When Missing Turns to Murder

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Evelyn Lund: murdered abroad

The terror felt when a loved one disappears can be outlined by a glimmer of hope: the hope that they’ll return, safe and sound. But, as time ticks away, the worst possible scenario can become ever more likely. When Missing Turns to Murder explores what happens in such cases, from the point of view of the bereaved as well as the detectives and experts involved.

One particularly complex case featured on the show is the murder of Evelyn Lund, who was an expat based in France at the time of her death. Her story casts a stark light on the problems which can face those who begin new lives in other countries – from a gnawing sense of isolation to the potential frustrations faced by relatives having to deal with the unfamiliar legal processes of another nation

Evelyn was a wealthy widow in her 40s, following the untimely death of her first husband, when she met Robert Lund, who at the time was scraping by an existence living in a caravan. ‘Robert was motivated by money,’ Evelyn’s daughter Patricia later said. ‘He saw the pound signs, basically… He was very good at spending mum’s money.’

When, in the late 90s, the couple announced they were upping sticks to the south of France, it seemed like Evelyn was all set to live the expat dream. But, behind the happy façade, things were already grim between them. Robert had long been abusive, both physically and emotionally. Indeed, on the night before their wedding a few years before, she swore to her daughter Patricia that Robert would never beat her again.

Secluded in a new country, Evelyn felt ever more isolated and alone. As Patricia has recounted, Robert’s behaviour took on aspects of coercive control – he cut away at her self esteem and autonomy, gutting her account of funds and making her do things like swim naked in front of their friends to humiliate her.

One day, in the final days of 1999, Evelyn visited a friend, one of the few people she confided in about her wreck of a marriage. After that meeting, Evelyn disappeared, with Robert reporting her missing some days later. The French police immediately suspected Robert of killing her, but – as the law in France made it impossible to charge someone with murder in the absence of a body – he had to be let go.

What followed was an agonizing period of uncertainty for Evelyn’s family, as they waited for news from another country. ‘It was the not knowing, it just had a toll on us,’ Patricia recalled.

It was two years later when the terrible revelation came. The roof of a car was spotted in a French lake, the water having reduced in volume due to the hot weather. The car contained Evelyn’s body, and – after several more years of evidence gathering and general legal bureaucracy, Robert Lund was jailed for his wife’s killing.

Would Evelyn’s fate have been a happier one if she’d remained in the UK? It’s impossible to say. Certainly, Robert Lund had been abusive before they began their lives as migrants, but it’s undeniable that Evelyn felt trapped and alone in a country where she knew hardly anybody, a long distance away from those who knew and loved her.

There are always inherent risks when beginning a new life in a new country, and different factors come into play when assessing such risks. Factors such as political stability of the host country, general crime levels, and how economically polarised the country is. If the economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is too great, wealthy expats may well be seen as vulnerable members of an elite group – rich pickings for criminals.

This has been the case in Jamaica, where almost 90 Americans, Canadians and Britons have been killed since 2012. Citizens going back to Jamaica after decades abroad have been particularly at risk: people who’ve returned to live out their retirement in their homeland, only to be targeted for the money they’ve accumulated abroad. According to a survey by HR consultancy firm Mercer, other hazardous parts of the world for migrants include Karachi, Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit.

Even in relatively safe places, problems can arise due to a clash of cultures between the victims of crime and the local authorities. The case of Madeleine McCann is probably the most notorious example of this, with animosity being directed towards Portuguese police for their alleged mishandling of the case. 

Issues can even arise in less serious confrontations. In 2017, a man called Leo Mendoza hit the headlines after he accused South Korean police of xenophobia when they were called to the scene of a fight that broke out between Mendoza and another person. Mendoza, who’d been living in South Korea for almost two decades, told the press that the police stood by and watched as he was racially abused. He later posted on social media that the police there ’never side with a foreigner against a fellow Korean’.

Do migrants really get treated differently in host countries? It’s reasonable to assume there may be some level of xenophobia in some cases. And even if there’s no malice or hostility, there may be a basic lack of mutual understanding that can complicate the aftermath of a crime. 

Of course, Evelyn Lund was targeted not be a person from her host country, but by her own husband, a fellow expat. Yet it’s fair to say she was put more at risk because she was isolated, far from her friends and family, in a place she didn’t know. Would she perhaps have freed herself from the toxic marriage if she’d had a support network around her? Perhaps. Her tragedy exemplifies the dark side of unfamiliarity, how an adventure can become a trap, and how important it is not to underestimate the difference between holidaying somewhere and moving there.