A church warden and a magician plotted to murder two elderly victims to benefit from their wills in a sleepy Buckinghamshire village, a court has heard.
Peter Farquhar, 69, and Ann Moore-Martin, 83, died little over 18 months apart in Maids Moreton after entering relationships with 28-year-old Ben Field.
Oxford Crown Court heard that son of a Baptist minister conspired with magician Martyn Smith to manipulate the churchgoers into pledging money in their wills before staging “accidental” deaths.
Prosecutors said that Mr Farquhar died in October 2015 after being suffocated by Mr Field, who he had been in a relationship with.
He then entered a relationship with Miss Moore-Martin, was a former headteacher at a Catholic primary school, before allegedly trying to kill her “by a manner of means”. She died from natural causes in May 2017.
The court heard that Mr Field and Mr Smith, 32, had first "psychologically manipulated" their victims to believe they were losing their minds, in the hope they would kill themselves.
Prosecutor Oliver Saxby QC told the jury that Benjamin Field's "project" was to befriend someone vulnerable, get them to change their will and then "make sure they died".
"The motive was financial gain - laced, as far as Benjamin Field is concerned, with a profound fascination in controlling and manipulating and humiliating and killing," he said.
"The means were intricate - you will hear evidence of 'exit strategies', as he called them, involving drugging, and alcohol poisoning, and suffocation whilst asleep or sedated; and falls at home; and attempts to cause heart failure; car crashes, even; and unwitting overdoses.
"The common theme: death made to look like accident or suicide - an elderly, ailing life coming to a sad but predictable end.
"And why? Because, by then, he had deceived each into changing their will so he inherited their respective houses.
"If he was to inherit their houses, they had to die. And if he was to enjoy his inheritance, he had to get away with it.”
The alleged plotters met at the University of Buckingham, where Mr Farquhar – a writer known for his extensive teaching career at Stowe and Manchester Grammar School – lectured them in English.
The court heard that although Mr Farquhar was “torn” by his sexuality and believed it incompatible with his Anglican beliefs, he entered into a relationship with Mr Field and underwent an unofficial “betrothal ceremony".
Mr Farquhar described it in his handwritten journal as “one of the happiest moments of my life” and his writings suggested their relationship became sexual, the jury was told.
But Mr Field allegedly had a string of girlfriends and went on to have a sexual relationship with Ms Moore-Martin, who lived three doors down and was 57 years his senior.
He is accused, alongside his brother and Mr Smith, of claiming he was seriously ill to defraud Miss Moore-Martin of £27,000 to buy a kidney dialysis machine.
After Mr Farquhar died, a coroner concluded his death was alcohol-related and Mr Field received £20,000 and a life interest in his home, while Mr Smith got £10,000.
Mr Saxby said the pair waged ”a concerted campaign of action over a period of time“, giving Mr Farquhar sedatives and psychoactive substances while encouraging him to drink more and falsely presenting him as an alcoholic.
"Ruthless in conception, callous in execution, the strategy had various facets," he told the court.
"In short: characters dismantled. Common sense shattered. Sanity jeopardised. Friends and family alienated. Dignity lost. And financial benefit realised."
After entering a sexual relationship with Miss Moore-Martin, the pair allegedly embarked on a ”campaign of 'mirror writing“' - leaving messages that the devout Catholic believed were from God.
She later suffered a seizure and was admitted to hospital, where she confided that Mr Field had given her “white powder” and made her change her will - prompting a police investigation.
Mr Field also produced a list of local elderly ”clients“ whose homes he burgled and included a 101-year-old woman who he planned to deceive, jurors heard.
He and Mr Smith deny the murder of Mr Farquhar, conspiracy to murder Miss Moore-Martin and possession of an article for the use in fraud.
Mr Field, of Wellingborough Road in Olney, Buckinghamshire, also denies an alternative charge of attempted murder. But he has admitted four charges of fraud and two of burglary.
Mr Smith, of Penhalvean in Redruth, Cornwall denies two charges of fraud and one of burglary.
The court heard that Mr Field’s brother, a Cambridge University music student, was on the ”margins“ of the alleged conspiracy.
Tom Field, also of Wellingborough Road, Olney, Buckinghamshire, denies a single charge of fraud.
The trial continues.
Additional reporting by PA