They were lavishly generous patrons of drug treatment charities who turned out to be drug addicts themselves, a glitteringly wealthy couple whose secret lives were exposed four years ago when the police caught them with thousands of dollars’ worth of crack cocaine and heroin.
At the time, the couple, Eva and Hans Rausing, pledged to turn their lives around. But it was not to be. On Monday, the lifeless body of Mrs. Rausing, 48, was found in an upstairs bedroom of their handsome Chelsea town house, soon after her 49-year-old husband was caught driving erratically and arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs. Mr. Rausing is currently receiving medical treatment while the police wait to question him.
An early post-mortem on Mrs. Rausing was inconclusive, and the authorities said they were awaiting the results of toxicology tests and did not yet know how she died. But reports in some British newspapers said that her body might have lain in the house for days before the police discovered it.
Mrs. Rausing’s death appears to be the sorry denouement of years of struggle in which, people who know the family say, she and her husband never managed to shake off their troubles, growing increasingly isolated from their families as addiction tightened its grip. In recent years, according to a person close to the family, they lost custody of their four children to one of Mr. Rausing’s sisters.
While Mrs. Rausing was once a patron of several high-profile drug charities, and Mr. Rausing was praised by Prince Charles as “a very special kind of philanthropist,” they had been seen less and less frequently in public. In photographs published in the British tabloids this week and said to be from the last few months, Mrs. Rausing looks thin and sad; Mr. Rausing, in a baseball cap and ill-fitting clothes, appears far away and disheveled.
“This has been an existing problem for a long time,” Liz Brewer, identified as a friend of Mrs. Rausing, told Sky News. “She was totally addicted, obviously, and was trying to get off it. I think the whole thing is a complete tragedy.”
Drugs, or the desire to overcome them, brought the couple together at a drug treatment facility in the United States more than 20 years ago. Mrs. Rausing, an American, came from money, too: her father, Tom Kemeny, a former Pepsi executive, owns houses in South Carolina, Barbados and London, according to reports in the British news media.
But the Kemeny fortune is nothing like the Rausings’, which has its roots in Sweden in the 1950s. That was when Hans Rausing Sr. built up the Tetra Pak empire from a company his own father founded, manufacturing specially shaped airtight cardboard cartons that enabled milk to be cheaply and hygienically distributed and stored. The company expanded to include other kinds of lightweight, inexpensive packaging for things like soup cartons and fruit drink boxes.
In March, Forbes magazine put Hans Rausing Sr. at No. 88 on a list of the world’s richest people, with a fortune of about $10 billion. The profile said that Mr. Rausing sold his share of the business to his brother, Gad, for an estimated $7 billion in 1995, and that to avoid punitive Swedish taxes had moved to a 900-acre estate in rural East Sussex in southern England.
Hans Kristian Rausing, or Hans K. as he is known in the family, is one of three children. He seems never to have had a serious job. As a young man, he went off on the so-called hippie trail to India and Katmandu while his sisters both pursued advanced academic degrees and devoted themselves to philanthropy. Lisbet, the oldest, runs a charitable trust called Arcadia with her husband; Sigrid, the middle child, distributes $30 million a year through her own trust and owns the literary magazine Granta and its publishing arm, Granta Books, as well as Portobello Books. Friends say that it is a given that her brother is very ill, and that she never refers to him except when she talks about raising his children.
“There’s absolutely nothing flashy or ostentatious about her at all,” said one publisher who knows her through the book world, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “She strikes you as someone who thinks very deeply about culture and is working hard not to be trivial.”
The Kemeny family said they were devastated by Mrs. Rausing’s death.
“In her short lifetime, she had a huge philanthropic impact, supporting a large number of charitable causes not only financially but using her own personal experiences,” her parents said in a statement. “She bravely fought her health issues for many years.”
Nick Barton, chief executive of Action on Addiction, where Mrs. Rausing worked as a trustee until 2003, said she had been a committed and engaged advocate.
“Eva worked tirelessly for years, without any desire for public recognition and despite her own health issues, to help people and charities in the addiction field through her wonderfully generous support,” he said in a statement.
Until four years ago, that was how Mrs. Rausing and her husband appeared to the public. But that all came crashing down in the summer of 2008. Looking through Mrs. Rausing’s purse as she went into a party at the American Embassy, guards found crack cocaine and heroin.
The discovery led to a search of the Rausings’ house, which unearthed more drugs — pure cocaine in addition to crack and heroin — said to be worth thousands of dollars. The Rausings were charged with drug possession, but the charges were later dropped amid a flurry of letters of support from charities and influential friends — and amid anger from people who said the couple had gotten off lightly because of their connections.
At the time, Mrs. Rausing vowed to do better.
“I have made a serious mistake, which I very much regret,” she said, standing on the doorstep of the house in which her body would be found four years later. “I consider myself to have taken a wrong turn in the course of my life. I am ashamed of my actions. I hope in due course to get back on track to become the person I truly want to be."
By SARAH LYALL/The New York Times