Update: The Case of the Copper Heiress Heads to Trial

Update to the update: A settlement agreement has been reached and trial avoided. Here’s the account from MS NBC, where reporter Bill Dedman broke the story and has followed it closely.

The legal world has continued to spin while I’ve been off launching my first mystery, Death al Dente. Many thanks to all of you who bought a copy or borrowed one from the library, came out to hear me speak, or otherwise helped me celebrate. You have made me welcome in libraries and living rooms, uttered kind words at just the right time, and helped make my dream come true.

HuguetteLet’s ease back in to talk of more serious subjects by updating a few stories. First, you all know my fascination with the story of Huguette Clark, the multi-millionaire daughter of William Clark, the scoundrel Copper King who bought himself a U.S. Senate seat from Montana. (Read my earlier posts here.) Huguette’s death in 2011 at 104 set off a battle over her estate — with an estimated value of $300 million — between her financial advisors and the heirs named in her will, and relatives asserting that those same advisors and legal heirs had used undue influence to keep them away from Clark and to insert themselves into her affections and her will. Which will controls? Should certain gifts made during her lifetime be ordered to be repaid, because of improper influence? Did her financial advisors mismanage her funds before her death, to the benefit of themselves and their families? Trial begins Tuesday, September 17, in Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan. I expect nationwide coverage.

Meanwhile, the investigative reporter who broke the story, Bill Dedman of MSNBC, and a EmptyMansions_cover_2013.07.10-197x300relative not involved in the suit, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., have written a book on Huguette and her life called, appropriately, Empty Mansions  (Random House, September 2013). Dedman will be in Missoula in early October for the Festival of the Book — I’ll be there, too, talking mysteries and Montana fiction with other Montana writers, and hope to catch his talk. (And yes, get a signed copy of the book!) Meanwhile, the website for the book  includes excerpts, photographs of Huguette’s doll collection, and aerial video of her Santa Barbara estate — which she hadn’t visited since the 1950s.

Whether you’re writing a historical novel set in the dying years of the Gilded Age, delving into the history of the Copper Kings and their influence over Montana, exploring allegations of financial influence and abuse, or are simply fascinated by the story of a woman who lived out her last years in a hospital, though she wasn’t ill and owned several amazing properties, who collected fine art and doll houses, this book promises to be an intriguing read and a good reference.

(Photos and links courtesy of Bill Dedman.)


Huguette Clark – the Copper-Clad Saga Continues

I’ve written  before about Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress and daughter of Copper King William Clark, and about the alleged mismanagement of her money and estate.  When she died in the spring of 2011, Huguette left a $400 million fortune and a shroud of mystery.

The investigative reporter who uncovered the story, Bill Dedman of msnbc.com, and a cousin of Huguette’s, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., are writing a book about Huguette and her family, “Empty Mansions: The True Saga of the Copper King W.A. Clark, the Reclusive Heiress Huguette, and Their American Family of Wealth, Scandal and Mystery,” to be published by Ballantine Bantam Dell. (As a descendant of William Clark’s sister, Newell is not an heir to the Clark fortune, which descendants of Clark through his first wife are litigating.)

Dedman and msnbc.com also report that Huguette’s three Manhattan apartments–which she hadn’t lived in for decades–are listed for sale for a combined $55 million, by an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, marketed as “a time capsule from the Gilded Age.” Indeed. Check out the floor plans.  (No photos of Clark’s apartments yet, but here are shots of another apartment available in the same building, for a mere $25 million.) 

It’s like Edith Wharton come to life, with just about as happy an ending as Lily Bart.

And what about the jewels, you ask? Christie’s will auction them on April 17. The pink cushion-cut 9 carat diamond ring, possibly once her mother Anna’s, is estimated to be worth $6-8 million. You’ve got to see the close-ups of the Art Deco emerald and diamond bracelet and the diamond bracelet she wore in her last-known photo.

Honestly, I feel like a voyeur, but I can’t stop looking. And if you’re writing family saga, rich vs. poor, the Gilded Age, early 20th century western history, or any story involving a will contest, undue influence, or the mysterious past, you won’t want to, either.

(Thanks to Bill Dedman of msnbc.com for the updates and photos.)