The sudden, fierce storm that hit the remote Tarn region of southern France seemed to Robert Lund like the perfect opportunity to murder his troublesome wife.
As rain poured down and gales knocked out phone lines, he killed Evelyn, 52, before pushing her Toyota 4×4, with her body inside, into a nearby lake.
For nearly two years, as police found no sign of her, he insisted she had run off to a friend’s house following a row at their isolated French farmhouse and never came back.
And when her body was finally found at the bottom of the lake, Lund continued to claim that her death on that dark, stormy night must have been a tragic accident, or suicide.
But it was precisely the sudden severe weather conditions that ended up finally snaring Lund, a new documentary about the case of the ‘body in the lake’ has revealed.
Investigators who worked first to find Evelyn, then to discover how she had died, have spoken for the first time about the case on the Missing Turns to Murder series, on the Crime+Discovery Channel.
And they revealed that the breakthrough in the case came when her friend, Marianne Ramsey, remembered helping Evelyn clean her glasses after she arrived at her house following an argument with her husband-of-12-years, as they had become wet and steamed up in the storm.
At first French police believed Lund’s claims she must have gone away to “clear her head” – until they searched his home and found the same glasses she had supposedly run off with still inside her handbag.
Evelyn, from Blackburn, Lancs, disappeared from the farmhouse where she had begun a new life with her second husband Lund, on December 29, 1999.
Detective Joseph de Conti, from France’s Gandarmes Nationale, remembers the moment, as police carried out extensive searches for Evelyn, that suspicions turned to Lund.
Lund had claimed his wife had stormed out and gone to Marianne’s home but that she had not returned after leaving her friend’s house and he hadn’t seen her again.
Det de Conti said: “It emerged from our interview with Marianne Ramset that Evelyn arrived wearing her glasses. She wouldn’t have been able to drive without her glasses.
“Significantly the glasses in question were found during a search of Lund’s house.
He said the discovery of her glasses and handbag was “the key thing that escalated the investigation.
“This ruled out the possibility of her going missing voluntarily. If she had planned to leave, obviously she would have taken her handbag, ID, bank cards etc.”
Evelyn’s daughter Patricia said: “They found her handbag was back in the farmhouse, along with the glasses which Marianne distinctly remembered, as she’d given her tissues to wipe them.”
Realising the find changed everything, Det de Conti said: “To be sure that these were the exact same glasses, they were shown to Mrs Ramsey, mixed in with a dozen other pairs of glasses.
“And she identified them at once as being Evelyn’s.”
Evelyn married former tree surgeon Lund in 1994.
Her first husband, Arthur, who was father to her two daughters and a successful businessman, had died three years earlier from cancer.
But her children weren’t happy about the relationship, feeling Robert was too happy spending their mother's money.
Daughter Patricia said: "He came into my mother’s life at a vulnerable time – Robert was motivated by money.
“He saw the pound signs, basically.
"When he met my mum he had credit cards and mum paid them all off. He was very good at spending my mum’s money."
The couple moved to France in 1997 to start a new life after finding an idyllic 400-year-old farmhouse in the quiet country village of Rayssac in Tarn, dubbed the ‘Tuscany of France’.
But it wasn’t long before their relationship began to fracture, with frequent arguments and occasions when Lund turned violent.
Days before she disappeared, she phoned a divorce lawyer in France.
Det de Conti said he noticed early on that Lund wasn’t acting in a normal way for someone whose wife had gone missing.
He said: “Lund only reported her disappearance three days later, on January 1.
“The weather conditions were bad at the time, there were lots of reason for him to worry about his wife not returning home but Lund didn’t seem concerned.
“His behaviour was strange. It seemed he was more worried about his car being missing than his wife.
“In our investigation we found out that life inside their relationship was not idyllic. There was evidence of violent arguments on more than one occasion.”
French police carried out an extensive search for her, scanning 200 lakes with thermal cameras and dragging 20 lakes using search divers.
Over 5,000 leaflets were distributed throughout the region, but all their investigations proved fruitless.
Evelyn’s sisters, who knew of her turbulent relationship with Lund, and her decision to divorce him, also grew suspicious.
Patricia said: “He was trying to get as much money as he could out of the bank accounts.
"We rang the bank up and stopped all the cards. He thought he could just sit there and access all the money.
“I remember him saying that after seven years she would officially be classed as being dead, and then he would automatically get everything.
“He was acting really irrationally. He told me he was going to cancel her car insurance, and I said, if she’s still out there driving that car you can’t cancel her car insurance.”
With all the evidence pointing to Lund, police arrested him on suspicion of murder, but continued to insist she left their house on her own.
After 36 hours of questioning they had no choice but to release him, and with French law at the time stating that without a body no-one could be charged with murder, Lund was convinced he would get away with it.
Meanwhile, Evelyn’s family back in the UK were in torment.
Patricia said: "We went through a rollercoaster of emotions, anger, frustration, terribly sad, trying to keep your lives going for your children.
“I can’t explain it. It was horrendous and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through it. The worse was not knowing, it had a toll on us all.”
It was in October 2001, 22 months after she went missing, that cyclists saw the roof of a car submerged in a lake after another freak weather event caused the water level to drop by 30 feet.
Evelyn’s body was found in the back of her red Toyota Landcruiser.
Daughter Patricia remembered: “It was all so surreal. We were holding on to false hope, although in my heart of hearts I knew.
"I was heartbroken because I new she was definitely never coming back.
“It sounds silly but I was just glad we’d actually found her. I couldn’t imagine going through the whole of my life not knowing.”
Det de Conti said: “The discovery of Evelyn’s body confirmed our suspicions that she had not vanished of her own free will. It seemed someone had caused her death.
We continued gathering as much evidence as possible to enable us to charge Robert Lund. We needed to be sure the charges would stick.”
Police took three years gathering evidence before finally charging Lund with murder.
It took another eight years for the case to go to court, in 2007.
During the week-long trial, the prosecution blew apart Lund’s claim that she hadn’t returned home after going to her friend’s home on the night she disappeared, or that she herself had driven her car into the lake.
Evelyn’s niece, Roisin, said: “There was hardly any water in her lungs, they believe she was either dead or unconscious when she was in the water.
"That speaks for itself, you can’t drive yourself into a lake when you’re unconscious.”
Patricia said: “She didn’t drive that car into the water.
“There was actually blood in her boots. If you bleed in water the blood would just disperse into the water, it wouldn’t settle into your shoes. So she’d actually bled before she went into the water.
“She was actually wearing different clothes when they found my mum to what she was wearing when she was at Marianne’s.
“Her welly boots were were actually on the wrong feet, as though somebody had put them on quickly.
“And her handbag was back in the farmhouse, with her glasses inside which Marianne remembered giving her tissues to wipe them.”
A jury found Lund guilty of manslaughter and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
He served nine years and was released in 2013.
Patricia said: “I don’t think it was long enough. He should’ve been convicted of murder and had a very long time,
“He killed my mum, and didn’t just destroy her life, he destroyed all those years she should have had with her grandchildren, they’ve been robbed too.
“But I’ve stopped being angry. Because it just destroys you. You’ve just got to move on.”
- When Missing Turns to Murder continues on CRIME+INVESTIGATION (Sky 156, Virgin 275, BT 328 and TalkTalk 328) Mondays at 9pm. The series is available on all catch up and on demand services.
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