06/04/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
From various locales in western England last September, Jane Andrews used her cell phone to send friends text messages in which she claimed not to know the whereabouts of Tom Cressman, her boyfriend of two years. "Four days now and Tommy hasn't called me," she lamented at one point. "Why?"
As soon became clear, she already knew. On Sept. 17—two days before Andrews sent that message—Cressman had been stabbed to death in the bedroom of his West London home. And on May 16 a London jury, rejecting her plea of self-defense, convicted Andrews, 34, of the murder. "In killing the man you loved," declared Judge Michael Hyam, who sentenced her to life in prison, "you ended his life and ruined your own."
Hollow-eyed and clad entirely in black, the Jane Andrews who was led away from London's Old Bailey courthouse seemed a spectral shadow of the royal aide who served Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, from 1988 to 1997. Andrews, who was in charge of organizing Fergie's wardrobe, had been nicknamed Lady Jane within Fergie's entourage because of her haughty demeanor. Her dismissal in 1997 as a cost-cutting measure had left her distraught. "I don't think," she testified at the trial, "I have still got over it." Nor, apparently, has she gotten over the Lady Jane lifestyle. While awaiting bail at Holloway prison, she announced that she drank only bottled water.
The murder left former Palace colleagues stunned. "You just feel desperate for Cressman and his family and friends," says Dominique Vulliamy, 41, a former public relations aide to Fergie. "But that doesn't stop me feeling quite sorry about Jane. She wasn't a person who was meant to end up having this in her life."
In fact, even after her dismissal by Fergie, she had seemed on an upward track. The daughter of a builder and a grade-school teacher, Andrews was working a string of jobs when she met Cressman, who ran a successful business selling protective covers for classic cars, on a blind date in 1998. Three months later Andrews—divorced from computer executive Christopher Dunn-Butler since 1994—moved into Cressman's $600,000 London home. But friends testified that the 39-year-old Cressman, who had been raised in Britain by American parents, was less smitten than she. "Jane was intent on getting married," said Richard Gore, a Cressman pal, "but Tommy was not yet ready."
Last May an angry Andrews discovered an e-mail Cressman had sent to another woman. "The girlfriend is getting a little like that pair of slippers I can't throw away," he had written. "I really am not sure what to do."
On the morning of Sept. 16, after repeated battles with Andrews about his reluctance to commit to the relationship, Cressman called police. "I am having a major fight with my other half," he told the emergency dispatcher. "I would like someone here to stop us hurting each other."
Instead of sending help, however, the operator counseled Cressman to "walk away." What happened next is unclear. According to Andrews, she then called her ex-husband and threatened to expose what she termed Cressman's "dirty" sexual habits. She alleges that Cressman, furious, then raped her—a charge, prosecutors noted, that she did not make until months after her arrest.
Yet that night, Andrews testified, she returned to Cressman's bed on three separate occasions—armed first with a cricket bat and, later, a kitchen knife. She said she awoke to find Cressman screaming that he was going to kill her and that she struck him with the bat. Then, she said, "I just grabbed the knife." Soaked in blood, Andrews showered and fled. During her three days on the run, friends and even her former employer messaged her with pleas to turn herself in. "Jane, you must come forward," wrote Fergie. Then, on Sept. 20, Andrews called a friend to say she was overdosing on painkillers. Police found her lying under a blanket in her parked car in Plymouth.
Although Andrews could be paroled in as few as eight years, Cressman's parents—Harry, 74, and his ex-wife, Barbara, 73—said they felt vindicated that the jury did not believe Andrews's nasty portrait of their son. "We've all suffered so much," said Harry, a former auto executive who lives in Palm Beach, Fla. "You can't help but feel she should suffer too."
Ellen Tumposky, Nina Biddle and Simon Perry in London