The secret life of Carole Waugh

Despite Libyan connection, police believe the answers to the wealthy woman's death will be found in London

The murder of Carole Waugh, the former oil executive whose body was found hidden in a car in a New Malden lock-up on Thursday night, might be puzzling. Yet the real mystery is not just how she met her death, but how she lived what appears to be a deliberately enigmatic life.

High-class escort? Millionairess? Or just a well-heeled and enthusiastic seeker of love on internet dating sites? Scotland Yard last night declined to comment on the speculation now swirling around the 50-year-old woman who was highly secretive even with the family to whom she was close, and was regarded by former colleagues as a teller of what seemed to be tall tales about herself.

Her family last saw her as long ago as 9 April, when she boarded a train from her native Durham to London, where she had her home, a flat in London's smart Marylebone district, on Harrowby Street, not far from the entrance to the Grosvenor Victoria Casino. It was bought for £150,000 in 1998 and is now worth £650,000. She was not seen after mid-April, and when her family repeatedly failed to get her on the phone – she spoke to them several times a week – the alarm was raised.

What happened next has revealed her substantial assets and the likely motive for her murder. Her bank account was plundered of several hundred thousand pounds, say police. Three different women have tried to pose as her to use her credit cards. At least two people have arrived at her flat, claiming to be the new tenants, one having paid £7,000 to a "landlord". And a man saying he was her brother tried to sell the flat. A total of 10 people have been arrested.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the case is the source of her wealth. The daughter of a colliery electrician in County Durham, she left school with limited qualifications, and worked in a low-level role at the Department of Social Security.

She went to London when she was 25, and little is known of her until 13 years later in 2000, when she got a job in Libya with Veba Oil. Her salary was then £24,000 after tax. And yet, beside the large funds in her bank account, she also had some impressive jewellery, significant items of which are missing. They include a Cartier ring, a white-gold bracelet, and a yellow-gold bracelet and necklace.

While she was working in Libya, she was, according to some of her former workmates, rather more forthcoming about her lifestyle than she was with her family. Reports say she told colleagues that she regularly hob-nobbed with film stars and owned a Harley-Davidson motorbike and a flat near Harrods. She also wore a large diamond engagement ring and wedding band, and referred to her "late" husband, although there is no record of her ever having been married.

One woman who worked with her for some years told the Daily Mail: "None of us could work out why she had come to Libya to work for just £24,000 a year if she was already so wealthy." Another said Ms Waugh said she was a property developer back in London.

Ms Waugh left Libya in 2008 in circumstances that have added a further layer of speculation. A former boss told journalists that she had written to him saying she had "fled" Libya after receiving threats. Scotland Yard sources, however, say that they are not pursuing a North African dimension, and their inquiries are focused in London.

Once back in the UK, Ms Waugh frequently visited her family, was a keen jogger, and, according to police, met men through a variety of internet sites, including dating websites. They are also investigating the possibility that she worked as an escort, although there is as yet no evidence that she did so.

What does seem certain is that there was no sighting of her between mid-April and the discovery last week of her body. She had died from a single stab wound. She was hidden in a blue Volkswagen Golf – registration W466 NHL – inside the New Malden garage, which had been rented recently from its builder owner. Police would not comment on reports that Miss Waugh's body had been in the garage for months. Last night, Nicholas David Kutner, 47, who was arrested in connection with the murder and kidnap of oil executive Carole Waugh, was charged with four counts of fraud, Scotland Yard said.

Additional reporting by Will Robinson