April 13, 2005 -- Lord Shaftesbury led a playboy lifestyle -- he was known for his generosity and love of busty waitresses -- but it was apparently a $10,000 monthly allowance for his estranged third wife that led to his gruesome slaying.
Five months after his disappearance, the dismembered body of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, was found in the woods near Cannes along the French Riviera, less than 10 miles from his home. His third wife and her brother are currently awaiting trial for murder.
Aristocrat by day, party animal at night, Lord Shaftesbury would trade in the pomp of his English upbringing and his shetland sweaters for unbuttoned linen shirts and funky red glasses when he came to the Riviera.
"He was a tall, full-frame, distinguished man who always wore tailored clothing, and at night he'd spice it up with extravagant outfits," said his lawyer, Thierry Bensaude, in a phone interview from his office in Nice, 20 miles northeast of Cannes.
The 66-year-old earl divided his time between Britain and France where he had multiple homes and just as many girlfriends.
Ashley-Cooper was last seen with his third wife, Jamila M'Barek. The 43-year-old, Tunisian-born, former nightclub hostess wanted to hash out the details of her monthly allowance. The slim, tall blonde was living in their Cannes apartment while her estranged husband hung out at a luxury hotel.
M'Barek had blamed Ashley-Cooper's serial womanizing for their split. At the time, the earl was supporting two other women in fancy digs on the Cote d'Azur.
The earl's family expected him at London's Heathrow airport about a week after that meeting, although no one was surprised that he never boarded his flight. Ashley-Cooper liked his freedom and did as he pleased. But on Nov. 16 -- six days after he was expected in London -- his lawyer alerted the authorities as well as his family.
"The earl kept me informed of his whereabouts but when his sister told me she hadn't heard from him either, I knew something was wrong," said Bensaude.
The earl's second wife and his two sons had not heard from him either, and his current girlfriend, Nadia Orch, 32, a nightclub hostess, also began to worry. Orch told police that Ashley-Cooper had promised to marry her once he divorced his estranged wife.
Police from France and the United Kingdom began a search. Each time they questioned M'Barek, she claimed she saw her husband the day he vanished when they had an argument over their divorce.
Friends, who were convinced Ashley-Cooper was trying to save escort girls by lavishing them with gifts, believed his disappearance was connected to gangsters. The earl's family, meanwhile, was concerned that his third wife was getting money hungry, but didn't suspect her at all of foul play.
A Privileged Life
The earl, a member of the British Butterfly Conservation Society and a former chairman of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, was fascinated by the seedy world of hostess lounges on the Riviera.
Educated at Eton and Oxford, he inherited his title from his grandfather when he was 22, along with the family seat in Wimborne, in southwest England, and its 9,000-acre estate. The earl also owned a Georgian seafront flat in Brighton, England, and a lavish London residence.
In France, besides the Cannes apartment, he owned a renovated windmill near Toulouse and rented a posh Versailles apartment with $3.5 million in furniture. The earl's second wife tried to freeze his assets after the earl complained to his lawyer that top-notch antiques had disappeared without an apparent break-in.
"The earl suspected someone in his third wife's circle of the crime and he was trying to solve it," said Bensaude.
More than three months later, the police still had not found Ashley-Cooper's body. They had enough evidence, however, to arrest M'Barek on suspicion of murder.
M'Barek's denials had started to crumble. This time, she allegedly told police that her brother killed Ashley-Cooper at her home in Cannes then dumped his body on his way home to Munich, Germany.
She said a fight ensued after Lord Shaftesbury said he was cutting off her $10,000 monthly allowance and that he was taking back the Cannes and Toulouse properties.
Mohammed M'Barek, 40, was extradited to France after being charged with murder. Both brother and sister deny any wrongdoing and await a trial in Grasse, 10 miles north of Cannes.
Jamila M'Barek's lawyer, Franck De Vita, insists she was a witness not an accomplice.
"My client happened to be there when a fight took place between her husband and her brother which degenerated into murder," De Vita said in a phone interview. "She had no motive for murder."
What About the Body?
Police dispatched from Nice combed the area. They discovered the earl's decomposing body in a valley close to Cannes on April 5 -- exactly five months after his disappearance. According to reports, officers tracked down the remains using a signal from the earl's dormant cell phone. Bensaude said police actually pinpointed the location analyzing Mohammed M'Barek's cell phone records from the night of the slaying.
"At last the family's anguish is over," said the earl's sister, Lady Frances Ashley-Cooper. She told the English newspaper The Express that the discovery of her brother's body would help the investigation and put to rest ongoing doubts about the disappearance. "It means we can give him the proper burial he deserves."