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Alex Morgan, 23, was choked to death with a candle by a drug-crazed aristocrat on a Swiss ski trip

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Four years after Alex Morgan was bludgeoned and choked to death in a Swiss chalet by the playboy son of a wealthy aristocrat, his mother received an email from the office of the state prosecutor, asking if she would like his personal possessions back.

Katja Faber was confused. The bag Alex, 23, had packed for the ill-fated ski trip had already been returned to her.

His watch, passport and wallet had arrived, in plastic pouches with police numbers on them, which had been ‘pretty bloody tough’.

Katja, who had worked as a criminal barrister in London before Alex was born (‘and thank God for that,’ she says today), asked what items they meant. A list duly arrived.

She says: ‘I could not believe what I was reading. It listed all Alex’s clothes — jeans, shirt, underwear, and specified that they were all covered in blood.

‘Then at the bottom it said “a candle”. It specified how long the candle was. I had to look again. I sat there, looking at this list, thinking: “Am I seeing things? Am I going mad?” ’

It beggars belief. Alex, who attended prestigious Gordonstoun School in Scotland, had been the victim of the most brutal attack by his friend Bennet von Vertes, whose own impeccably connected family own an art gallery in Zurich.

Four years after Alex Morgan was bludgeoned and choked to death in a Swiss chalet by the playboy son of a wealthy aristocrat, his mother received an email from the office of the state prosecutor, asking if she would like his personal possessions back (Katja with Alex)

En route to a skiing trip, where he was due to meet his mother, on December 30, 2014, Alex had accepted the offer of a bed for the night in the von Vertes’ family chalet, in the exclusive enclave of Kusnacht, where residents include Tina Turner.

Following a debauched evening which included a drug-fuelled game of chess, they returned to the chalet, and it was here, in the drawing room overlooking Lake Zurich, that von Vertes, high on cocaine and ketamine, launched his frenzied attack.

Katja has never been able to stomach looking at the pictures that were offered as evidence in court, but unfortunately she knows every terrible forensic detail, down to the reach of the blood splatter.

Alex — much smaller than his friend, whom he had met at university in London — had his head caved in, was slashed with glass and beaten with a sculpture and a heavy candlestick. His injuries were so horrific that a closed coffin was required.

What killed him, however, was having the candle rammed down his throat, while being strangled. ‘And yes, this was the candle I was being asked if I wanted,’ says Katja. ‘Apparently, because it was found in him, it was deemed to be one of Alex’s possessions.’ She pauses, searching for words.

‘This is what you go through, you see, as the mother. This is the utter horror of it. And nothing can prepare you for it.’

There have been ‘countless’ times over the past seven and a half years that Katja, 58, has wondered if she has stumbled into a horror movie.

Alex, who attended prestigious Gordonstoun School in Scotland, had been the victim of the most brutal attack by his friend Bennet von Vertes (pictured)

Alex, who attended prestigious Gordonstoun School in Scotland, had been the victim of the most brutal attack by his friend Bennet von Vertes (pictured)

She tells me that two weeks after Alex’s funeral she received a bill from the company that had removed his body from the chalet. ‘I thought the State was responsible for these things, but apparently not.

‘They sent an itemised bill —to me — charging me for the plastic sheeting they had used to lay Alex’s body on. I remember lying down on my bed and I just cried. I thought: “I cannot do this.” ’ And yet she has. Katja was in court, again, this week, in Switzerland, in what she hopes is the ‘final, final’ bid to secure justice for her son.

She has been in and out of courtrooms since before the first trial in 2017, which saw von Vertes get 12-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted of intentional killing.

The trial was harrowing enough. Von Vertes was also found guilty of raping a woman in a London hotel. In Switzerland, defendants can be tried for unrelated offences at the same time.

On appeal in 2019, however, he had his conviction reduced after his lawyers successfully argued that his drug stupor had made him unaware of what he was doing.

