Somehow it all comes around to money. Lots of it. A pile of around $75 million, all of it producing more in a chain of spontaneous generation, cells dividing into new cells.
Think of it. Seventy-five million, if it were earning a conservative 8 percent a year, would generate an income of $6 million a year. That's $500,000 a month; $115,384 a week.
Martha (Sunny) Crawford von Auersperg von Bu low was wealthy beyond imagining from the moment she was born, the only child of an elderly utilities magnate and his young wife. She continues to be, even though she is brain dead.
Comatose, her bodily functions carried on through tubes, she is in a New York hospital, tended not by a personal maid but a team of private nurses. It costs roughly $500,000 a year to keep her there, and has for four years.
And for three of those years, the public has been treated to a running spectacle played out in the courtroom where Claus von Bu low now stands accused -- for the second time -- of attempting to murder his wife.
Today begins the second week of the trial, which so far has been devoted to quizzing potential jurors. Although the process is tedious, perhaps at no other time during the coming weeks will the differences between the von Bu lows and those who will judge them be pointed up so sharply.
Sunny von Bu low had spent her days exercising, shopping, napping, watching television and following the needs of her three children, two of them now in their twenties and the third a teen-ager. When at her Newport mansion, she spent several hours a day arranging flowers. Not for her the charity board memberships or volunteer activities that other women of means might undertake, nor was she involved in any particular intellectual pursuit. Her travels were unadventurous, her entertaining lavish but rare.
But if Sunny von Bu low, now 53, was a woman of no particular accomplishment, the husband who stands accused of trying to murder her was no whiz kid either. Claus von Bu low, 58, worked as an assistant to J. Paul Getty before his marriage, but gave it up at age 40 when he forged his alliance with the American heiress. Trained as a lawyer in England, he did not hold a job during most of the 14 years before his wife's final coma. He turned instead to things like devising tax shelters in her will and helping to restore the Cliff Walk in Newport -- a scenic pathway girdling the mansions of the very rich, affording pilgrims a view of foaming ocean hundreds of feet below on one side and clipped lawns and tiled roofs on the other. (The Cliff Walk is tunneled when it gets to the von Bu low property, Clarendon Court, precluding curious eyes a look at its 11 valuable acres.)
In short, their wealth is the most striking thing about the von Bu lows. Without it, Sunny's two older children might never have sought the advice of an attorney or hired an investigator whose findings led to their stepfather's arrest. The dirty linen might have been washed in private, not in a Rhode Island courtroom before an audience of people who work for a living, not relayed by newspapers and television to the rest of the world.
Without the money, according to the prosecution's claims, von Bu low would have had no motive for trying to kill his wife. Without it, he might not have been able to afford to appeal his conviction in 1982, which was subsequently overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court on technical grounds. And -- of course -- if they weren't so very rich, nobody would be interested in the case.
But they are, and the world is. So for three years the case has afforded the public a view of the way rich people live, and of a family in which one side is accusing another of not once, but twice trying to murder his wife. Through testimony at the trial, and interviews in the press and a book, "The Bu low Affair," by William Wright, quantities of information have emerged -- about their love affairs, their rivalries, their possessions and, of course, their money.
Most of the jurors come into the courtroom tentatively, clearly nervous, dressed in humble fashions far removed from the elegant defendant's wool slacks and sports coats. Prosecutor Marc DeSisto, 29, whose wardrobe comes from a shop rather than a tailor and whose law school was Suffolk, begins by asking each one what he or she knows about the case, and whether that information came from radio, television or a newspaper.
"I don't really read the newspapers," says Dorothy M. Ciliento, a note of apology in her voice. "I get to work at 6 a.m., and I get back home at 4, and by the time you get supper done . . . I'm kind of tired."
During these deliberations, the defendant sits calmly with his five-person legal team. He does not take notes; he does not fidget. Twice last week he spilled a paper cup of water. A sheriff came over to mop it up with paper towels; von Bu low's dignity was unruffled.
