This vile picture is my son's 'catch me if you can' killer laughing at the law. He's jetsetting around the world and feels no remorse for murdering my boy by ramming a candle down his throat

  • Post category:news
  • Reading time:12 min(s) read
Movie channels                     Music channels                     Sport channels

The image shows a tanned young man, naked from the waist up and with the slicked back hair of someone who looks as if he has recently exited a swimming pool.

He is staring pointedly into his phone camera, chunky silver chains on his left wrist just visible, but there’s no mistaking the defiantly raised middle finger that’s the focus of the selfie.

Katja Faber had a visceral reaction when she saw it. She felt sick. For less than ten years ago her son was killed by the man in the image, ­aristocratic playboy Bennet von Vertes.

‘He’s goading us. He’s saying “Up yours” to everyone, isn’t he?’ says Katja, the mother of Alex Morgan, who was bludgeoned to death aged 23 by von Vertes while heading to a skiing holiday in Switzerland.

‘I accept that I will be projecting my own ­feelings on to that image but what else can he be saying? It’s breathtaking. There is a ­condescension, an utter arrogance about it.

Aristocratic playboy Bennet von Vertes bludgeoned Alex Morgan to death in December 2014

Aristocratic playboy Bennet von Vertes bludgeoned Alex Morgan to death in December 2014

‘But I’m afraid it does reflect what I have feared all along. This is a person — a convicted killer — who has never taken responsibility for his crimes, who has shown no remorse and simply doesn’t seem to understand that he has destroyed so many lives, not just Alex’s.

‘To see him, free — and literally putting a finger up to the world, is … well, I just didn’t know what to do when I saw it.’

Lest there be any doubt about what von Vertes, now 39, meant with that image, the line on his Instagram profile page provided clarity. ‘Catch me if you can’ it reads, with its echoes of the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio film about a fraudster on the run, toying with his victims.

Katja finds that utterly chilling.

‘Is that a challenge?’ she asks. ‘Is he really jetting around the world, boasting about how no one can touch him now?’

The death of Katja’s son Alex, a former pupil at King Charles’s old school Gordonstoun, was beyond brutal, somehow rendered even more shocking because of the ­luxurious Swiss setting in which it happened.

Alex and von Vertes met while studying in London. Both were from very affluent families — ‘but Bennet’s family wealth was in another league,’ says Katja. She is divorced from Alex’s father, a ­financier in London.

Back in December 2014, Alex travelled to Switzerland where Katja had an apartment, planning to join her on a skiing break. He never got there.

En route he met up with his ‘friend’ Bennet and accepted the offer of a bed for the night in the von Vertes family’s opulent villa in the exclusive enclave of Kusnacht, where residents at the time included Tina Turner.

Katja Faber with her son, who died from having a candle rammed down his throat while being strangled in Switzerland

Katja Faber with her son, who died from having a candle rammed down his throat while being strangled in Switzerland

Following a high-spirited evening which included a drug-fuelled game of chess, the pair returned to the villa, and it was here, in the drawing room overlooking Lake Zurich, that von Vertes, high on cocaine and ketamine, set upon his friend.

Alex — 5ft 8in to von Vertes’s 6ft 5in — had his head caved in, was slashed with glass and beaten with a sculpture and a heavy ­candlestick. His injuries were so horrific — 50 in total were documented in the police report — that a closed coffin was required.

What killed him, however, was having the candle rammed down his throat, while being strangled.

It was Katja — a former lawyer, who had practised in London — who fought the most extraordinary battle to have von Vertes brought to justice, getting to grips with the vagaries of the Swiss ­justice system.

At various points she had to turn detective, offering up evidence herself to push the legal case through. ‘I dread to think what would have happened if I did not have a background as a criminal lawyer,’ she says.

Or if she had not had deep ­pockets to fund her own legal fight. ‘I had the means to fight tooth and nail. If I hadn’t, I don’t think we would have got a ­conviction at all.’

