‘Money-obsessed’ multi-millionaire killed wife at East Devon home, then himself - inquest is told
PUBLISHED: 16:52 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 16:53 25 August 2017
Hearing in Exeter told retired stockbroker Michael Beck bludgeoned his sleeping wife to death in Dunkeswell after she demanded a divorce.
A ‘financially obsessed’ retired stockbroker bludgeoned his sleeping wife in the early hours of New Year’s Day after she demanded a divorce, an inquest heard.
Multi-millionaire Michael Beck then posted a confession letter to his family and disposed of the weapon before hanging himself in the barn at their £1.2 million farm rural retreat home, at Abbey Mill Farm, Dunkeswell.
Michael, 62, wrote in the letter to his sister Elizabeth and her husband: “By the time you read this I will have killed Nicola and killed myself.”
He apologised that the state of their marriage had to end in such ‘a grubby fashion’.
He wrote he had ‘spent my entire life fighting over money and cannot cope any more’.
He urged his family to carry out his recently-changed will to the letter, saying he wanted them to be ‘utterly ruthless, merciless and heartless’ as wife Nicola’s family ‘had been to me’.
He concluded the letter, which arrived on January 4, 2017, writing ‘thank God it’s over’.
The family said receiving the letter was like a ’bolt out of the blue’ leaving them in ‘deep shock’.
They alerted police, who discovered Michael hanging in the barn and Nicola, 52, dead in her darkened bedroom.
A coroner ruled that Nicola was unlawfully killed and Michael killed himself.
Assistant Devon coroner Lydia Brown told the hearing at County Hall in Exeter: “It would seem Michael was unable to contemplate a divorce, a commonplace social phenomenon.
“He was no way financially challenged, but it was his obvious financial obsession that was the motive for his wife’s brutal and merciless killing.”
Members of both families were at the inquest; the coroner said they had been ‘torn apart’ by the tragic and appalling incident, saying it was ‘incomprehensible that matters had ended like this’.
The inquest heard that childless Nicola felt unfulfilled in the marriage, the couple were leading separate lives. She said her husband had ‘seen off all her friends’.
But Michael said he still loved her and did not want to part. He told her ‘I very much hope and pray we will stay together’.
A post-mortem concluded that Nicola had died from a ‘massive injury to the left side of her head’ with 10 other scalp wounds.
The coroner said her brain had been ‘pulped’ and she died from blunt force head trauma, concluding she had been unlawfully killed.
Miss Brown said a heavy tool was used to kill her, but the weapon had not been found. She was found dead in bed and had not tried to fight back.
Michael died from hanging, said the pathologist.
The inquest heard that neither worked and they had no children.
Nicola was an acupuncturist and had hobbies including cooking, photography and painting.
She had opened her heart to a woman, a complete stranger, on a guided walk trip in February 2016.
Nicola said that ‘she needed to earn her own money and leave her husband’.
She said she had nowhere else to go and could not stay with family because ‘they were not interested in her’. She said she could not stay with friends because her husband had ‘seen them all off’.
She said Michael had money but she had no idea of the finances – even though they owned the Devon farm and their main house was a £2million property in Chelsea.
She complained that they ‘did not eat together at home’ and he gave her an allowance from his inherited fortune.
He paid for her to go on holiday to China. She said she could not ask him for any more money.
Nicola told her: “He is doing my head in.”
The walker said Nicola appeared nervous and she believed she was in an abusive and bullying relationship.
Nicola said she needed to do things to ‘make her life’.
A solicitor who met Michael in December 2016 to talk about divorce and separation, said he was ‘a measured man’ in an ‘okay marriage’ but his wife wanted a divorce – encouraged by her father.
She said Nicola was ‘a depressed and unfulfilled woman’, but he did not want to split up.
Michael hoped for a compromise – he to live in Devon, his wife live in their London property; he hoped for an ‘amicable outcome’, said the lawyer.
Michael changed his will shortly before he died.
Over Christmas, Nicola was in Ireland with her family, but did not discuss the state of her marriage, as she was a private person.
Michael stayed with his sister and brother-in-law and was an ‘unhappy man’ who wanted to save his marriage and discussed the ‘issues that were vexing him’.
In evidence, Mr Beck’s brother-in-law said Michael was not a violent man, but ‘a gentle man’.
He said: “He had a sort of hope in his heart that he could repair the damage. He was not a violent man, quite the opposite.
“He was not courageous in social interaction or dealing with issues. He would walk away from confrontation, he felt unequipped to deal with confrontation. Michael had no financial difficulties.”
Police said there was no evidence of third party involvement. The last contact with the Becks was in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
The investigating officer said Michael would have had blood-stained clothing, but it had been disposed of along with the weapon, possibly in a wheelie bin collected before police arrived at the farm, after Mr Beck’s family raised concern for the couple’s welfare.
The inquest heard Michael had left paperwork and keys in the farmhouse and put his affairs in order before killing himself.
An entry in Nicola’s electronic diary in mid-October read that she was distressed after telling him she wanted a divorce.
She said he was ‘upset’ and made lots of threats about ‘leaving me with bills’ and that she wouldn’t get 50 per cent of his wealth.
Writing to his wife, Mr Beck said the last few months had been ‘a rollercoaster’ and he had felt depressed and suicidal.
But he said he hoped that they had a future together, saying: “I still love you very much,” but adding that he could not face coming home to an empty house and ‘talking to the walls’.
Nicola’s father said she was a ‘very private and kind and caring person’, but she ‘could stand up for herself’ but was ‘not satisfied to do nothing’.
Family members told the inquest that infidelity had played no part in the martial break-up after they wed in 1991.