En route to a skiing trip, where he was due to meet his mother, on December 30, 2014, Alex had accepted the offer of a bed for the night in the von Vertes’ family chalet (above), in the exclusive enclave of Kusnacht, where residents include Tina Turner

En route to a skiing trip, where he was due to meet his mother, on December 30, 2014, Alex had accepted the offer of a bed for the night in the von Vertes’ family chalet (above), in the exclusive enclave of Kusnacht, where residents include Tina Turner

He was given a three-year prison sentence, though he was released due to time served — on condition he entered a drug rehab unit.

Katja was distraught when she downloaded a brochure for the clinic. ‘Only in Switzerland would it have a glossy brochure,’ she says. ‘It looks like a spa, a lovely old building with cloisters and a beautiful garden.

‘I discovered that a couple of times a week he was attending art history lectures in Bern.’

She was also dumbfounded when the von Vertes family offered her 47,000 Swiss Francs (£39,000) to cover funeral costs and as ‘emotional compensation’ for her son’s death.

‘The reduced charges were saying that it was unfortunate Alex had died, but it really wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was ridiculous. Does this mean that anyone who is high on drugs, or alcohol, cannot be held accountable?’

The prosecution — on her insistence — launched a counter appeal, and on Tuesday, after a marathon battle, victory was hers. The original sentence was reimposed, with von Vertes found guilty.

It may still be that he can serve the rest of his sentence in the rehab unit, ‘but that’s not the most important part. The important thing is that I can call him a killer,’ insists Katja.

She says she ‘lost the plot, and started crying’ at the defence’s summing up.

‘The tactic they went for was to stress the awfulness of what had been done to Alex — the argument being that it was so depraved that Bennet mustn’t have been in control of his actions. But to have to listen to that in a sterile courtroom, with everyone in suits, artificial lighting, microphones . . .

‘They were talking about Alex as if he wasn’t a human being.

Alex wearing a Chelsea FC hat

A poster in memory of Alex Morgan with his date of birth and the day that he died accompanying the caption 'Let your feathers fly'

Alex wearing a Chelsea FC hat (left) and a poster in memory of Alex Morgan with his date of birth and the day that he died accompanying the caption ‘Let your feathers fly’

‘The problem with the justice system — and I am not just talking about Switzerland — is that it is not there to bring justice to the victim. It is there to impose the law. There is a difference.

‘The prosecutors were not representing Alex. They were representing the State.’

She was representing Alex, though. The most astonishing aspect of this awful story is the role Katja herself has played in the battle for justice for her son.

She not only prodded the prosecution lawyers to keep fighting, but engaged her own legal team, including (until he died last year) her barrister brother.

‘He was also called Alex, and they are buried in the same cemetery,’ she says.

She turned detective herself, poring over every piece of evidence she could get hold of, short of looking at the photographs of Alex. She even sat in as witnesses were giving statements. This, because of the vagaries of the Swiss system, brought her face-to-face with her son’s killer.

‘I had to sit three feet from him [von Vertes] in his cashmere jumper. His lawyers — he had three top lawyers — seemed to bring in everyone who had ever met him, including his manicurist.’ Every night, Katja would study the paperwork. Once, she tells me, she asked for her son’s socks to be sent for forensic examination.

Alex Morgan's LinkedIn profile picture. He wanted to become a businessman after graduating

Alex Morgan’s LinkedIn profile picture. He wanted to become a businessman after graduating

Why? ‘Because they were arguing that this had been a fight that got out of hand and there was a suggestion that Alex got to his feet again. I said there would be shards of glass on the socks if he had. They found no shards.’

Not only her legal training came into play, here. Money did, too. Although not in the super-rich league like the von Vertes family, Katja and her family are clearly wealthy. Alex’s father is a financier in London (the couple are divorced, although he too attended the trial). Katja, who has two other children, owns not just a home in Switzerland, but a farm in Spain.

She splits her time between the two. And yes, she shouldered legal costs that would be beyond most. She won’t be specific about her total spend, but says she sold an apartment to fund her legal fight and confirms we are talking hundreds of thousands of pounds.

‘The money isn’t important. You would give your last penny to fight for your children. I would give my kidney, but what about other people who do not have the means? I am 100 per cent convinced that if I hadn’t had a knowledge of the law and the financial means, we would not have got a guilty verdict.’

