In January 2009, while a student at the University of Leeds, in West Yorkshire, Constance “Toots” Marten was named “Babe of the Month” by Tatler magazine, England’s society bible. In the accompanying interview, Constance said the best party she’d ever been to was with Viscount Cranborne—“a debauched feast from Ancient Greece”—while her favorite place in the world was the top of the Matterhorn, in the Alps.

She joked that cider was “one of [her] five a day,” planned at some point to get a “tortoise tattoo” on the bottom of her foot, and explained how she had volunteered with street children in Nepal during her gap year. The piece was the very portrait of what the British affectionately call a “trustafarian”—that breed of aristocratic rich kid who, untethered by the harsher realities of life, turns faintly hippie-ish, begins wearing harem pants, spends some time at an ashram somewhere—and then usually returns to intern at Christie’s and run the family estate.

The odd couple: Marten and Mark Gordon, a registered sex offender who was jailed for 20 years in the U.S.

Constance’s life, however, has not followed that reliable trajectory. As of January 5, Constance has been the subject of a national police hunt following her mysterious disappearance alongside partner Mark Gordon. This is a man who, it has since emerged, was deported from the U.S. in 2010, having served half of his 40-year prison sentence for rape. The couple was last seen in East London on January 7, having abandoned their burning car on a motorway near Farnworth, Bolton two days earlier—roughly around the time, police believe, that Constance gave birth to a child.

Now, deeply concerned for the baby’s welfare, Constance’s father, Napier Marten, has “beseeched” his 35-year-old daughter to come home—while the couple, estranged from family and friends since 2016, appears to have gone entirely off the grid, enabled by cash reserves from the family’s vast C. Hoare & Co. trust fund. “Darling Constance, even though we remain estranged at the moment, I stand by, as I have always done and as the family has always done, to do whatever is necessary for your safe return to us,” Napier said. “I want you to understand that you are much much loved—whatever the circumstances.”

The Tatler piece about Constance Marten was the very portrait of what the British affectionately call a “trustafarian.”

The Marten family is no stranger to intrigue and attention. Before it was divided and sold, Crichel House, their former estate in Dorset, was a 10,000-acre pile anchored by a vast Classical Revival house and comprising dozens of cottages, four entire villages, an ornamental lake, and its own cricket club. It was described by one historian as having the “appearance of a mansion of a prince, more than that of a country gentleman.” In 1996, it played host to the late director (and beloved AIR MAIL contributor) Doug McGrath’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

But that same year, its ruling heir, Napier—a former page to the Queen—underwent a sudden psychic “awakening” in which he realized that “everything in my life materially was a completely empty shell,” according to an interview he gave years later. Apparently under orders from a disembodied voice, Napier shaved his head and boarded the next flight to Australia—where he had an out-of-body experience with a group of Aborigines on a cliff edge.

An episode in which he found himself “flying out into the ocean into the dark waters and swimming with the whales” made him cry “almost nonstop” for seven days. That’s a detail he revealed in a since deleted interview on the YouTube channel Awakening TV, before concluding that it was “the most exciting part” of his life.

On returning to England, Napier lived in a van, worked as a tree surgeon, then trained as a masseur specializing in craniosacral therapy. He also transferred the entire family estate to Max, his eldest son, who was still a university student at the time. In 2013, Max sold the house and a chunk of its land to Richard Chilton, an American billionaire, for $50.5 million, with the proceeds divided among immediate family members, including Constance.

Once described as an “archaeological puzzle,” before it was divided and sold, Crichel House was a 10,000-acre estate comprising 150 houses and cottages.

Along with the money, stored in a private-bank trust fund, it appears Constance has inherited her father’s wanderlust. Last week, a friend revealed to the Daily Mail that Constance spent several months with the controversial evangelical preacher T. B. Joshua in Nigeria, around the time she was at university. Having met Joshua at a course in London, Constance “ended up becoming one of his disciples in Nigeria,” the source claimed. “I believe she got brainwashed while she was over there. The experience traumatized her,” they said. “It was like she came back totally fucked.”

A talented actress, she attended a drama course at the East 15 Acting School, in Essex, after graduating from Leeds, where friends remember her as a charismatic, hugely popular figure who even inspired a classmate to write a play about her, titled Toots. That was in 2016, about the same time that Constance began a relationship with a man believed to be Mark Gordon, whom she lived with in Ilford, East London, before dropping out of drama school entirely.

Constance’s friend alleged to the Daily Mail that “the family met [Gordon] very early on when they started going out, and they came to ask for money. They looked into his past and found out that he had been in jail in the U.S. They were worried because of his record and made her aware of it. Her answer was to batten down the hatches and stay with him,” the source said. “That is when she just dropped off the face of the earth.”

Apparently under orders from a disembodied voice, Napier shaved his head and boarded the next flight to Australia.

Gordon’s own upbringing couldn’t have been more different from life at Crichel House. He is thought to have been born in Birmingham, England, before moving to Florida as a child. In the late 1980s, when he was just 14 years old, Gordon was imprisoned in the U.S. on rape charges, serving 20 years of his sentence before being deported to Britain in 2010.

He is believed to have been living with Constance in a series of run-down inner-city homes since around 2016. They were evicted from an apartment in the Coldharbour social-housing estate in Greenwich last August, after allegedly failing to pay rent and causing significant smoke damage and a collapsed ceiling.

Since then, their whereabouts have been largely unknown. On January 5, the couple’s car—bought with cash just six days earlier—was found ablaze on the hard shoulder of a highway in Farnworth. The engine had caught fire, investigators said, implying a mechanical fault rather than a deliberate torching. In the back seat, emergency services spotted a placenta and other signs of childbirth, according to The Telegraph.

The escape route.

Over the next 48 hours, Constance, her face partially concealed, was spotted by CCTV cameras at various points on a zigzagging journey across England. Paying taxi drivers in cash and using a series of false names, the couple appears to have traveled by foot to Anchor Lane Bridge, from where they took a cab to Liverpool, then another cab to Harwich. The elaborate route ended in Colchester, in Essex (where investigators believe they may have intended to board a ferry to the Netherlands), before moving on to East Ham, in London. Constance appeared to be carrying a newborn baby under a red shawl throughout.

The pair was last seen in nearby Whitechapel, East London, on the evening of January 7, when Gordon, paying in cash, bought a two-person tent, two pillows, and two sleeping bags—leading police to believe they may well be sleeping on the streets. “We are extremely concerned that a newborn baby … has been exposed to sub-freezing cold temperatures if Mark and Constance have been camping out somewhere as our evidence suggests,” said the detective superintendent leading the investigation.

The hunt now spans three police forces and has been taken on by Scotland Yard. It is all the more intriguing as, at the moment at least, there is no implication of any wrongdoing. Investigators are motivated by concern, not criminality. “I beseech you to find a way to turn yourself and your wee one into the police as soon as possible, so you and he or she can be protected,” Napier Martin said in an open plea to his daughter last week. “Only then can a process of healing and recovery begin—however long it may take, however difficult it may be.”

Joseph Bullmore is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the editor of Gentleman’s Journal in London