During breaks he sometimes smokes in the corridor and chats with reporters, exchanging opinions of local restaurants or managing a wry witticism. At lunch he and the lead defense lawyer, former federal prosecutor Thomas P. Puccio, emerge from the courthouse and are set upon by photographers and cameramen whose primary duty is to record him in natural light every day. They walk a few blocks to the Brown University Faculty Club, dodging the occasional question, mostly chatting to each other like actors who have been directed to appear as though they are having a conversation.
At the club, an unpretentious place that has mediocre food but which reporters can't get in to without an invitation, waits the highly coiffed Andrea Reynolds. She is the thrice-married, Hungarian-born French citizen who shares the Fifth Avenue apartment von Bu low once lived in with Sunny. Since her rather prominent appearance on the second day of the trial, Reynolds has been kept under wraps. "In my view I did not think it was appropriate for her to be around," Puccio said carefully. That she is in Providence at all, he said, is evidence that von Bu low is "basically a very decent guy who feels a sense of loyalty to her." They met when she contacted him, offering to help him with his new case. "She has really tried very energetically to help," said Puccio. "I don't know just how much help she's been, but she certainly has worked hard." The Case
The basic issue in this trial is whether Sunny von Bu low's coma was caused by her own overindulgence, triggering her hypoglycemia, or whether it is the result of an injection of insulin administered by her husband. Was it the ice cream sundae topped with marshmallow fluff and the spiked Christmas eggnog? Or insulin from the now infamous "black bag" Sunny's personal maid, Maria Schrallhammer, said she found in von Bu low's closet?
Von Bu low's first conviction (he was sentenced to 30 years in prison) was overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court a year ago. It ruled that some evidence -- specifically two pills from the cache of drugs found in the black bag -- were tested without a proper search warrant, and that the defense had improperly been denied access to notes made by the attorney hired by the two older children, Richrd Kuh.
After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear arguments to reinstate the conviction, the state announced plans early this year to retry von Bu low.
The cast of characters has changed since the first trial. Three witnesses -- two servants and the man von Bu low worked for in the year before Sunny's coma -- have died. Sunny's mother, Annie-Laurie Aitken, the titular head of the family fight against von Bu low, has also died.
Stephen Famiglietti, the prosecutor, has gone into private practice, passing the torch to DeSisto and Henry Gemma Jr., 43, a senior member of the attorney general's office. Herald Price Fahringer, the flamboyant defense attorney, was replaced by the equally flamboyant Alan M. Dershowitz for the appeal. Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor, will not be on hand for most of the trial, leaving the field to Puccio and local attorneys John F. Sheehan, whom von Bu low heard of through his friend Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) and who is the only one of the lawyers left from the first trial, and Peter DiBiase, another Providence criminal attorney.
Two other highly visible members of the defense team are Joanne Crispi and Andrew Citron, two former students of Dershowitz who helped with the appeal and know the transcript of the first trial with near photographic memories. Crispi has long, dark hair that hangs glamorously over one side of her face and wears expensive, businesslike ensembles. Citron has a pale countenance and an odd, one-sided haircut that ends in two tiers at the nape of his neck, a source of occasional study for the reporters who sit behind him.
The judge is new as well. Corinne P. Grande, 55, has been a judge for 16 years. She has a reputation for fairness and decorum, wears fashionable red-rimmed glasses and exudes graciousness.
But the list of more than 100 potential witnesses includes many names familiar to followers of the first trial. Schrallhammer -- who worked for Sunny for 23 years and disliked von Bu low -- will be called by the prosecution, but this time the defense says it has some surprises for her.
The Kuh notes, which ran to some 400 pages, included no mention of finding insulin after Schrallhammer first found the black bag barely five weeks before the final coma. "She was asked by Kuh to describe what was in the bag," Dershowitz said. "She listed six things, but made no mention of insulin, needles or syringes. And she said, 'All the labels were scraped off.' "
It was after the discovery of the bag that the German-born Schrallhammer coined what became a catch phrase from the last trial, when she told Sunny's son Alexander von Auersperg about what she found and said, "Insulin? What for insulin?" Alexander von Auersperg did not mention insulin to Kuh early on either, Dershowitz said.
