Professor Steven Rawlings, 50, died of a heart attack after he was allegedly beaten up at the home of his best friend, a co mathematics lecturer, Dr Devinder Sivia, 49. They both have co-authored a Mathematics book.
Police discovered the professor’s battered body on Wednesday night after they were called about an ‘incident’ at the accused, Dr Sivia’s bungalow in Southmoor, near Abingdon.
A neighbour is said to have tried to save the dying man’s life by desperately pumping his chest.
But minutes after officers arrived, Dr Sivia – who was dressed all in white – was led away in handcuffs.
Last night police were trying to establish how the men, who were colleagues in the astrophysics department of the university and co-authored an academic text, fell out.
One motive being considered is that they may have argued over ‘academic matters’ at Dr Sivia’s home in Southmoor, near Abingdon.
Last night detectives from the Thames Valley Police’s major crime unit had sealed off the home and launched a murder investigation.
A post mortem proved inconclusive and further examinations will be undertaken in an attempt to find the exact cause of Professor Rawlings’s death.
Detectives are also trying to establish if the two men attended the St John’s College ‘feast’ on the night of the tragedy.
This is a formal dinner which takes place regularly in the main hall of the college, where Dr Sivia is a maths lecturer. All the dons at the college are invited and are allowed to bring a guest.
Professor Rawlings worked at St Peter’s College and the pair are thought to have known each other for at least 15 years. They co-wrote a book called Foundations of Science Mathematics, which was published in 1999.
The murder bears all the hallmarks of an Inspector Morse mystery. The character, played by John Thaw in the long-running TV series, investigated murders amongst the Oxford academic community. The attractive village of Southmoor, where Dr Sivia lives, was home to government scientist and weapons inspector, Dr David Kelly, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in 2003.
Professor Rawlings lived with his wife Linda in Wantage, Oxfordshire, and the couple celebrated her 50th birthday last week
Family liaison officers broke the news to Mrs Rawlings, who identified her husband’s body at the mortuary of John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Dr Tony Lynas-Gray, research assistant in Oxford University’s astrophysics department, said Professor Rawlings and Dr Sivia were ‘the best of friends’.
Dr Sivia, who is unmarried. had given data analysis lectures for graduate students in the astrophysics department since 2006 on Professor Rawlings’ recommendation.
Dr Lynas-Gray said: ‘Dr Devinder Sivia was a great friend of Stephen Rawlings. Dr Sivia is a very knowledgeable statistician and very much respected by students with the lectures he gives.
Stephen talked about Dr Sivia and said what a great person he was.
‘Stephen Rawlings was a great man and a great astronomer. He was very much liked by his students and colleagues. We’re entirely devastated.’
Last night dozens of tributes to Professor Rawlings were posted on the internet by colleagues and past students.
One said: ‘Can’t believe we’ve just lost such a fantastic and world leading astrophysicist.’
Stanislav Zavjalov wrote on Facebook: ‘No!! Horrible! I still remember his explanation of the divergence theorem using the wildebeest. May he rest in peace.’
One neighbour said he saw Mr Sivia on Wednesday afternoon at around tea-time, arriving back home from work alone to his two-bedroom detached bungalow.
He said: ‘Apparently it happened late on Wednesday night because the police came and banged on our doors at about 1.30am. There was a lot of noise and commotion – it was a little bit perturbing for something like this to happen in our quiet road.’
Mother-of-one Kelly Ludlow, 30, who lives opposite Dr Sivia, said: ‘There must have been four or five police cars outside the house at one stage.
‘I saw a man wearing a turban being led away from the property. He was cuffed and two policemen were with him.
‘It was very dark and I couldn’t see him clearly, but he was dressed all in white.’ The officer leading the inquiry said he was ‘keeping an open mind’.
Detective Superintendent Rob Mason said: ‘It does appear that no one else was present at the address and we are not currently looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.’
Professor Rawlings had a PhD from Cambridge and a DPhil from Oxford.
The master of St Peter’s, former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer, said: ‘Steve was a much liked and admired tutor and colleague within the College and will be greatly missed. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Linda.’