Murder accused Donald Graham got his new girlfriend and his wife to pretend to be his dead lover in order to help fleece her wealthy parents, a court heard.
Jurors were yesterday told that Ferrari-driving Graham admitted 18 fraud offences against Hexham heiress Janet Brown and her family.
Prosecutors say he got his new lover, Elizabeth Todd, and his wife, to help with the scam by making phone calls and writing letters pretending to be Janet.
He even planned to get one of them to pose as the dead woman at a solicitors’ office, in order to get his hands on her parents’ farm in Hexham.
Janet, 45, “disappeared off the face of the earth” in 2005 and although her body has never been found, Graham is alleged to have murdered her for her money.
He admits draining the accounts of the wealthy property developer, then those of her elderly parents, Eric and Olive, in an “audacious fraud”, but he denies murder.
When all that remained of the assets of Mr and Mrs Brown after they died was their home at Plane Trees Farm, Lowgate, Hexham, Graham tried to get his hands on that too, the jury heard.
Robert Smith QC, prosecuting, said Graham got his wife, Denise, to make a phone call to a solicitor, against her will, pretending to be Janet.
And he said he planned to get his wife or his co-accused Todd, 51, to visit the solicitors and pose as Janet, who had vanished some five years earlier.
Mr Smith said: “It’s clear Donald Graham was planning to use the services of either Elizabeth Todd or his own wife to enter the offices and pretend to be Janet Brown, in the role of executor of Eric Brown’s will, in order to authorise the transfer of Plane Trees Farm to him.”
Graham also allegedly told his wife he had seen Janet since her disappearance. Mr Smith said: “He said she was now wearing glasses. It’s significant that Elizabeth Todd wears glasses.”
Mr Smith said 59-year-old Graham, must have been confident Janet was dead when he set about taking her assets.
He even installed a tenant at the farm and sold all Janet’s cars, including a Porsche.
Mr Smith added: “Donald Graham has appropriated Janet Brown’s assets, sold her motor cars, falsified her name and signature on various documents.
“This course of conduct has followed her disappearance and demonstrates he was aware he could act in such a manner with impunity, because there was no risk she would reappear.”
The court heard Todd allegedly helped Graham forge Mr Brown’s will, which Todd wrote out while Graham faked Mr Brown’s signature.
They changed it so that everything would be left to Graham, rather than Janet.
Todd also wrote a letter to a building society purporting to be Janet.
Police first arrested Graham in 2010 in relation to the fraud after the building society became suspicious that money was still being taken out of Mr Brown’s account after his death.
But Janet, who had in the past gone on holiday to Europe alone, had not been reported missing and police were unaware, at that stage, that they were investigating a possible murder.
Graham claimed to be the executor of Mr Brown’s will and allegedly told police a “tissue of lies” about Janet working in merchant banking on the continent.
He told officers that Janet had been home for Christmas and came back from the continent from time to time.
The court heard Graham, of Elsdon Avenue, Seaton Delaval, was bailed then took steps to make other people believe Janet was still alive.
He allegedly got Todd to ring a care home in Hexham, where he knew one of Janet’s friends worked, pretending to be Janet.
CCTV shows Todd turning up at a shop in one of Graham’s cars, an Alfa Romeo Spider, and topping up the pay as you go phone used for the call.
Graham was re-arrested in December 2010, by which time the police were focusing on Janet’s disappearance.
Mr Smith said: “He maintained Janet was alive. He told many lies. He claimed Eric Brown had left him everything.”
Referring to the guilty pleas to fraud, Mr Smith added: “Those pleas provide the clearest proof of a motive for the murder of Janet Brown.”
Graham, who denies murder, and Todd, who is not charged over the killing, deny a joint charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Todd, of Elsdon Avenue, Seaton Delaval, also denies forgery and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Graham’s wife Denise is not charged with any offence.
The trial, expected to last around eight weeks, continues on Monday.