I first interviewed Katja, who has two other children, in 2022 and she related the nightmare of what she and her family have had to endure, even above and beyond the loss of her beloved Alex.

After the police investigation, the state prosecutor wanted to return his belongings — including, to her utter horror, the candle that had been removed from his throat. Because it was found in his body, it was deemed one of his possessions. She said ‘No.’

Alex Morgan, pictured as a child in a party hat, was a pupil at King Charles's old school Gordonstoun, in Elgin, Scotland

Alex Morgan, pictured as a child in a party hat, was a pupil at King Charles’s old school Gordonstoun, in Elgin, Scotland

She also had to fight the Swiss authorities when she was billed for the plastic sheeting that was used to remove his body from the villa where he died.

In 2017, von Vertes was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison, convicted of intentional killing. He 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.

However, on appeal in 2019, his lawyers (‘and he had the best’) successfully argued that von Vertes’s drug-fuelled stupor had made him unaware of his actions.

They argued that von Vertes had thought Alex was an alien, and his sentence was reduced to just three years.

As a result, he was released to a rehab ‘facility’, which Katja was distraught to discover was ‘more like a luxury spa’.

‘It had cloisters,’ she recalls. ‘And even a glossy brochure. When he was there he got to attend art history lectures, allowed out to the University of Bern. I was astounded by that.’

She fought back, engaging her own legal team, which has to date left her out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. In 2022, she and the State ­Prosecutor counter-appealed, and won. The original sentence was reimposed, although von Vertes remained at the rehab unit.

‘For reasons I still do not know, he was not returned to prison,’ she says. ‘But the important thing was that I got to call him what he was, and is: a convicted killer.’

During the first trial it was also established that von Vertes — who had driven a Porsche, and offered character witness evidence from his manicurist — should cover part of Katja’s legal costs to the tune of 130,000 Swiss Francs (around £116,000). He was also ordered to pay 20,000 (£17,800) in emotional damage for taking Alex’s life.

A similar sum for emotional damage was due to his rape ­victim. The rape victim specified that she would like her payment to go directly to the charity Medecins sans Frontières.

Katja was distraught to discover that von Vertes was released from prison to a rehab facility that was 'more like a luxury spa'

Katja was distraught to discover that von Vertes was released from prison to a rehab facility that was ‘more like a luxury spa’

Yet, von Vertes’s lawyers argued he was destitute and had no way of paying. To this day — ‘and yes we are in touch, and she ­confirms this’ — Bennet has ­neither paid Katja’s legal costs, nor his rape victim’s damages. Katja is horrified. ‘It’s not the money, but the principle,’ she says. ‘The absolute wealth of this family. They argued the ­Porsche was not in his name.

‘Bennet himself has nothing, apparently. But during the trial it was shown that his father ­bankrolled his entire life.

‘And this man had access to the most extraordinary legal defence. He had engaged not just two criminal lawyers but a media ­lawyer — to keep his name out of the papers.

‘In Switzerland, a defendant cannot be identified, even after conviction, but even in the ­international press they wanted to erase evidence that this had happened. Those questions — about who bankrolls expensive lawyers, if the defendant supposedly doesn’t have a penny — are ones I would like answered.’

On December 30 last year — the anniversary of Alex’s death, which made it all the more distressing — von Vertes walked free, released on parole. Again Katja tried to fight this, writing an eight-page letter about why she opposed his release, but this time she was unsuccessful.

‘I wrote to the authorities, ­pleading that he had never shown remorse, didn’t ever really accept responsibility for his actions. He always tried to blame others — first Alex, then the drugs. But to no avail.’

She says she was horrified and terrified in equal measure, wondering what she would do ‘if I bumped into him in the supermarket’. She heard from friends he was revisiting his old haunts, possibly skiing in Klosters again.

Then, earlier this year, rumours reached her that he had gone ­further afield — confirmed when a newspaper in Switzerland ran a version of the photo of von Vertes raising his middle finger to the camera, with his identity obscured, which he had posted on his own Instagram account.

