Millionaire’s son ‘who couldn’t tell fact from fiction’ took own life in Thames plunge

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The son of a millionaire who struggled to tell “fact from fiction” jumped into the River Thames to take his own life, an inquest has heard.

Alexander Stern, 36, was reported missing by his family three days after disappearing on January 11 last year, the coroner said.

His body was only recovered after it floated to the surface and was sighted by a canoeist on April 4.

Mr Stern, the son of Ronald Stern, a stationery tycoon who owns one of Britain’s top Ferrari collections, had taken a £120 taxi ride from London to upmarket Sonning, Berkshire ahead of his disappearance.

The inquest in Reading heard he was last seen in the Bull Inn public house on January 11, where he remained at the bar for just one hour before leaving with his suitcase.

Police investigators had discovered a rucksack containing Mr Stern’s belongings but no sign of him or his suitcase, until he floated to the surface of the river 1.3 miles downstream.

Mr Stern’s monied but unusual lifestyle was outlined to the coroner by his mother Susan who told the inquest how her son had struggled with an “inability to differentiate fact from fiction” which had played out into his adult life.

As a child, Mr Stern was described by his mother as “sociable, interested in nature and in particular the stage show of The Wind in the Willows resonated strongly with him.”

However, as Mr Stern started attending elite independent school The Hall preparatory school, Cheltenham Junior School and Rugby School, his mother noted he had become a problematic teenager with “total disregard for the value of money.”

While studying at Edinburgh University, Mr Stern asked for more money on top of the allowance he received from his wealthy parents.

He then stopped attending classes at the European Business School.

Mrs Stern told the inquest in Reading: “He came home and started to look for a job. He started a job at a company dealing with organic toiletries.

“He became more and more interested in how the business should be run and tried to persuade his father to buy the company. He seemed less interested in actually working within the company,” said Mrs Stern in a statement.

After a relatively short period, Mr Stern had stopped working for the toiletries company and ended up working in his father’s business for six years.

He moved from one department to another without ever seeming to greatly enjoy the work, the inquest heard.

His family was aware that Mr Stern was taking recreational drugs including cocaine while taking an MA in business and working at a cafe in London, where he had an apartment in high-end Chelsea.

Between 2016 and 2019, Mr Stern used a “substantial” inheritance he had received from his grandmother to go travelling in Morocco, Spain, Portugal.

He also travelled to South America, where he was believed to have taken drugs which altered his mental state, his mother said.

The inquest heard how Mr Stern started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings on his return to London in September 2019 and was diagnosed with ADHD and an emotionally unstable personality disorder.

In early January last year, Mr Stern had told his mother that he had taken multiple taxis into the city and stood at a bridge but, she said in his words, “did not have the guts to kill himself.”

Mrs Stern added: “Over the last six weeks or so, I felt he was weighing up suicide or a new beginning.

“He ran out of energy and options and realised the extent of his emptiness.

“Ronald and I would never have abandoned Alex.”

Police investigators had extensively appealed for information which could help them to locate Mr Stern after he disappeared.

Inquiries revealed that he had met his sister Emily Stern on January 9 for dinner.

The following day he had booked himself into the Crown Plaza Hotel in Battersea for a three-night stay but he left to go to Sonning and was seen at the public house on January 11.

A post mortem examination on Mr Stern’s thoroughly decomposed body concluded the cause of death was “unascertained”, the coroner heard.

Alan Blake, the assistant coroner for Berkshire, concluded the inquest by saying he was satisfied that Mr Stern had intended to end his own life.

Mr Blake said: “Alexander Stern was a young man aged 36 years who had a troubled mental health history.

“While he evidently had a number of gifts and qualities, his adult life did not deliver the success and stability that he evidently craved.”