The earl, everyone agreed, liked the high life. But what he loved was falling in love. In the morning, the Earl of Shaftesbury often tossed down all the liquor in his hotel mini-bar in Cannes, the city on the French Riviera that's home to the world-famous film festival. In the evening, he hung around the city's shabbier bars, offering young women money to pay off their debts, magnums of champagne and promises of marriage. 'He was needy,' one barmaid says. 'He was a real money machine,' recalls another with affection. 'He was like a tramp,' says his brother-in-law. Then, suddenly, in early November 2004, the fun-seeking British lord disappeared. He failed to show up at his usual boozy haunts in Cannes. He no longer ordered up prostitutes from his favourite Swiss escort service. His aristocratic relatives could not find him. His latest mistress said he never followed through on his pledge to divorce his wife and marry her. It was not until five months after his disappearance that his badly decomposed body was found. It was at the bottom of a ravine, below the twisting roads that snake through the mountains above Cannes, far inland from the turquoise sparkle of the Mediterranean. His wife, a Tunisian-born former call girl, was charged with arranging for his murder to avoid divorce and being cut out of his will. Her brother was charged with strangling the 66-year-old playboy and dumping his corpse. They denied any plot and said the lord died, by accident, during an argument with the brother that turned into an alcohol- and drug-fuelled brawl. Their trial last month, which ended in their convictions, provided a titillating look inside the final years of the flamboyant British noble in all its grimy and glittery details. It was a story of sex, money, greed, deception and exploitation - all rolled into one in the life of the scion of one of Britain's most storied upper-class families. The family claims descent from William the Conqueror. But the title was created in 1672 for the first Earl of Shaftesbury, who is remembered as a political advocate of full rights for British Catholics. Another forebear, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, led a campaign in the 19th century to reduce the hours children could work in factories. All the title-holders carried the same name: Anthony Ashley-Cooper. And at first, the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, who was born in 1938, followed the path that was expected of an heir to such an old and landed fortune. He attended Eton and Oxford. He married twice and had two sons with his second wife. Along the way, he inherited his title from his grandfather because his own father, who had sowed his own bit of scandal for the family by marrying a French actress, had died when he was still a boy. Along with the title came a 3,600-hectare country estate in Dorset in southern England and another estate in Ireland. When he died, he had properties in Versailles, Ireland and the French Riviera. His duties seemed to bore him, and he rarely showed up in the House of Lords in London. He spoke French fluently and spent most of his time outside England. But after the death of his mother, according to testimony at the murder trial, the twice-divorced Lord Shaftesbury tilted sharply from mild flamboyance into full-blown eccentricity. 'There had been a deterioration in his outlook on life since about 1999, which we all believed was connected with the death of his mother,' Philip Rymer, the manager of the family estates, told the court. 'He was withdrawn, isolated and vulnerable. He was clearly unhappy.' He also was making a name for himself as a free-spending, heavily drinking bachelor who liked to party and was willing to pay for sex and female companionship. Catherine Gurtler, who ran a Swiss escort agency, said the lord was a regular customer of her agency, where her women charged Euro1,500 (HK$15,600) a night for their services. In February 2002, she said, he called and asked her to provide him with one of his regular escorts, a woman named Sophie. When Sophie turned out to be otherwise engaged that evening, Ms Gurtler sent him another 'professional', as she put it, who called herself Sarah but whose real name was Jamila M'Barek. The earl was pleased. Having apparently decided he was in love, he proposed to M'Barek, and they were married a short time later in the Netherlands. Lord Shaftesbury was generous, perhaps to a fault. When they married, he drew up a will granting his new wife an interest in property in Ireland valued at Euro7 million, luxury homes in southwest France and a monthly income of Euro7,000. On the witness stand last month, M'Barek denied she had married for money. 'I have always been well off,' she said. 'Marrying that unhappy man was a curse. Misery struck me when I married that unhappy man. God bless his soul.' Then she added, in answer to the unspoken charge of gold-digging, 'This trial is obsessed with money. Money, money, money. I'm fed up hearing about money.' The dead lord's British family and staff treated her declaration with open disdain, never once calling her the Countess of Shaftesbury, her title by marriage. 'One can't help but conclude that the companions he [the lord] found were more interested in his wealth than in him,' Mr Rymer said. 'Jamila, I do not believe that you ever loved my father,' added Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury's son. 'I believe that you are manipulative and scheming, and ultimately an evil person.' Ms Gurtler, the escort service owner, was even blunter. 'She's a bitch,' she said during a break in the trial. 'She never loved the lord. All she wanted was his money.' Then Ms Gurtler approached the earl's son and asked him to make good on a bounced cheque that his father had given her in February 2004. The cheque was for #1,279 (HK$19,650), which she said was his outstanding bill for call girls. The son, who is now the 11th Lord Shaftesbury, refused to give her the money. Later, in court, he suggested that whatever his father did, it was the fault of others who exploited his loneliness and chronic alcoholism. 'My father was a gentle soul who suffered from alcoholism and depression,' said Mr Ashley-Cooper. 'He would try to obtain affection by offering money and gifts beyond his capabilities. And my brother and I had to stand and watch as people took advantage of this and took advantage of my father.' The elder Lord Shaftesbury, in any case, was soon back to his old habits after his marriage. In April 2004, he met Nadia Orche, a 33-year-old cocktail waitress, in a Cannes bar. He invited her to dinner. Once again, he decided he was in love. He promised marriage. 'He was seduced by my values,' Ms Orche told the court in a breathless child-like voice. 'I was raised by the nuns.' The lord, she added, wanted nothing more than 'to start a family with a loyal, sincere woman ... he had a heart as big as a boat'. But before starting his next marital adventure, he first had to break free of his wife. The couple began acrimonious discussions over alimony and a settlement of property and cash. Lord Shaftesbury moved into a Hilton Hotel in Cannes, in what was reported to be a Euro148-a-night room. On the day he died - which was his second wedding anniversary - he went to his wife's apartment in Cannes to discuss the divorce. When he arrived, he found his brother-in-law, Mohammed M'Barek, was also there. They argued. Mohammed M'Barek told the court he grew angry when the earl seemed to shrink from his welcoming embrace. They fought and in the struggle, he added, he punched the elder man, who then collapsed. 'It happened in a minute,' he said. 'I did everything to save Anthony - mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, heart massage. It was too late. He had left us.' A week later, according to the French prosecutors, M'Barek transferred Euro100,000 to her brother's bank account. But they both denied they planned or intended to do away with the restless aristocrat. Mohammed M'Barek said they had, in fact, tried to save him from himself. 'When Jamila met Anthony, he was like a tramp, and she turned him into a man,' he declared. 'She stopped him taking cocaine. She loved him, while his family ignored him and showed him no love.' Before being thrown out of the courtroom for shouting at the assembled Shaftesbury relatives, he tried to turn the tables. 'We are not guilty,' he said. 'We are the victims. It's the Shaftesbury family who want the money.' The court found the brother and sister guilty. They were each sentenced to 25 years in prison. Their lawyer said he would file an appeal over the verdict. The dead lord's family said they would fight that appeal with all their resources.