"The Kuh notes are the Rosetta Stone of the whole case," said Dershowitz by phone from his Cambridge office, interviewed while he pedaled on his exercise bike. "It's like 'Rashomon.' The first trial was one version of the story. This one will show a completely different one."
More than two dozen doctors are listed as potential witnesses for one side or the other, promising a medical battle of possibly stultifying proportions. They include endocrinologists, psychiatrists and even the plastic surgeon who made a few tucks in Sunny's face and neck in 1979.
The psychiatrists, Puccio said, will talk about the defense contention that Sunny did herself in, focusing partly on what they say was a suicide attempt a few weeks before the final coma, when she took 60 aspirins and was briefly hospitalized for aspirin toxicity and a cut on her head.
Other doctors will go into such things as what insulin does to glucose, what hypoglycemia is (low blood sugar) and what affects it, and so forth. "During the first trial, the defense had [a doctor] who was not in the same league as the [prosecution's] George Cahill in terms of blood sugar," said Puccio. "I said, 'Who are the top people in endocrinology?' They'll have Cahill and we'll have everybody else."
One witness whose presence is still in doubt is von Bu low's former girlfriend, socialite and one-time actress Alexandra Isles, whose testimony last time was considered significant to the prosecution because of her obvious sincerity. The prosecution contends that von Bu low tried to murder his wife because he wanted to marry Isles, without first going through a financially disadvantageous divorce. Isles has now disappeared. She went to Ireland last month, where her mother, Countess Moltke, has an estate. She had not been subpoenaed before she left, and her lawyer said in a New York hearing last week that she had no intention of returning from wherever she is in Europe for the trial.
The defense, which had already moved to exclude her testimony as irrelevant because, they contend, it was a fact that the von Bu lows had already agreed to an amicable divorce, is not disturbed at Isles' disappearance. But the prosecution is less sanguine. Gemma said his team would attempt to introduce a videotape of her previous testimony (Rhode Island trials can be televised, as the first one was, and as the current one will be), which would call forth a flurry of objections from the defense because she would be unavailable for cross-examination.
Literary footnote: Von Bu low, like Isles, had an interest in the theater. With $44,000 from Sunny, he had invested in the Broadway play "Deathtrap," which is about a man who schemes (successfully) to kill his wealthy wife. The play was a big hit.
Other witnesses will be summoned by the defense to prove their claim that Sunny von Bu low had problems with drinking, drugs and other forms of overindulgence, notably sweets. And that the little black bag was hers more than von Bu low's. Such social register names as C.Z. Guest, Rosemary Franciscus (of Gstaad, Switzerland) and Ann (Mrs. John) Brown of Newport are on the list. Brown testified to von Bu low's excellent character at the last trial, a theme that may be echoed by additional former servants the defense has located in Europe. Others
Any trial like this that involves celebrities tends to attract a few wild cards who offer themselves as witnesses. In the first trial an exercise instructor named Joy O'Neill was called by the defense to say that Sunny von Bu low had been a close friend and told her she regularly gave herself shots of insulin for weight control, a medically confusing notion in the first place. O'Neill was embarrassingly discredited by a former teacher from the same studio who showed with attendance logs that O'Neill had taught Sunny von Bu low a total of five times, not the five times a week she had claimed. (The defense has hinted that O'Neill will return this time with new evidence to support her claim.)
Another character who appeared after the conviction was a young former printer's assistant from Boston who said he had delivered drugs of various kinds at least half a dozen times to Clarendon Court for Alexander von Auersperg, who told him some of them were for his mother. This man, David Marriott, appeared before the press wearing a full-length fur coat and arriving in a limousine. Marriott provided an affidavit from a local priest saying that he had told the priest about these deals before von Bu low's arrest. For a time Marriott was paid by the defense while it corroborated his claims -- successfully, Dershowitz said.
