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Death of US-born socialite, arrest of spouse grab headlines in London

Flowers had been placed on a railing as a police officer stood guard outside the home of Eva Rausing in London.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Flowers had been placed on a railing as a police officer stood guard outside the home of Eva Rausing in London.

LONDON — In a story that is part parable of high-society travails and part a police mystery, investigators awaited the outcome Wednesday of tests to discover what killed US-born Eva Rausing, one of Britain’s richest women, after her body was discovered at her home and her husband arrested.

The tale — entwining ultrarich philanthropists, a history of drug abuse, and many unanswered questions — has seized British headlines since Monday. That was when Hans Kristian Rausing, 49, an heir to Tetra Pak, a multibillion-dollar global food packaging empire born of a milk carton, was arrested on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs. Hans Rausing had apparently been driving erratically in south London.

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When police searched the couple’s five-story mansion in the tony Chelsea district of London, they discovered the body of Eva Rausing, 48. It was not clear how long she had been dead.

The Daily Mail tabloid and other British newspapers said Wednesday that the body may have been in a bedroom for several days. Newspapers published what they said were recent photographs of the couple looking ‘‘drawn and disheveled.’’ An initial post-mortem examination Tuesday failed to establish a formal cause for the death.

Police officers were photographed Wednesday lugging boxes of forensic equipment through the porticoed entrance to the Rausings’ stuccoed home, while another officer stood guard.

“Officers from the Homicide and Serious Crime command are investigating, and the death continues to be treated at this time as unexplained,’’ a police statement said.

Hans and Eva Rausing met while they were in rehab 25 years ago and came to support many causes, including some associated with addiction. The BBC reported that Eva Rausing, the daughter of a wealthy US soft drinks executive, was connected to the international drug abuse prevention charity Mentor and that the couple financially supported the group Action on Addiction.

Four years ago, they gained notoriety when Eva Rausing was caught with crack cocaine and heroin in her purse as she entered the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to attend a reception.

At that time, according to court records quoted by The Press Association news agency, a police search of their home unearthed further stashes of crack cocaine, heroin, and cocaine.

The prosecution was later dropped and the Rausings were released with conditional cautions from police.

At the time, according to British news reports, Eva Rausing spoke of ‘‘the help that I very much need. I have made a grave error, and I consider myself to have taken a wrong turn in the course of my life.’’

While police have declined to formally identify the man they have arrested following the discovery of Eva Rausing’s death, her husband has been widely identified in press reports, and police have given details of the case in response to questions about him.

He was initially held in a south London police station but has since been moved to a medical facility.

A statement from Eva Rausing’s family said her parents, Tom and Nancy Kemeny, ‘‘along with all of their family are deeply saddened by the death of their beloved daughter, Eva Louise Rausing.’’

The elder Hans Rausing built up the Tetra Pak empire from a company his own father founded in 1944, manufacturing laminated cardboard cartons that enabled milk to be kept fresh without refrigeration, and then creating other lightweight, inexpensive packaging used across scores of nations, like drink boxes.

A Forbes Magazine profile in March 2012 listed Hans Rausing Sr. as No. 88 on a list of the world’s billionaires, with a fortune of some $10 billion. The profile said Hans Rausing sold his share of the business to his brother, Gad, for an estimated $7 billion in 1995, and to avoid punitive Swedish taxes, eventually moved to a 900-acre estate in rural East Sussex in southern England.

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