Butler who inherited $5m accused of killing heiress

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The Independent Online
It is surely one of the more bizarre assignments that Richard Kuh, a former district- attorney in Manhattan, has received. His mission: to investigate allegations that the woman once known as "the richest little girl in the world" did not die natu rally,but was put to death by morphine, administered at the prompting of her butler.

When she died in her Beverly Hills mansion in 1993, the tobacco heiress Doris Duke left behind two failed marriages, an estranged adopted daughter, many millions to charity and a life story that bears closer resemblance to Sunset Boulevard than reality. She also left a squabble over her $1.2bn estate and a scandal over how she may have died.

Last week Tammy Payette, one of her six nurses, filed an affidavit in a New York court claiming the 80-year-old Miss Duke did not die of natural causes but was killed by "massive sedation" given by a doctor on the orders of Bernard Lafferty, her adviser and butler.

Mr Lafferty, who inherited $5m, $500,000-a-year and the job of co-executor of her will, has dismissed the accusations. They were, his PR said, "an offence to a friend to whom he was devoted". And the doctor, Charles Kivowitz, has also vigorously dismissed them as "outrageous".

The accusations emerged during a battle over Miss Duke's will, which is being challenged by a variety of claimants, including three former servants and an ex-physician, Dr Harry Demopoulos. Dr Demopoulos claims Miss Duke feared someone was trying to killher. He accused Mr Lafferty of going on "grossly extravagant shopping sprees" while she lay dying.

Since her death, "Lafferty has acted as if he were Miss Duke", he said, in court papers.

The truth of the whole squalid affair probably will not become clear for weeks. A New York judge has appointed Mr Kuh as temporary administrator of the estate, ordering him to look into the claims and report back to her within 45 days.

Whatever the outcome, the saga is the final chapter to an extraordinary life. In old age Miss Duke, who for years was terrified of death, lived in an old Rudolph Valentino mansion high up in a canyon, interrupted only by visits from her small circle of friends and an array of doctors and gurus.

But her earlier years were more eventful. Her father, James Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Co, died when she was 12, leaving her the bulk of his $300m estate.

After the Second World War, she was married briefly to Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican playboy whose conquests included Zsa Zsa Gabor and Joan Crawford. He was the first of a number of lovers.

But making relationships was never easy for one so wealthy. Her friends were an odd bunch: Imelda Marcos, to whom she lent $5m to defend herself against racketeering charges; the actor Paul Reubens, otherwise known as "Pee-wee Herman"; and - of course - Mr Lafferty, the pig-tailed butler.

Wealth must have been some consolation, though. she reportedly owned tons of gold, kept in a bank in London, a private Boeing 737, and a fabulous jewel collection. Massive riches - too great, evidently, for her passing to be a peaceful affair.