Investigation reopened into death of tobacco heiress Doris Duke’s assistant after paperboy comes forward

The witness stayed silent for 55 years, on the advice of his dad, for fear of his own life

Justin Vallejo
New York
Thursday 05 August 2021 18:14 BST
Newport Heir Death Witness
Newport Heir Death Witness (1971 AP)

A new eyewitness account of tobacco heiress Doris Duke arguing with employee Eduardo Tirella moments before she ran over and killed him has led police to reopen the 1966 cold case, which was previously ruled an accident.

The then 13-year-old paperboy heard “two people obviously arguing and screaming at each other” moments before the collision in Newport Rhode Island, he said in an interview released by Vanity Fair.

Bob Walker, now 68, came forward for the first time in 55 years to give his account to author Peter Lance in a new book on the killing, Homicide at Rough Point.

“And the next thing I heard was the roar of a motor, the crash, the screaming of a man, ever so slight skidding sound and deacceleration of the motor, a pause in the screaming, a man beginning to scream again, the roar of the motor again, the man’s scream turning to horror of ‘Nooooooo!’” and then another crash,” Mr Walker said.

When he came on the scene, he said he saw Ms Duke get out of a car and move her body to block his view. He asked her if she wanted any help and if she wanted him to call police, and he said she screamed at him to leave.

Mr Walker never went to police to tell them what he saw that day on the advice of his father, who feared for his son’s life. The older man warned his son that Ms Duke was a “rotten person” who “had some people on her payroll who were very unscrupulous

After reading Mr Lance’s book, Mr Walker last month went to police to give investigators his account of events, which he had only previously shared with a small circle of family and friends. Newport police in an email told Mr Lance they are now reexamining the case, even though Ms Duke died in 1993. Calls to Newport police were not immediately returned.

Mr Tirella had worked as a designer for Ms Duke for several years. On the day of the death, the pair were taking the station wagon to look at an artifact, according to Mr Lance’s book. But Ms Duke was allegedly furious at Mr Tirella for telling her that he was leaving her to become a set designer in Hollywood.

Police conducted a brief interview with Ms Duke several days later at which point investigators took her at her word.

She said Mr Tirella was driving but had gotten out of the car to open the estate’s massive wrought-iron gates, so she got behind the steering wheel to drive through the gates. She told police the car suddenly “leaped forward.” The police report said Mr Tirella was crushed against the gates.

But that’s not what Mr Walker heard. He said he distinctly heard two impacts. And his recollection of events matched a police investigator who concluded that Ms Duke struck Mr Tirella once, sending him onto the hood of the car, then when he fell off, accelerated again and ran him over. The car ended up careening across the street where it struck a fence and tree.

Mr Walker, in a telephone interview, said he never bought the official account of the death and went to police as a civic duty.

“The narrative that was accepted by the cops was not the narrative that I remembered,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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