UNDER THE ILLUSION
Preacher’s Son and Magician on Trial for Deadly Plot to Seduce, Gaslight and Kill Elderly Author and Lonely Headmistress
The alleged victim, a retired author, said he felt like Shakespeare’s King Lear, who had been cognizant throughout his own mental breakdown.
On a bleak morning in the autumn of 2015, Peter Farquhar, a retired English professor and novelist, wrote in his journal that he feared he was spiraling into madness. The 66-year-old professor described his acute mental suffering as one of the worst days of his life. “I wanted to die,” he wrote in shaky cursive script on diary pages that were presented in a British courtroom this week. “I saw awful packs of hideous black insects.” He later confided in friends that he felt like Shakespeare’s King Lear, who had been cognizant throughout his own mental breakdown.
But what Farquhar didn’t know was that his 26-year-old live-in lover, Benjamin Field—who is now standing trial along with 31-year-old magician Martyn Smith for the professor’s murder—was doing some journaling of his own, chronicling how he gave the pensioner “drugs on toast.” Jurors heard that Field, a preacher’s son, also kept a precise list of messages he wrote and then wiped clean from the mirrors of the elderly man’s house to further cloud his state of mind.
On the morning Farquhar wrote that he wanted to die, Field had written that he had drugged the professor the night before with the hallucinogenic drug 2C-B, the effects of which had been amped up with a healthy dose of straight alcohol, according to the BBC. A few weeks later, in October 2015, Farquhar was found dead on his sofa with a bottle of spilled whiskey overturned on the floor.
The details of the sadistic manipulation Field and Smith allegedly carried out have been heard at a three-month trial that convened this week at Oxford Crown Court. The men also face charges of conspiracy to murder Ann Moore-Martin, described as “a fundamentally lonely” retired headmistress who lived two houses down from the not-exactly-nutty professor. She, too, was subject to the disappearing messages on her mirrors, many of which included Bible verses commanding her to leave her worldly possessions to Field.
The court was told that Farquhar met both men in 2011 when he guest lectured at the University of Buckingham, where they studied. Moore-Martin met the men through Farquhar, her neighbor one house down in the sleepy retirement community of Maids Moreton.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Oliver Saxby, told the court on Wednesday that the main suspects had “a profound fascination in controlling and manipulating and humiliating and killing.” A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office confirmed the details of the evidence to The Daily Beast.
In addition to murder and conspiracy to murder, the men are charged with targeting the two elder townspeople and manipulating them to change their wills to leave them property and money, which victims both did.
Authorities say Smith, a professional magician, was also found with a copy of the will of 99-year-old widow Elizabeth Zettl, who died before they were able to manipulate her.
Field and Smith have denied the murder of Farquhar and conspiracy to murder Moore-Martin, who died in 2017 at the age of 83. Field has admitted fraud by pretending to be in a “caring relationship” with the pair so that they would change their wills. He has also admitted burglary. Another man, Tom Field, 24, is also charged with fraud for pretending to need kidney dialysis, which Moore-Martin reportedly gave the men money to fund.
Field is accused of pretending to be gay to woo Farquhar, who had written at length in his journal about how he struggled with coming to terms with his sexuality. According to the evidence presented in court, Farquhar had written that he was deeply in love with Field and the relationship was cemented in a private betrothal ceremony in March 2014. “This is one of the happiest moments of my life,” Farquhar wrote in his journal that day. “Gone are the fears of dying alone.” The men bought a double bed as a gift to each other. Field also gave Farquhar porcelain figurines of the owl and the pussycat, evidently meant to signify that love can overcome even the oddest of couples.
The whole time Field was nuzzling up to the elderly professor, he was also engaged in a series of heterosexual relationships with women—all while allegedly seducing Moore-Martin next door with the help of Smith. The court was introduced to three of Field’s sexual partners who testified that they knew nothing of Field’s relationship with Farquhar or Moore-Martin. Extensive diaries that chronicle the men’s plans were found in the house of one of the women Field was sexually involved with.
The court was also told that Field is alleged to have shown Moore-Martin, who had never been married, a soft-porn video about an older woman who took her own life after experiencing raucous sex with a much younger man she could never date openly. “She spoke of them sharing a bed sometimes, of having a cuddle, of him occasionally being passionate,” prosecutor Saxy told the London court on Thursday. “He was hoping she might have a heart attack, presumably.”
The evidence presented in the case so far, reported by various British press outlets, shows how Field allegedly had made a list of potential ways to kill off the elderly woman, including “heart attack - electrical device, dehydration, stair, sex?, in the bath?”
The list also listed suggestions including that she might overdose on her medications next to a rather cryptic reference to the local church tower. Saxby also showed a glossary of terms Field and Smith are accused of using when they discussed the case. In it, the word “hammer” was used as a reference to Farquhar passing out and “poteen” referred to the pure alcohol they allegedly used to ramp up the effects of the hallucinogens infused in the professor’s chocolate bars and spread on his toast. “Strap” was the word suffocation, according to prosecutors, who noted there were also references to “Flurazepam chocolate” among the notes shown to the court.
Before the trial adjourned for the weekend, the jury was told that the men had engaged in gaslighting, described as “a form of psychological manipulation when the perpetrator sows seeds of doubt in the mind of the victim so the victim ends up doubting their memory and sanity.” Field, often with Smith at his side, continually told Farquhar that he had left his phone in the fridge or that he had left his keys outside. The jury heard that Field also wrote a decoy diary he knew Farquhar would read in which he chronicled fabricated notes about the professor’s fictitious ailing state of mind. Farquhar wrote at one point in his own diary that he no longer trusted Field after what he’d just read, but that he simply couldn’t survive in his worsening state without him.
The trial is expected to wrap up in 11 weeks. Field and Smith are both scheduled to testify in their own defense.