Death of an Heiress

Dead Heiress Eva Rausing and Husband Hans Kristian Battled Addiction

The dead heiress and her billionaire husband battled dark demons.

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The glamorous couple had been photographed countless times as they glided through the glittering world of British high society. In recent months, though, tabloid images of Eva and Hans Kristian Rausing—one of Britain’s richest duos and noted philanthropists—seemed to show that the Swedish billionaire and his American-born wife had turned into haunting shells of their former selves. The photos provide grim evidence of a startling fall from grace that reached a crescendo yesterday when Eva was found dead in a bedroom of the couple’s five-story London mansion.

So far, Scotland Yard has said that Rausing’s initial autopsy proved inconclusive as to the cause of death, and that her demise “continues to be treated … as unexplained.” But reports are circulating that Hans Kristian was arrested and questioned in connection with the death, and that Rausing’s body may have mouldered for days before police discovered it. According to the British media, the Rausing home was searched after a 49-year-old man--presumed to be Hans Kristian—was arrested in south London on suspicion of drug possession, after being stopped for erratic driving. He was reportedly rearrested after Eva’s body was found, and authorities have said he was sent to an undisclosed medical facility for treatment.

Now, details from the couple’s painful, and often very public, history with addiction are being scrutinized anew. Addiction had defined the Rausing’s relationship from the start—they met at an American drug rehabilitation clinic in the 1980s. She was the daughter of Tom Kemeny, a millionaire South Carolina Pepsi executive; he, the heir to the vast fortune of the Swedish Tetra Pak empire, which manufactures food cartons. (His grandfather has been credited with inventing the modern paper milk carton.) Before long, the two had married and moved to Britain, where they made a splash as major philanthropic patrons and topped the country’s who’s who list of its super-rich. In the annual Sunday Times rich list last year, the Rausing family was ranked 12th, and its Tetra Pak fortune estimated at close to $7 billion. In March, Forbes ranked Hans Kristian’s father as the world’s 88th-richest person—though, according to the Daily Telegraph, Hans Kristian was no longer involved in the Tetra Pak business.

After moving to Britain, Eva’s charity efforts included a considerable investment in battling addiction. She was a patron of the prevention charity Mentor, and also provided deep financial backing, along with her husband, to Action on Addiction, which targets young addicts. (Kate Middleton is also a co-patron.) The couple was also reportedly close to Prince Charles and involved with his charitable efforts as well. “During her short lifetime [Eva] made a huge philanthropic impact, supporting a large number of charitable causes, not only financially, but using personal experiences,” said a statement from her family today.

But the Rausings—parents to four children, now aged 11 to 17—continued to battle drug problems of their own. In April 2008, the couple was arrested after an incident at the American embassy in London, where a routine security search turned up crack and heroin in Eva’s bag. A subsequent police search of the Rausing home turned up more than 50 grams of cocaine, as well as anti-anxiety drugs in Eva’s car. Both received charges for possession, which were later dropped with conditional cautions. “I have made a grave error, and consider myself to have taken a wrong turn in the course of my life,” Eva said at the time from the steps of her home.

Eva “bravely fought her health issues for many years,” said Hans Kristian’s parents in a statement released today, who added that the family is “deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic death of their daughter-in-law.”

Now, detectives at Scotland Yard are poring through footage from security cameras at the Georgian home and questioning the many staff members who worked there. Scotland Yard has declined to comment on the death, but U.K. media reports said an overdose was suspected—but difficult to determine due to the state of Rausing’s body.