Britain: The Good Life

  • Share
  • Read Later

Death in the fast lane

A gruesome murder and a lucky tip, a pretty American victim and a jet-setting suspect from a dazzlingly wealthy British family. The case could have been a thriller co-written by Agatha Christie and Evelyn Waugh. It began three weeks ago when a motorist in a lonely part of Exeter Forest stumbled upon a headless, bullet-ridden, badly decomposed corpse. Police eventually determined that the victim's beige cotton T shirt had been made in Morocco and her pink polyester shorts purchased in San Francisco. Then they received a call from an informed source suggesting that those clothes might belong to California-born Monika Zumsteg Telling, 27, the wife of an affluent member of British high society, Michael Telling, 33. Last week police descended upon the couple's rustic Buckinghamshire hideaway and charged Telling with murder. They also found the victim's head stashed in the garage.

Michael Telling was vacationing in California two years ago when he first met Monika, a petite, brown-haired graduate of the College of San Mateo. Within seven months they were married and took up residence in Britain. But Monika, described by a former high school teacher as "shy and withdrawn," apparently grew weary of her new life of darts at the local pub, golf at the club and loud parties at home. Indeed, she dropped out of sight last March, and police speculate that she may have been killed shortly afterward.

Although described as "nonemployed," Telling is hardly on the dole. His mother is a member of the Vestey family, one of the wealthiest old-money clans in the land. The Vesteys have interests in shipping, insurance, refrigeration and real estate worth an estimated $1.5 billion. Telling's second cousin, Lord Samuel Vestey, 42 (known as "Spam" after the familiar product of a family meat-packing firm), is a polo-playing pal of Prince Charles. Michael has never officially been employed by the Vesteys, but it seems likely that he was well supported by a family trust fund. Following Telling's arrest, some of the Vesteys were quick to point out, as a spokesman put it, that he "was not a close member of the family."

This is not the Vesteys' first uneasy appearance in the headlines. An alert tax inspector in 1980 discovered that one major family firm had paid all of $15 in taxes in one year, which set off a public outcry and forced the Chancellor of the Exchequer to propose legal amendments. Meanwhile, Telling remains in custody in Exeter, awaiting his trial.