Claus von Bülow, the Danish-British socialite socialite, passed away at the age of 92 on Saturday at his home in London the New York Times reported, citing Riccardo Pavoncelli, his son-in-law.
Mr. von Bülow is best know around here for being convicted and later acquitted of twice trying to murder his heiress wife Sonny von Bülow at Clarendon Court, their home here in Newport, RI.
Mrs. von Bülow went into a coma in December 1979, from which she recovered, and a second, irreversible coma in December 1980. She remained in a vegetative state until her death in 2008.
Mr. von Bülow was found guilty in a 1982 trial and was sentenced to 30-years in prison before winning an appeal led by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Beginning life as Claus Cecil Borberg, Bülow was the son of Danish playwright Svend Borberg (1888–1947), who was regarded as a Nazi collaborator for his activities during the Second World War in the German occupation of Denmark. After graduating from university with a degree in law and going on to become an apprentice in the legal profession, Claus chose to be known by his maternal surname, Bülow, instead of his father’s surname Borberg. His mother, Jonna von Bülow af Plüskow (1900–1959), was daughter of Frits Bülow af Plüskow, Danish Minister of Justice from 1910 to 1913 and President of the upper Chamber of the Danish Parliament from 1920 to 1922, a member of the old Danish-German noble Bülow family, originally from Mecklenburg.
Mr. von Bülow graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and practiced law in London in the 1950s before working as a personal assistant to J. Paul Getty. While he had a variety of duties for Getty, Bülow became very familiar with the economics of the oil industry. Getty wrote that Bülow showed “remarkable forbearance and good nature” as his occasional whipping boy, and Bülow remained with Getty until 1968. On 6 June 1966, Bülow married Sunny, the American ex-wife of Prince Alfred of Auersperg. He worked on and off as a consultant to oil companies. Sunny already had a son and a daughter from her first marriage; together, she and Bülow had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, born on 15 April 1967 in New York City. Cosima married the Italian Count Riccardo Pavoncelli in 1996.
In 1982, Bülow was arrested and tried for the attempted murders of Sunny on two occasions on two consecutive years. The main medical and scientific evidence against him was that Sunny had low blood sugar, common in many conditions, but a blood test showed a high insulin level. The test was not repeated. A needle was used as evidence against Bülow in court, with the prosecution alleging that he had used it and a vial of insulin to try to kill his wife. The discovery of these items became the focal point of Bülow’s appeal.
At the trial in Newport, Bülow was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison; he appealed, hiring Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz to represent him. Dershowitz served as a consultant to the defense team led by Thomas Puccio, a former federal prosecutor. Dershowitz’s campaign to acquit Bülow was assisted by Jim Cramer and future New York Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer who were then Harvard Law School students. Dershowitz and his team focused on the discovery of the bag containing the syringes and insulin. Sunny’s family had hired a private investigator to look into her coma. The private investigator, Edwin Lambert (an associate of the Bülows’ lawyer Richard Kuh), was told by several family members and a maid that Claus had recently been seen locking a closet in the Newport home that previously was always kept open. The family hired a locksmith to drive to the mansion, with the intention of picking the closet lock to find what the closet contained. They had lied to the locksmith and told him that one of them owned the house. When the three arrived, the locksmith insisted they try again to find the key, and after some searching, Kuh found a key in Claus von Bülow’s desk that unlocked the closet. At this point, according to the three men in the original interviews, the locksmith was paid for the trip and left before the closet was actually opened, although the men would later recant that version and insist that the locksmith was present when they entered the closet. It was in the closet that the main evidence against Claus von Bülow was found. In 1984, the two convictions from the first trial were reversed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In 1985, after a second trial, Bülow was found not guilty on all charges.
At the second trial, the defense called eight medical experts, all university professors, who testified that Sunny’s two comas had not been caused by insulin, but by a combination of ingested (not injected) drugs, alcohol, and chronic health conditions.
Testimony stated that the hypodermic needle tainted with insulin on the outside (but not inside) would have been dipped in insulin but not injected; injecting it through flesh would have wiped it clean. Evidence also showed that Sunny’s hospital admission three weeks before her final coma showed she had ingested at least 73 aspirin tablets, a quantity that could only have been self-administered, and which indicated her state of mind.
Alan Dershowitz, in his book Taking the Stand, writes about Claus von Bülow’s dinner party after he was found not guilty at his trial. Dershowitz replied to the invitation that he would not attend if it was a “victory party”, and Bülow assured him it was only a dinner for “several interesting friends.” Norman Mailer also attended the dinner where, among other things, Dershowitz explained why the evidence pointed to Bulow not having murdered his wife. As Dershowitz recounted, Mailer grabbed his wife, Norris Church Mailer’s, arm and said: “Let’s get out of here. I think this guy is innocent. I thought we were going to be having dinner with a man who actually tried to kill his wife. This is boring.”
Claus von Bülow was 92.