Alex Morgan was beaten to death with a one-metre long candlestick and a sculpture

Alex Morgan was beaten to death with a one-metre long candlestick and a sculpture

There are quirks to the Swiss legal system that make this case complex and unusual. There is also a simple reason why justice proved so elusive, says Katja: and again, that is money.

‘One of the things I found most upsetting in all this was being pitched against extreme wealth and entitlement. I’m am convinced that Bennet’s people, his family, thought we would just go away.

‘I don’t know if they thought Alex was an English kid who didn’t matter. But they underestimated the strength of a mother who has lost her son. And there is no way they could have known I was a lawyer. The combination made me a thorn in their side.’

Katja is certainly a formidable woman. The lawyer in her is meticulous, forensic, able to recollect dates and details. She worked for a while as a BBC journalist and has written about her grief.

That part of her is powerfully articulate. The farmer in her (she grows lemons and avocados) is practical and outdoorsy. But it is the mother part of her that howls loudest today.

Alex — ‘darling Alex’ — was her eldest son. She remembers everything, from the first time she felt him move when she was pregnant, to his first steps, and ‘how he loved Power Rangers, how he was scared of water, what a good skier he was’. Alex was clever, complex, dyslexic, witty, funny, she says, ‘and stubborn, like me’.

It was after Christmas 2014 that Alex had arranged to go and see his mother in Switzerland and go skiing with her.

Katja wasn’t at her apartment, however, because she was with her daughter, who was recovering from an operation, in Spain. ‘He’d lost his keys the previous November but it was no big deal because he was going to sleep on a friend’s sofa that night. I can see that the offer of kipping at Bennet’s would have been more attractive.’

After that, things are more blurry. She knows Alex and von Vertes had been at a friend’s house, playing that drug-fuelled chess game, before they hailed a taxi to go back to the von Vertes’ chalet.

Brit Alex Morgan pictured as a baby before he graduated from Gordonstoun school in Scotland 

Brit Alex Morgan pictured as a baby before he graduated from Gordonstoun school in Scotland 

More drugs were taken, washed down with fine wine. At some point in the early hours, von Vertes, a 6ft 5in kickboxer, hurled Alex against a coffee table, the glass top shattering. He used shards to stab him, then reached for a 4ft candelabra.

The onslaught was such that Alex’s skull was caved in and his facial bones shattered. After showering, von Vertes called the police saying, chillingly, ‘my finger is bleeding and my friend is dead’.

The news was broken to Katja by a police officer sent by Interpol. ‘There were two. I knew when I saw there was a woman officer, too. They always send a woman. She was so young. I screamed. You go mad. I apologised that she had to witness that.’

Katja’s first instinct was to run to her child. ‘I just wanted to get to him. I remember saying: “Oh my God, he will be cold, he is cold. I have to get him out of there.” I know it is irrational, but you cannot just turn that part of you off, the part that is always saying to your child: “Where is your coat?” ’

She’d wanted to stroke his hair, hug and kiss him, but due to the extent of his injuries, she eventually decided ‘Alex would not want me to see him like that, so every day until the funeral I just sat by the closed casket’.

She wrote the eulogy, cried with his friends, who brought white roses, and designed the headstone. Her two other children, both younger than Alex, gave her a reason to get out of bed.

‘My daughter and I slept in the same bed for months after Alex died. We both needed it. My son was only 12. He found it so hard. He kept thinking Alex was going to come back as a spirit. He became obsessed with martial arts. What if someone wanted to kill him?’

She does have sympathy for von Vertes’ mother, however, who was in court every day, too. ‘Once I actually went up to her. I hugged her. She said: “We have both lost our sons to drugs,” but at that point I walked away. She has not lost her son to drugs. She can see her son and hug him and make plans for the future. Whereas my son is in the cemetery.’

The lawyer in her knows the von Vertes family cannot be held accountable for what their son did. Yet the mother in her is struggling with this. Surely they must see, too, she argues, that their son should pay for what he did.

‘He was able to do whatever he wanted. He had all the cars, as many drugs as he wanted, which enabled behaviour that led to catastrophe. It was not their catastrophe, though, it was ours.’

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