Further images appeared to have been taken from an aeroplane, and on a beach. It was confirmed that he was off travelling in ­Vietnam and Bangkok.

The bereaved mother now counsels other parents who suffer the death of a child

The bereaved mother now counsels other parents who suffer the death of a child

‘It seems he was off on a jolly, travelling around Asia,’ says Katja. ‘This person who could not afford to pay what the court ruled he should pay, has enough money for luxury travel?’ She throws her hands up. ‘It’s extraordinary.’

Ditto that line on his Instagram profile ‘Catch me if you can’.

‘My first thought was disbelief, then rage. And bafflement, really. That message is just rubbing ­everyone’s noses in it. Mine, the woman he raped — she’s as appalled as I am — even the Swiss authorities, who are owed 600,000 Francs by him for court costs.

‘He has just walked away, ­thinking no one can touch him.’

While von Vertes has been ­holidaying, his victims have been persisting in trying to get him to pay his dues.

‘And it’s impossible,’ says Katja. ‘All our efforts to serve legal papers on him have come to nothing because we can’t find him. But he knows we are looking for him.’

Since the offending image was published, von Vertes has deleted the Instagram account in question, but there is evidence that he is still moving in elite circles.

There is evidence, too, that he has been dipping his toe in the dating scene. Another German-language newspaper documented how von Vertes (although his name could not be used in the piece because of Swiss media law) had joined an online dating site, using a fake name, but his image was later uploaded on to a site where women shared concerns about potential dates.

‘The fact that a woman was ­concerned after having a date with him is troubling,’ says Katja.

What of von Vertes’ family? His parents are divorced but his father, a Hungarian-German ­aristocrat owns an art gallery in Zurich and his mother lives in Germany. She was a constant presence at his trial.

Katja says she and his mother even had a conversation once: ‘She said to me, “We have both lost our sons to drugs”, but this was not true. She did not lose her son, and I lost mine because ­Bennet killed him.’

In most other countries, Britain included, there are restrictions on criminals who are released on parole, particularly involving foreign travel. This is not always the case in Switzerland, and this case is complicated by the fact that von Vertes is a German national, not a Swiss one.

Alex, pictured as a toddler, was slashed with glass and beaten with a sculpture by von Vertes

Alex, pictured as a toddler, was slashed with glass and beaten with a sculpture by von Vertes

Katja points out that it should be essential that the authorities know where von Vertes is. ‘This is not only a convicted killer, but a convicted rapist, albeit one on unconditional parole,’ she says. ‘There are still over two years of his original sentence left to run.’

‘My concern is he has never taken responsibility for his actions. He has consistently tried to argue that he has been the ­victim in all this. All I am seeing in that image he posted is arrogance and ignorance.’

Katja has attempted to rebuild her life after ‘the most devastating loss a mother can endure’. ‘Losing Alex was losing part of me. All I have left is the love I have for him.’

She now counsels other parents who suffer the death of a child and divides her time between ­Switzerland and Spain, where she owns a farm.

Yet her heart is in Switzerland, where Alex is buried.

There is no evidence that von Vertes was directing his vitriol, or the ‘Catch Me If You Can’ ­challenge to Katja, but one can understand why she is smarting.

‘What is most distressing about all this is it confirms what I have always suspected. Bennet is a narcissist. It was always just about him and what he has suffered. He still doesn’t see what he did.

‘What he’s saying is “Haha, yes I owe millions, but you can all f**k off because I’m going to ­sunbathe”. I see no evidence there of him trying to rebuild his life in a meaningful way. It also says to me that Alex’s life meant nothing.’

And, ultimately, this means there is no respite for her either.

‘He could lessen my pain,’ she says. ‘Nothing will ever bring Alex back, but he could acknowledge what he has done, he could say sorry and he could show genuine remorse. I would even sit down with him and talk.’

Alas, it seems unlikely. And she would have to find him first.