But something happened. Marriott told CBS last fall that he had been taping von Bu low while his claims were being investigated and had evidence that would help convict him. He invited reporters to his house (where he lives with his mother) to hear portions of the tapes, but several who went reported they were unintelligible. The Rhode Island attorney general's office went to court trying to force CBS to provide transcripts of the tapes, threatening a First Amendment battle that was averted two weeks ago when Marriott gave the tapes to the prosecution.
Marriott will not, Gemma said, be used in the prosecution's "direct case."
Another curious sideshow was provided by writer Truman Capote, whose fascination with celebrity was well known. He provided the defense (and the press) with an affidavit in which he said that Sunny von Bu low had taught him how to inject himself with a needle, which she used for amphetamines and vitamins as far back as 1954. Since then Capote has died, but the defense may try to submit a tape recording of his statement. Joanne Carson, the second wife of Johnny Carson and a friend of Capote's, also submitted an affidavit saying that Capote had told her of a "Dr. Feelgood" that Sunny von Bu low patronized and that she traveled with a bag of syringes and needles. Joanne Carson is not on the list of potential witnesses. One potential witness whose participation is undecided is von Bu low himself. Reportedly he wishes to testify, but Puccio said his client has left the final decision up to him. It depends, he said, on how things go. Newport
Another difference this time around is the venue.
At the end of January, Rhode Island Supreme Court Judge Anthony A. Giannini ordered the trial moved from Newport to Providence, a town distinctly more proletarian than the seaside resort. A howl went up from the spurned Newport; one of the town's state legislators even introduced a bill that would require cases to be tried in the jurisdiction in which they occurred (the bill was killed in committee).
Giannini said he moved the case because Newport had only one courtroom and one judge, and he didn't want to accumulate a backlog of cases. But local reporters dug up the information that, at the time, there was a backlog of 1,660 felony cases in Providence and only seven in Newport.
"Newport is Rhode Island," said Dr. Earle Cohen, a retired pediatrician who now owns the Hotel Viking in Newport, where many of the press corps stayed. "The trial was an exciting, colorful event, and Newport was known the world over." Cohen offered the use of a historic church adjacent to his hotel for a courtroom and free housing for the jurors if they were sequestered.
"Newporters have worked as domestics in these mansions," Cohen continued. "They're not in awe of celebrities."
Puccio, for one, is pleased at the change. "Providence is more my kind of town," said the Brooklyn-born attorney. "The theory was the people in Newport would comprehend the rich and not be overwhelmed at how they lived. But the real rich don't sit on juries because their main residences are elsewhere. And in Providence we have access to a law library and better public transportation."
Clarendon Court is now occasionally used by von Bu low's stepchildren. He stays in the Manhattan apartment -- an informal exchange.
Under the terms of his wife's will, Claus von Bu low would have inherited close to $15 million. Her children are even wealthier because they have also inherited money from their grandmother. In 1980, after Sunny von Bu low recovered from her first coma, she gave her husband $120,000 a year, part of the income from a $2 million charitable trust that will go to the Metropolitan Opera when he dies. Her trust officers take care of the expenses of the two residences and various other obligations. Von Bu low has been paying his legal expenses out of the income he earned the year of the first trial, which he estimated at $280,000 last fall in an interview with The Washington Post.
The family is perhaps irrevocably split. Von Bu low's daughter, Cosima, has sided with him rather than with her step-siblings. Although he has many supporters (no one wearing a "Free Claus" T-shirt, a popular item at the last trial, has appeared yet), he may always be known as the man who stood trial for trying to kill his wife, whatever the verdict. Sunny von Bu low could live as long as 30 more years in her vegetable-like state. Fame
His current fame may be ephemeral, but for some visitors to Newport there is a more lasting record of Claus von Bu low. At the entrance to the Cliff Walk, where the cliff meets First Beach, is a small bronze plaque, darkened by sea air, commemorating those who worked on the restoration. His name, noticed by passers-by, has been rubbed bright, tarnish-free.