A billionaire, a tobacco heiress who was America’s richest woman, may have murdered a man who she says died in an accident.
Doris Duke, who died in 1993 at the age of 80, had been a source of fascination in the United States during her remarkable life.
The daughter of James Buchanan Duke, who was a pioneer of modern cigarette production, Duke’s fortune was estimated at her death at $ 1.3 billion.
On October 6, 1966, Eduardo Tirella, Duke’s confidant and interior stylist, died in a car accident at Duke’s seaside estate, Rough Point, in Newport, Rhode Island.
Duke insisted it was an accident.
Doris Duke, who died in 1993 at the age of 80, insisted that Eduardo Tirella’s death be an accident
At least on Thursday Vanity Fair published an in-depth report suggesting that 42-year-old Tirella had in fact been murdered by Duke, in retaliation for Tirella no longer wanting to work for her.
“She hated the idea of leaving her,” said Pola Zanay, 86, an artist and longtime friend of Tirella.
Tirella had designed all four of Duke’s homes – in New Jersey, Bel Air, Honolulu, and Newport.
But he just finished advising on a new Tony Curtis movie, Don’t Make Waves, and his Hollywood career grew.
Encouraged by his friend Edmund Kara, a prominent sculptor, Tirella wanted to move to the west coast full-time, cut ties with Duke and spend more time with the designers, musicians and actors he counted as friends – including Richard Burton, David Niven, James Coburn and Sharon Tate.
Duke and her lawyer Aram Arabian, pictured on leaving court in 1971 after a negligence
Johnny Nutt, Duke’s former gardener, told the magazine that there had been a serious fight in the house after Tirella had arrived.
“Miss Duke and Mr. Tirella had a big argument that night when they left the house,” Nutt said.
Duke was worth $ 1.3 billion when she died
“He wanted to go back to Hollywood to continue his career.”
The pair got into Duke’s two-ton station wagon and drove off, reportedly on their way to an antique shop in town where Duke wanted Tirella’s opinion.
When they reached the wrought iron front gates, Tirella, who was driving, got out to open them.
Duke slipped to the driver’s seat, as she said it was her habit to drive the car through the open gates.
But according to her statements to the police, she accidentally stepped on the accelerator, ran to Tirella, burst through the gates, knocked a fence across the street, and bumped into a tree.
Tirella was crushed under the car and died on the spot almost immediately from massive injuries to his lungs, spinal cord and brain.
Duke was taken to hospital with cuts to be treated for shock.
But 96 hours later, Newport police chief Joseph A. Radice accidentally declared death and the case was closed.
A tow truck represented the station wagon that killed Tirella in 1966
Peter Lance, who started his career as a reporter in Newport, investigated Tirella’s death for Vanity Fair for over a year.
Duke was known for being stormy and fiery and had cut an ex-husband with a butcher knife.
He discovered a series of disturbing facts.
In the hospital after the accident, Duke took the medical examiner, Dr. Philip C. McAllister, as her personal physician.
“He promptly placed her in a secured private room, making it impossible for state investigators to question her,” Lance writes.
“In fact, the man legally charged with determining the official cause of death was on Doris Duke’s payroll.”
McAllister told a reporter for the New York Daily News that he “doubted Miss Duke knew what had happened” calling it a “freak accident.”
When asked why no one could have questioned her, he said, “It would have been inhumane to remind her of the tragedy so quickly.”
Then the reporter asked if it could be an accident.
“Unthinkable,” said McAllister. “I think they were committed.”
Duke’s mansion, Rough Point, has now been turned into a museum open to the public
Duke’s bedroom on Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island – an estate where she spent the summer
Views of the Atlantic Ocean from the solarium, one of Duke’s favorite rooms in her summer home
The chief of police, Radice, was criticized by the Attorney General for closing the case so quickly.
Seven months later, after 42 years in the police, he announced his retirement with a salary of $ 7,000 a year and moved to Florida, where he would buy two new apartments in an apartment building.
It was rumored that Radice, who died in 1997, had been bought off by Duke.
Radice’s granddaughter Elayne Paranzino said she even asked him.
“One day I confronted my grandfather,” she says. “I said,” Don’t lie to me. ‘
“He said,” Elayne, none of these rumors are true. I didn’t get any money from her. ‘
“When I pressed it, he chuckled. “Do you think I got paid? You can have it if we can find it. ”
Lewis Perrotti, a state official, said that when he arrived to investigate, he felt that “the solution was already there” and that local police were covering up.
Perrotti, a researcher from the Rhode Island Registry of Motor Vehicles, now 86 years old, told the magazine: “My partner Al Masserone and I tried to question Doris Duke when she came back from the hospital, but a battery of lawyers had arrived, and they didn’t show us her. ‘
According to the law, the officers of the register had to interview all drivers in the event of vehicle murder.
“They put us off all day and then the police said we could be there when they interviewed her on Sunday.
“So we rushed to the estate. When we got there they were almost done. She was in bed with lawyers around her and two large dogs on either side.
“We were allowed to observe, but we were not allowed to ask her questions. It was almost as if the solution was already there. ‘
Duke attends Steve Rubell’s 1978 birthday party hosted by designer Halston in New York City
Lance brought his evidence to Harm Jansen, a senior staff engineer at Collision and Injury Dynamics, one of the best forensic consulting firms in the country.
He said it certainly looked like Duke had deliberately run over him.
“Based on my analysis … it is clear that Doris Duke pressed the accelerator for at least three seconds before the vehicle went through the gate,” he said.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Tirella had been detained against them. Clearly, he went up the hood, fell off, and was run over in the middle of the street.
“This was a multi-series event where the driver made some confirmatory decisions during the incident.”
Tirella’s family sought legal redress, but were constantly thwarted by Duke’s lawyer, Aram Arabian.
They agreed to accept $ 200,000 – at a time when she was earning $ 1 million a week in interest – but she didn’t want to settle.
She was later forced to pay $ 75,000 in civil damages.