Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Von Bulow Affair by William Wright

Here is a dazzling performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit.

I stayed with my parents in Florida over New Year's, bringing in the New Year with them.  I've told you all that my mother has stage four lung cancer, but she is doing very well.  She's back home and, while her energy is gone, we're able to drive to the area beaches and enjoy the sand, sun and, in the case below, rain:

Artistic, isn't it?  It was raining hard and I took the photo from inside the car.  What you see is the distortion caused by the rain on the windshield.  I like it.  Rather like an impressionistic painting. We drove as close to the water as possible.  

It was cold and rainy outside, but warm and cozy inside my car.

It cleared up a little finally.

The Von Bulow AffairThe Von Bulow Affair by William            Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In 1979, Martha "Sunny" Von Bulow collapsed into a coma and was not rushed to the hospital. Only after the maid, Martha, begged Sunny's husband, Claus, to get help multiple times, did he call the doctor, but only several hours later.

Sunny recovered, but in 1980, she was found lying on her bathroom floor, unconscious, bleeding from the head. She had been like that for hours. This time she never recovered and stayed in a vegetative state for the next twenty-eight years.

Sunny's children from a previous marriage, along with Sunny's maid, Martha, believed that Claus Von Bulow intentionally murdered his wife by injecting her with insulin.

William Wright (1930-2016) was a writer who attended the court case and interviewed family members, lawyers, financiers, witnesses and others involved in the affair, not the least of which was Claus Von Bulow himself. The only one he could not interview was the victim.

Wright's book only covers the first trial, in which Von Bulow was convicted of two counts of attempted murder (Mrs. Von Bulow did not die until 2008). There was an appeal and with different lawyers, Von Bulow was acquitted in the second trial.

In the meantime we get a glimpse of the luxury and comfort the very wealthy enjoy and I must say, while I did not covet it, I found certain aspects of it appealing. It must be nice to have a roomy apartment on Manhattan's upper east side near Central Park. I bet it beat the heck out of the studios I lived in, when I lived up there on the Jersey side or the cramped dorm I stayed in in downtown Chicago.

One of the things Sunny Von Bulow indulged in was eggnog. When they stayed in their mansion in Newport Rhode Island, around Christmas, her butler made up pitchers of eggnog for her to indulge in at her pleasure. This was brought up, because high amounts of sugar can cause someone with hypoglycemia to go into insulin shock. Insulin shock is considered the cause of Sunny's comas.

While I was reading I thought, "Hmmmm....pitchers of eggnog just for me...."

It's an interesting thought to simply have everything you need without worrying about how to get it. I've never had that. However, I have been happily married to a man who loves me and I'll take that any day over roomy apartments and pitchers of eggnog

Sunny Von Bulow, for all her wealth (which was 75 million at the time), could not seem to find real love. Her first marriage was to a European belonging to that class of post-war penniless aristocracy who welcomed the American rich class. It was a mutual admiration society. Europeans married into money and the Americans got to add a title to their name.

However, there were cultural conflicts. Sunny's husband, Prince Alfred of Auersperg saw nothing wrong with having open affairs and was surprised that Sunny's definition of marriage included fidelity. The marriage lasted eight years and produced two children.

A few years later Sunny married Claus Von Bulow, who was not titled gentry and personally added the "Von" to his last name. Their marriage was not happy either and they were contemplating divorce when Sunny fell into a coma. The fact that Von Bulow was seeing another woman who insisted he divorce or she would leave him, provides a motive for him to rid himself of Sunny, while retaining the comfortable and extremely wealthy lifestyle he was accustomed to.

Wright describes the whole affair as an open and shut case, but I have to say, I did not find him to be absolutely objective. It was easy to forget that he himself was not an eye-witness and that all the incriminating evidence was based on hearsay, primarily from the maid and reinforced by Sunny's two oldest children.

There is much circumstantial evidence to make Von Bulow a likely suspect. However, one can want to leave one's spouse, want to keep her millions, and bad mouth her to everyone in sight (he told many friends that Sunny had a drinking problem-this was later refuted by family members and house servants in court) without actually having murdered her.

Maybe he did want his wife dead. Maybe he tried to kill her by injecting her with insulin. I really don't know. The lawyer for his second trial, Alan Dershowitz, has also written a book. I'd like to read it, even if it's slanted the other way, just to get another view point.

All in all an interesting read.

View all my reviews

Postscript:  Not to get political, but I just read Alan Dershowitz is representing Trump in the impeachment trial.  Since Dershowitz is liberal I think this should prove interesting.


Brian Joseph said...

Great review Sharon. I was about 13 years old at the time but I remember this murder case in the news.

Though it is a cliche, it is still striking how this much money cannot buy even a little peace and stability.

Those pictures are neat.

Have a great week!

RT said...

Dershowitz positions himself as a constitutionalist without bias on way or the other regarding clients: that is a good lawyerly position in all cases. It’s too bad so many politicians ignore the constitutional requirements.

mudpuddle said...

i recall this episode also... but i didn't pay much attention to it at the time as i was studying and taking care of family, both... rich people seem to get away with a lot that the rest of us couldn't... but it's always been that way, hasn't it...
it's great that your mom can still get out and enjoy things... my brother-in-laws wife is dying as we speak of C there sure seems to be more of it around than there used to be...

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian!

I just recently learned about this trial because I was looking for a good movie to watch and I came across this one starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons. Irons would have to be a brilliant actor to sell people he was that evil, since he is ten times as good looking as the actual Von Bulow.

I agree about the money. Not that I would know, but based on reports of divorce, drug abuse and suicide, I'd say money really cannot buy happiness.

Sharon Wilfong said...

HI R.T. You're certainly right. I was reading about Dershowitz and while I don't agree with everything he stands for, I do respect his adherence to the constitution, or at least his belief that he is-there's some things he's in favor of which I would dispute are constitutional. It is too bad that some people want to re write the constitution. I find that really scary.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Mudpuddle!

I'm sorry to hear about your brother in law's wife. There is a lot of cancer, true but there are a lot of strides made. I'm amazed at the medical gains just in my mother's time. Her last chemo pill didn't even exist when she first was diagnosed.

My mother used to say that the very rich and the very poor don't believe the rules apply to them. She may have read that in a sociology class, but there's truth in it.

mudpuddle said...

boy, there's a LOT of truth in that!!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi mudpuddle,

I think so,too.