Fall of the House Of von Kloberg
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Washington lobbyist Edward J. von Kloberg III packed five steamer trunks before departing for his final overseas trip in mid-April. That was his custom: to travel in the style of another era, to adorn himself with capes, furs and fedoras, to book the finest suites. But this time the baron, as he called himself, hobbled on a cane back to the cramped economy-class section of an Alitalia flight to Rome.
In his years representing the world's most bloodstained, thieving dictators -- Saddam Hussein and Mobutu Sese Seko among them -- von Kloberg made millions. Now he was sick and broke, heading to Rome to stay in a series of cheap hotels.
For several months before he left, von Kloberg, 63, had been telling people that he intended to kill himself. Ken Mullinax, a close friend, recalls von Kloberg begging him to provide a pistol. "He wanted to do it like a good Prussian."
Mullinax refused, but says von Kloberg persisted in a conversation in March: "I am going to drink a pint of brandy tonight and go to the 12th floor of my building and jump to my death."
Knowing that his friend was fearful of heights, Mullinax responded with blunt sarcasm: "I said, 'Ed, don't jump off the top of the building. Why don't you just get in a trash compactor? It will achieve the same result.' I tried for a month to discourage him."
So did others, but von Kloberg would not listen. He told friends that he was in love with a much younger man who no longer wanted him. He went to Rome hoping to win him back.
On May 1, von Kloberg leapt to his death from what a U.S. Embassy official in Rome described as a castle. Details were few. The lobbyist's many acquaintances here and around the world -- diplomats, socialites and political operatives who remember him as the host of countless parties -- still await word of a funeral service. Meanwhile they swap questions: Why did he do it? What did the suicide note say? Where is the body? And what happened to the lover?
An inveterate self-promoter, von Kloberg would appreciate this. Dead three months, he still has people gossiping about him.
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He festooned himself with red sashes and ornate medals, decorations from faded potentates and the minor nations that retained his services. He spoke in a deep, pompous voice. "Le baron von Kloberg," one of his office cards read. "Chairman and Founder, Washington World Group, Limited, International Consultants."
He was not a baron; he was the son of a successful New York engineer who built bridges and housing projects. From childhood he was fascinated by history and avidly read biographies of important people. He changed his surname from "van Kloberg" decades later, because he thought "von" sounded more noble.
"In Edward's mind he came from someplace else," says Brian Childs, his friend of 20 years. "Edward was his own creation. All the world was his stage."