A single spark of hope has sustained Susan and David Crouch since their daughter was murdered by her husband two months ago.
As Babis Anagnostopoulos awaits trial for suffocating his wife, the only reprieve from her parents’ misery – the sole reason they have to get up each morning and face ‘a bleak and empty future’ – is tiny granddaughter Lydia.
The one-year-old was found crying next to her mother Caroline’s body by police. ‘Susan’s interaction with Lydia is amazing,’ says David who, with his wife, is now caring for the little girl.
‘She treats her exactly as she treated Caroline when she was a baby. She plays with her continually when she is awake and is alert to the slightest sound when she is asleep. The household is centred on Lydia.
Everyone is now up at 6.30am so Susan can visit Caroline’s grave before coming back to prepare Lydia’s first feed of the day, but it is a wonderful tonic to hear her gurgling laughter when they are together.’
Caroline Crouch, 19 – a bright and beautiful woman with a life full of hope and promise ahead of her – had in fact been murdered by her husband, 33-year-old helicopter pilot Babis
In an exclusive interview with the Mail, Liverpool-born David, 78, a retired engineer, explains how his granddaughter provides the fragile thread that keeps him and Susan from despair.
‘The comfort afforded to us by Lydia’s presence in the house is the one mitigating factor in this whole tragic affair,’ he tells us from their home on the remote Greek island of Alonissos.
‘But, I am not a young man and all of us are mortal. I have a deep-seated worry that I may not be able to provide for Lydia in those years when she may need the most support. My one aim right now is to give the very best life to the child of my wonderful daughter.’
It is with Lydia’s future in mind that we appeal to generous Daily Mail readers today to help set up a fund to care for her when her grandparents are no longer alive.
Neither David nor Susan, 57, have requested money for this article.
They have been at pains to say they do not want to profit one iota from their daughter’s tragic death – so we make this appeal independently, but with their blessing, in the hope that, with your kind help, we can help secure Lydia’s financial future.
Their loss has afflicted David and Susan differently.
On Monday, David marked the most desolate of birthdays, the 20th his daughter never saw: ‘I had a couple of sips of the excellent single malt whisky that she gave me for my birthday in December,’ he tells us.
He shares his memories; always poignant, invariably proud; sometimes wryly amusing, of the late-life daughter who brought such joy to him in his retirement.
Susan, however, is too consumed by sorrow to contemplate talking.
She does not allow her mind to wander to the awful circumstances of Caroline’s death. Instead her life revolves round Lydia, the focus and purpose of her existence.
Susan draws comfort from Lydia’s proximity: they sleep together in Caroline’s girlhood bed, posters of her favourite band, One Direction, looking over them.
David observes from a distance as Susan quietly follows the gentle rituals of care and feeding and concludes that his granddaughter has settled ‘reasonably well’ although he detects insecurity.
After all, who knows what subliminal fears plague a baby who has lost her mother so brutally and abruptly?
‘She clings to Susan like a limpet, will tolerate Susan’s sister but howls like a banshee if I come too close to her,’ says David.
Caroline and Babis married on a secret Algarve holiday in July 2019, in a quiet beach ceremony. David recalls being ‘impressed’ by Babis when first meeting him
HOW TO DONATE TO THE LYDIA FUND
- Visit: www.dailymail.co.uk/lydiafund
- Cheques made payable to the Lydia fund can be made to: Lydia Fund c/o Daily Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT
For Susan, exhuming thoughts of Caroline’s death is too painful to bear. ‘Unlike me, she appears to have closed her mind to it all and is now totally focused on bringing up Lydia. She does not read the media or listen to the news. She has blocked it all out,’ says David.
He is conscious that Babis’s parents are innocent and – although he and Susan are seeking sole custody of Lydia through the Greek courts – he is sharply aware that the baby around whose small life theirs pivot needs ‘all the love she can get. We have a good relationship with Babis’s parents, particularly his mother,’ he says.
‘She telephones almost every day to ask about Lydia and, of course, she is quite free to visit whenever she chooses.
‘However, as she used to teach at the local school, she is quite well known on the island and feelings are still running very high, as they are throughout Greece.
‘She, of course, is quite blameless but is being made to suffer for the sins of her son.’
Grief has floored David; sapped him of energy, drained him of purpose and joy. When news reached him that their adored Caroline was dead — murdered, they believed then, by a gang of robbers at her home in Athens — he was ‘struck down with the pain of grief that I know will never go away’.
The memory of that May morning when neighbours arrived at their home telling them their daughter was dead, remains as sharp as a physical pain.
‘We had just finished breakfast when there was a loud hammering on the front door,’ he recalls.
‘Several of our Greek friends were there in a state of great distress. It was at first difficult to understand what they were saying but eventually we made sense of them.
