It was THE society scandal of the 1980s, dontyouknow. Socialite/Danish aristocrat Claus von Bülow was found guilty of the attempted murder of his wife Sunny von Bülow in a sensational 1982 trial and again in an even more shocking and salacious 1985 trial. He was acquitted both times and remained a controversial regular on the social circuit for the remainder of his life.
Let’s recap how it all went down.
It was Dec. 21, 1980…
Sunny – who had previously been married to Prince Alfred von Auersperg of Austria, and was the heiress to a Pittsburgh utilities fortune –was found unresponsive on the toilet at Clarendon Court, her Rhode Island home, with a discarded syringe nearby.
And it wasn’t the first time this had happened either.
During a Newport visit the year before, she also lapsed into a coma… but recovered the next day.
This time, however, it was irreversible. She stayed in the coma for the next 28 years.
via The LA Times:
Members of her family, including her children from a previous marriage to an Austrian prince — Alexander von Auersperg and Annie Laurie Kneissl — suspected von Bulow.
At Clarendon Court, von Auersperg and a private investigator removed a small black traveling bag from Claus von Bulow’s locked closet.
Sunny von Bulow’s personal maid had first discovered the vinyl bag after Sunny lapsed into her first coma in late 1979. The maid later testified that the case had contained Valium and various other pills, and she continued to monitor it over the ensuing months.
After she slipped into her irreversible coma, unusually high levels of insulin were found in her blood.
During the inevitable murder trial – dubbed “The Case of the Sleeping Heiress” – defense lawyers floated the theory that Sunny brought on the comas herself, either through drug and alcohol abuse or by injecting herself with insulin to lose weight.
That didn’t hold water though.
Prosecutors at his first trial in 1982 argued that von Bulow wanted to kill his wife in order to inherit a $14-million share of her fortune and be free to marry his mistress, socialite and former soap opera actress Alexandra Isles, who testified that she told von Bulow that he would lose her if he didn’t leave his wife.
(Editor’s note: Alexandra Isles was VICTORIA WINTERS ON DARK SHADOWS…OMG….!!!!!)
Claus von Bulow was described in the press as tall, aristocratic and aloof. The jury found him guilty on both counts of assault with intent to commit murder
Sentenced to 30 years in prison but free on $1-million bail pending appeal, von Bulow continued living in his wife’s grand 5th Avenue apartment in Manhattan.
In 1984, with Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz representing von Bulow in the appeal, the Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed von Bulow’s convictions and a new trial was ordered.
The conviction was reversed for two reasons: The state police had failed to obtain a search warrant before sending some of the pills from the black bag for testing. And the detailed notes made of interviews with key witnesses by the lawyer hired to conduct the initial investigation had not been made available to either the prosecution or the defense.
Did he do it? Did he NOT do it? We may never know what really went down at Clarendon Court..
But… the high-profile von Bulow case has been called one of the most sensational courtroom dramas in modern U.S. history, attracting worldwide attention and spawning several books and a movie (Reversal of Fortune, which won Jeremy Irons an Oscar).
Read a more detailed account of the story here.
Claus was 92 and died at his London home on Saturday. The cause of death is still unknown. But, like, he was 92 so… no great mystery?