The family of a real-life Shirley Valentine who starved to death after leaving Britain for a new life in the Caribbean yesterday released this shocking image of her just hours before she died.
WARNING: Contains graphic picture lower down article page
Former shop manageress Virginia Owen, 48, fled to the Dominican Republic with her £200,000 life savings after her 15-year marriage collapsed.
After landing in the beach town of Sosua, she met Swedish national Hans Michelle Magnusson, 54, and the couple moved a two-bedroomed apartment by the sea.
But earlier this month her brother Daniel, 40, flew out to the paradise island amid concerns for her safety.
He found her looking like a ”a bag of bones” in a squalid flat and rushed her to a hospice, where she died of starvation the next day.
Her boyfriend Hans was arrested but quickly released without charge and Virginia’s family are now calling on the Dominican authorities to carry out a full investigation.
Virginia’s mother Rosemary Walkley, 73, a retired carer, hopes the shocking image of her daughter’s emaciated body will be warning to other British women who fly to the Caribbean hoping to find a new life.
She said: ”We are just desperate for answers. How did she go from being our beautiful girl, who was so attractive and full of life to the bag of bones in the photograph?
”She always loved travelling and exploring and moved to Sosua to start a new life for herself in paradise.
”But Virginia was always too kind and trusting, that was her biggest fault. She could have had and done anything she wanted and now she is dead.
”If she was alive there is no way she would have wanted this photograph to be released but I want other girls to see it as a warning.
”Virginia went out there as a rich woman but when she was found she dirty and lying in agony on a camp bed in a filthy apartment with no food or water.
”Lots of young girls go out to these places and there are people waiting for them when they get off the plane to take their money because there is such poverty.”
Virginia, a former Vodafone shop manageress, decided to leave her home in Newbury, Berks., when her marriage to Lee Owen collapsed following years of IVF treatment which cost them #12,000.
After flying to the Dominican in 2006, she kept in regular contact with her family until five months ago when her emails turned sinister and became threatening.
Grandmother-of-14 Rosemary suspected they were not being written by her daughter as they were in poor English.
She phoned Virginia’s apartment and spoke to Hans but became worried when she heard her daughter crying out in pain in the background.
Rosemary, of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, said: ”It was so dreadful to hear her in such agony. I asked Hans to take her to a doctor but he said they didn’t have any money.
”Virginia flew out there with £200,000 – how did her money run out so quickly? I told Hans to take her to hospital and we would pay the bill.
”We don’t believe she sent the emails, she couldn’t have.
”The last one was sent in the morning on the day before she died and there is no way she could have done anything in that state.”
Rosemary then sent Virginia’s brother, 40-year-old electrical engineer Daniel, out to the country on October 13 and he arrived at her apartment within hours of landing.
He was greeted by Hans at the door but Daniel was ”in complete shock” when he found his sister emaciated and starving in a bedroom.
Father-of-four Daniel rushed her to an American hospice, where she died the next day.
A post mortem examination revealed she had starved to death. It also found she was suffering from liver cancer, which her family had not been told about.
Hans was arrested in connection with Virginia’s death but was later released without charge.
Her family say this is because the doctor who originally examined Virginia said it would not be possible to prove that Hans (pictured below) directly caused her death.
Rosemary says the family have been cut out of her will and they believe her life savings have been squandered.
She added: ”My daughter was so lovely. Everybody was envious of her because she seemed to have it all but she was so kind with it.
”She was obsessed with Hans, he was an alcoholic that drank away her money while she lay dying in extreme agony.
”It breaks my heart to think nobody was there to help her. Why was she just left to starve to death?
”I would never had sent over my son if I had known what was waiting for her, he loved his sister so much and that image will never leave him.
”She went from being our beautiful princess, with a lovely figure, to a bag of bones. We just want to know how it happened.”
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: ”We can confirm the death of a UK national in the Dominican Republic. We are providing consular assistance to the next of kin.”