‘It was as if an icy hand had reached into my chest and grabbed my heart. From then on I was virtually paralysed.
‘Susan took charge and arranged to go immediately to Athens with one of the Greek ladies who had brought the news, while her brother stayed with me.
‘It wasn’t until later in the day that I became compos mentis. I can recall this huge man with hands like shovels, sitting opposite me with tears pouring down his face just saying over and over again; “bastards, bastards”.
‘This was when it was believed that Caroline had been killed in a robbery.’
It was not until 38 days later that the truth emerged: Caroline, then 19 — a bright and beautiful young woman with a life full of hope and promise ahead of her — had in fact been murdered by her husband, 33-year-old helicopter pilot Babis; suffocated as she slept with little Lydia in their house in an upmarket enclave of the Greek capital.
Babis had, it emerged, cynically staged a robbery to cover up his crime, tying himself up near Caroline’s inert body with duct tape over his eyes and mouth, after killing his wife and strangling the family’s pet dog, Roxy, with her own lead.
Maintaining the charade that a gang of robbers had broken into the house, murdered his wife and stolen €10,000 in cash and £20,000 worth of jewellery, he played the grieving widower until he was rumbled and arrested by police more than five weeks later, after Caroline’s memorial service.
The case has shocked the world: that such a heinous crime could have been perpetrated on a young woman as she slept by her baby seems unimaginable; that her husband could have devised such an elaborate ruse to cover his tracks, inconceivable.
What was Babis’s motive? Wild theories abound: Greece has been gripped by surmise and gossip. Was Babis couriering drugs? Did Caroline find out and did he murder her in an attempt to stop her shopping him?
David takes solace, too, in the fact that Caroline was much loved, ‘as was evidenced by the huge turnout at her funeral
David has no wish to join in the fevered conjecture: ‘I don’t want to speculate on what motive he had; that is for the police to determine. I only want justice for my beautiful daughter who was killed in a most cowardly act.
‘He knew that he was no match for her physically. She was young, fit and an accomplished kickboxer, so he took the memory card out of the internal CCTV system and suffocated her while she slept.
‘I imagine that he will have a fine time explaining that to the killers he will be incarcerated with in Korydallos Prison, reputedly the worst jail in Europe.’
David’s anger towards his son-in-law still burns.
He says he would ‘have blown his lying head right off his shoulders and gladly have taken the consequences,’ had he known, when the two men met and shared condolences at Caroline’s memorial service, that he was guilty of killing his daughter.
The crime has destroyed forever the idyll the Crouches created when they set up home on Alonissos.
They built their house, to which they moved in 2003 when Caroline — a British citizen, born in a private hospital in Athens —was a toddler.
She spent a blissful childhood there, in their whitewashed villa with its wide, shaded veranda and views of the glittering Aegean Sea.
The house stands alone in peaceful solitude with no close neighbours, yet it is just an 80-yard walk to the cemetery where Caroline’s marble grave, bedecked with white blooms, overlooks the sea on the other side of the island.
And it is to this spot that Susan makes her daily, early morning pilgrimage.
Then her days pass in the routines of childcare.
She and her sister have already taken Lydia swimming in the sea beyond their home.
‘They went to a secluded beach. Lydia seems to have inherited her mother’s love of the water and enjoyed herself immensely,’ says David.
Afterwards, the little girl, now teething, is set down to sleep in Caroline’s old double bed for an afternoon nap following her lunch time feed. Such are the quiet rituals that sustain them.
David casts his mind back to Caroline: a former teacher who read statistics at the University of Piraeus in Athens, she seemed effortlessly to dazzle both academically and in sports.
Then, when Lydia was born in June 2020, both Babis and Caroline returned to her childhood home to show their new baby to her parents
She learned to swim, aged three, in the Aegean and qualified as a scuba diver. She ran like the wind, competing in 10k road races and out-pacing most of the boys.
She was fearless, bold; unstoppable. Fluent in Greek, French and Tagalog, her mum’s language, she also spoke ‘perfect, unaccented English,’ says David.
With her river of dark hair and brown eyes she shared Susan’s striking Filipina looks: little wonder David was proud as they strolled through the island’s Old Village to ‘admiring looks from old ladies’.
Caroline’s birth made David, then retired from his engineering job with a gas and oil company, feel young again: ‘Although I was 58 when she was born I didn’t feel that age. I always thought that I was in my early forties.’
As she grew up, Caroline’s diverse talents blossomed.
She excelled in many extracurricular activities: a keen scout, she also took part in displays of traditional Greek dancing.
She became proficient at kayaking ‘taking to the sea like a seasoned veteran’, remembers David. And she loved to perform, joining friends to stage plays at the municipal theatre.
