said. "She was unhappy because she missed her family. It was a beautiful place but she was lonely."

Her younger daughter Victoria Taylor, 34, agreed: "She was in an unhappy marriage basically. If he had made her happy perhaps things would have been different."

And the victim's brother, 46-year-old Gerard Wilkinson, said Lund was a bad husband who made Evelyn feel trapped.

"She hated the situation she was in, the way he treated her," he said. "The way he treated her was making her unhappy and she felt trapped."

"Evelyn had clearly stated she wanted her ashes to be scattered on her first husband's grave in Burnley but he wanted to bury her somewhere in France," he told the court.

Lund admitted that his wife was the main source of the couple's revenue. The pair largely lived off her inheritance from her first marriage, while selling the occasional goat or basket of eggs from their smallholding.

But he insisted this was no reason to kill her, as he could just have easily returned to northwest England to restart his career as a forester.

"The reason my wife changed her testament is the reason my wife changed her testament," he said in frustration when asked why his wife had changed her life insurance policy. "She maintained her privacy as far as her money went".

Lund's lawyer, Apollinaire Legros-Gimbert, had argued earlier in the week that there were enough uncertainties in the case, including over the cause of Evelyn's death, to raise hopes of an acquittal.

Legros-Gimbert admitted that his client was taking a risk with the new trial as he could be found guilty on the more serious charge of murder and face longer in prison.

He said the fact Lund was willing to take that risk was evidence of his innocence.

The case continues.

© 2011 AFP

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