File picture: Patrick Semansky/AP

London - A British former nightclub tycoon has been accused of murdering his wife at their upmarket home in Los Angeles.

Tom Foster, 75, is alleged to have shot 67-year-old Donie Vanitzian before trying to take his own life.

The former PE teacher was originally from Carlisle in Cumbria, where he ran four nightspots in the 1970s and 1980s and became known as the ‘nightclub king’.

He and Miss Vanitzian married 35 years ago in London but had lived in California since the late 1980s, where she wrote a weekly property advice column for the Los Angeles Times. She was also a former correspondent for The Lady magazine.

Police who carried out a ‘welfare check’ at their apartment in the sought-after LA suburb of Mar Vista reportedly found Miss Vanitzian dead and her husband unconscious on the floor.

Officers say Foster left a note detailing plans to kill his wife and then commit suicide. It is thought he may have tried to take an overdose.

At a preliminary court hearing at Los Angeles County Sheriff Court, he pleaded not guilty to the murder on December 28 last year. He faces 50 years to life in jail if convicted, say prosecutors. Brother-in-law Michael Backauskas last night said Foster had recently suffered mental health problems.

He said: ‘Tom was having panic attacks and was being treated with medication. We were totally blind-sided by what happened. It is not characteristic of Tom. They were very comfortable with one another. They were mutually supportive.’

Mr Backauskas added: ‘He left a suicide note so this clearly isn’t what he intended to happen. It alluded to some financial problems but we haven’t seen any indication of that so far.’

Miss Vanitzian grew up in California and was married twice before she met Foster while working and travelling in Europe. It is believed the couple met when her hire car broke down in Carlisle and Foster arranged for it to be repaired. They later married and had a flat in the wealthy Mayfair area of London. Foster would travel to Carlisle to run his clubs at weekends. A devout Catholic, he also played saxophone in a band called the Cavedwellers.

Miss Vanitzian eventually moved back to the US with her husband to study law.

He is believed to have worked as an estate agent. The couple never had children.

In Carlisle, friends of Foster told of their shock at his arrest. Adele Forster, 54, said: ‘Tom wouldn’t hurt anybody, he’s not that kind of person. Tom was gorgeous. He had big brown cow eyes and all the girls loved him.

‘Everyone wanted to marry Tom. We were all broken-hearted when Tom announced he was leaving.’ Describing Miss Vanitzian as ‘amazing’, Mrs Forster added: ‘She had big hair and long nails and she was quite dazzling. I remember going to stay at a flat she and Tom had in Knightsbridge and her buying an £800 Christian Dior dress from Harrods.

‘She used to make me go running with her in Hyde Park.

‘I remember her typing away an article to The Lady magazine with her long nails. She was extremely clever and extremely well-read.’ Andy Park, who owns a promotions firm in Carlisle, described Foster as the city’s ‘nightclub king’. He said: ‘I’m completely shocked. I last spoke to him six or seven years ago. He was working buying and selling property out there.’