All this was balanced by a serious side: in her mid-teens Caroline also embarked on a religious studies course. Indeed, so busy were the Crouches ferrying her to the island’s capital town of Patitiri, ‘that boyfriends never even crossed our minds’.
They were barely aware of Babis, who met their daughter in the spring of 2017 when she was taking part in a candlelight parade to mark Good Friday.
‘There was no noticeable change in her behaviour. She didn’t stay out late,’ recalls David.
‘Most of her spare time was spent cramming for the Greek National examination so it was a surprise when she said that she wanted to holiday in Portugal.’
It doubtless also came as a bolt from the blue to her parents that she and Babis got married on that holiday in July 2019, in a quiet beach ceremony with just two witnesses, on the Algarve.
Arriving home with her new husband, David met Babis for the first time. ‘I was quite impressed, as Susan was: he seemed quiet, shy and self-effacing; not characteristics commonly found in Greek males.’
Susan, it emerged, had met Babis several times before but had not realised that he and Caroline were serious about each other.
‘And although he was 13 years older than Caroline it didn’t appear to be particularly noticeable,’ recalls her father.’ After the wedding, Susan visited them in their balconied home in the affluent Athens suburb of Glyka Nera: they seemed settled.
Then, when Lydia was born in June 2020, both Babis and Caroline returned to her childhood home to show their new baby to her parents.
And in the happy weeks of their stay on the island there was no intimation of the horror to come.
Yet barely a year later, Caroline was dead and her husband was playing, with absolute self-possession, the part of the grieving husband.
There were, however, clues – anomalies in his behaviour; a blithe acceptance that Caroline’s parents would meet all the costs of their daughter’s funeral – that all was not well.
Babis had, it emerged, cynically staged a robbery to cover up his crime, tying himself up near Caroline’s inert body with duct tape over his eyes and mouth, after killing his wife and strangling the family’s pet dog, Roxy, with her own lead
David recalls: ‘Babis didn’t accompany Caroline’s body back to Alonnisos for the funeral. Instead, a work colleague flew him to the island.
‘I have seldom seen a person so consumed with grief as he was that day. Standing in the church holding Lydia, he was a picture of misery. In spite of my own pain I felt huge sympathy for him.
‘When I spoke to him later I got the impression that it was a tragedy from which he would never recover. What a consummate actor he turned out to be.’
Indeed, police were collating new evidence that incriminated Babis in his wife’s murder as her family organised a memorial service.
Data from Caroline’s smartwatch showed that she was in an ‘extreme state of mental or physical stress for six minutes’, and proved she had not died at the time Babis had originally claimed. The net was closing in on him, but Babis continued his charade.
‘The next time that I saw him was at the memorial service,’ recalls David. ‘He presented me with a huge photographic print of Caroline and him taken at their wedding in Portugal; he knew it was my favourite photograph. He was still very upset, tears running down his face when he spoke of Caroline.
‘This was before the service in the little chapel attached to the cemetery. When we came out of the chapel there were two strangers waiting outside.
‘Susan was overcome with grief at this point and Babis put his arms around her to comfort her. It was then that one of the strangers stepped forward and tapped Babis on the shoulder and identified himself as a policeman. I believe that at this moment Babis realised that the game was up.’
Even then, David and Susan were unaware that their son-in-law had now become prime suspect for their daughter’s murder.
‘We understood from the police that he was being rushed to Athens to identify a suspect who had been apprehended that day at the airport. It was some hours later that we heard he had confessed to killing my daughter.
‘I said at the time that had I known what he had done when he was here, I would have blown his lying head right off his shoulders and gladly taken the consequences.
‘I feel exactly the same today and I know that I will feel this way for the rest of my life.
‘Babis continues to maintain that he killed my daughter in a fit of rage during an argument and it was not premeditated; this does not fit with facts. He removed the memory card from the internal CCTV system shortly after midnight. Caroline was killed almost four hours later when she was asleep.
‘This is the action of a coward; my daughter had a black belt in kickboxing and he would know that he was no match for her when she was awake.
‘It’s at times like this that you understand why people take the law into their own hands.’ David bears the awful double burden of anger and grief daily.
Loss manifests itself as a physical pain, a dull and persistent ache: ‘The sickness that afflicts me is of the heart. It is broken over the loss of my daughter.’
If this were not enough, he also faces legal action to try to retrieve €60,000 appropriated by Babis that David and Susan had given Caroline to buy a plot of land.
It was in December 2020 when Caroline asked her parents if they would contribute to buying the land as she and Babis wanted to build a new house.
‘Susan sold some land she had inherited from her parents in the Philippines and I liquidated some investments I held. At the end of January we each transferred €30,000 into Caroline’s Athens bank account.
‘The land was duly purchased and it was with great surprise after her death we found that the land had been registered in Babis’s name alone.
‘We are currently taking legal action to have this land registered in Lydia’s name.’
Then there was the €4,000 Susan paid for Caroline’s coffin and its transport to the island she loved. ‘Neither Babis nor his parents offered to contribute towards this expense,’ David recalls.
33-year-old helicopter pilot Babis; suffocated Caroline she slept with little Lydia in their house in an upmarket enclave of the Greek capital.
So, at a time when they should be enjoying the fruits of a lifetime’s hard work, David and Susan endure their daily struggle with loss, battle to retrieve money that should be their granddaughter’s and also fight for her custody. But the machinery of the law grinds slowly.
‘In the Greek courts activity takes place at a rate as though at the bottom of a treacle well,’ says David, wryly.
He says their many friends on the island support their quest to have full legal care of their grandchild, although their application may not be determined for 18 months.
He takes solace, too, in the fact that Caroline was much loved, ‘as was evidenced by the huge turnout at her funeral and the universal closing of shops, restaurants and, in fact, all businesses on the day of her interment’.
His mind wanders back to the happy day when she was born. Both Susan and he have previous marriages; David has grown-up children with children of their own. ‘I am a grandfather many times over.’
Susan, who runs a hospitality business on the island, has one other daughter in her thirties, who is married with two children and is a successful artist in the Philippines.
David and Susan met in Athens where he was part of the management team working on a gas pipeline project. Then Caroline arrived, a late-life blessing, on July 12, 2001, seven weeks prematurely.
David was working near London for an engineering company at the time; he took a phone call from his sister-in-law in Athens with the glad tidings that Susan had given birth to a little girl and both mum and daughter were fine.
‘I immediately flew to Athens to see them both and was relieved to confirm that Susan was well, although it was difficult to tell with Caroline.’
He smiles. ‘The doctor assured me that she was well but all I could see was this tiny little thing in an incubator.
‘Once she had grown up to be a big strapping girl I used to joke with her that she looked just like a little pink rat.’
His reminiscences are tender and affectionate. Now, of course, they are all that he has.
His decision to buy a plot of land on Alonnisos and build a house there took root before his youngest daughter was born.
‘Both my parents were dead and I had no great ties to Britain. I chose Alonnisos because it is difficult to get to and as a consequence is not overrun with tourists in the summer.
Caroline’s birth just made my retirement complete,’ he says. So the family home was duly built in a little corner of this island paradise.
Sleepy Alonnisos is barely a mile wide in places by about 10 miles long. It has no airport and is only accessible across the azure sea from neighbouring Skopelos, where Mamma Mia! was filmed.
It has a population of 2,700, and one school, which Caroline attended. And the Crouch family chose not its capital Patitiri, but Alonnisos Old Town, for their home. Nestled on one of the island’s lush peaks, it has steep cobbled streets, shady tavernas and a slow pace of life. ‘It is 25 years behind Britain,’ David is fond of saying.
It is easy to imagine why he and Susan chose to raise their child in this setting; safe, you might imagine, from the dangers that beset city life in England.
And of course Caroline thrived there throughout childhood, through adolescence and her teens, the apple of her doting dad’s eye.
Susan and Caroline, he remembers, did have shouting matches, as is customary between teenagers and their mums.
‘Susan could start a fight in an empty house and Caroline was not the sort of girl who would back down if she thought that she had right on her side.
‘They seldom fought for long and it was never physical, although it could be spectacularly loud.
‘They would come to me to expect me to deliver the judgment of Solomon. I was always amazed how they could fall out over such trivia.
‘I found it wise never to take sides as they would be the best of friends within a day or so.
‘Caroline liked to cook occasionally but when she had finished it looked as if someone had tossed a hand grenade into the kitchen, which always upset Susan.
‘She would sometimes say that I let Caroline “get away” with too much but my philosophy is that life is too short to fall out over a scruffy kitchen; it’s much easier to clean it up and say nowt.
‘Even though Susan occasionally fell out with Caroline, she loved her more than life itself and the love was reciprocated.’
Warmth, humour and a huge fund of love. These were the qualities David and Susan heaped on their daughter.
Now they are passing them on to their little granddaughter, in whom they invest every ounce of their affection.
Neither has yet considered the deeply troubled matter of how they will tell Lydia about what happened to her mum. That is for the future, when there has been time for quiet and considered reflection.
‘The question will certainly arise when Lydia starts school and is one that can only be answered when both Susan and l are much calmer and after a great deal of thought,’ David says.
He makes one final pledge: ‘Both Susan and I will spend the rest of our lives making sure that justice is done and ensuring that Caroline’s little daughter Lydia is brought up with all the advantages that we can give her and that the memories of her mother live forever.’