On the last full day of his life—October 6, 1966—Eduardo Tirella flew into Newport, Rhode Island, the storied summer colony of the country’s old money families. He was met at the airport by Doris Duke, the richest woman in America, and they drove to Rough Point, her 10-acre estate on Bellevue Avenue—Newport’s Millionaire’s Row. Eddie, as friends knew Tirella, had just told intimates that after a decade as the artistic curator and designer of Duke’s estates in New Jersey, Bel Air, Honolulu, and Newport, he was planning to sever his professional ties with her, for good. Now, it was time to let his patron and constant companion know, face-to-face.
The handsome Tirella, a war hero and Renaissance man, had just finished advising on a new Tony Curtis film, Don’t Make Waves, and was amping up his Hollywood career. Anxious to move to the West Coast full-time, he intended to load his effects into a rented Dodge station wagon, drop them at his family’s home in New Jersey, and then fly back to California. But nobody left Doris Duke without consequences. Notoriously jealous and known for her violent temper, she’d once stabbed her common-law husband with a butcher knife when he’d angered her. And Tirella, who was gay, had been warned by his lover and friends that Duke might overreact to his pending departure.
Late the next afternoon, Tirella and Duke had a heated argument, overheard by the estate’s staff. Moments later, the pair got into the station wagon with Tirella behind the wheel and headed off for an appointment. Approaching the property’s immense iron gates, Eduardo stopped the car and got out to unlock the chain that held them closed.
Suddenly, Duke slid into the driver’s seat, released the parking brake, shifted into drive, and hit the accelerator. The two-ton wagon sped toward Tirella, burst through the gates, smashed a fence across the street, and crashed into a tree. As Duke sat stunned behind the wheel, Tirella’s body lay crushed under the rear axle.
With massive injuries to his lungs, spinal cord, and brain, he died instantly. Ninety-six hours later, with no inquest—and basing their account of the crash entirely on the word of Duke—Newport police chief Joseph A. Radice declared the death accidental. Case closed.
If Doris Duke is remembered at all today, it is as an eccentric tobacco heiress and philanthropist who, through her civic largesse, helped Newport regain much of its architectural glory of old. Down through the years, she acquired a curious assortment of friends, such as Imelda Marcos and Michael Jackson, along with a trail of lovers. Possessed of a voracious sexual appetite, she had rumored affairs with many an alpha male, including General George Patton and actors Errol Flynn and Marlon Brando. But New Englanders associate her most of all with Rough Point, her Newport mansion visited each year by thousands, who tour the stately rooms while guides lavish praise on the late billionaire.
Adding to this largely laudatory portrait is a new biography by author Sallie Bingham, The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke, which devotes only 15 paragraphs to the homicide and continues to perpetuate the theory that Tirella’s death was an accident. Drawing on previously undisclosed information from Duke’s personal papers, Bingham treats her subject with a reverence that borders on hagiography. She describes Duke as a renegade; a singular, spectacular character forged in the Jazz Age; and a business savant who tripled her father’s fortune—in short, as Bingham puts it, the very archetype of “the New Woman.”
That picture reinforces the adulatory narrative, one that conveniently marginalizes Eduardo Tirella, her trusted companion for more than a decade. Indeed, when Duke died at age 80, in 1993—leaving a fortune of $1.3 billion—her sprawling New York Times obituary mentioned him in only a single sentence.
To understand why, it helps to understand the events that followed the crash.
Just eight days later, Duke donated $25,000 (equal to $199,000 today) to restore historic Cliff Walk, the public promenade behind the mansions that line Newport’s shoreline. She also gave more than $10,000 to Newport Hospital, where she’d been sequestered on the night Tirella was killed. In the following months, she began to set up the Newport Restoration Foundation, which, in time, would renovate 84 Colonial-era buildings. And that’s not all. Seven months after Tirella’s death, Radice retired, eventually purchasing a pair of Florida condos. The inspector who had questioned Duke after the incident was named as Radice’s replacement, leapfrogging over his logical successor, the captain of detectives, to become the new chief. Another cop who had interviewed Duke was promoted to sergeant.
Townspeople were surprised by Duke’s sudden burst of philanthropy. Today, Tirella’s niece sees it not just as a cover-up but as something worse. “She killed him twice,” Donna Lohmeyer told me. “She destroyed his body and then she eviscerated his memory.” What’s more, Duke went on to wage a protracted court battle, refusing to settle with Tirella’s heirs, who had been willing to accept as little as $200,000 in damages—at a time when Duke was making $1 million a week in interest on her fortune.
Five years after “the accident,” a Providence courtroom was the setting for a 10-day, $1.25 million wrongful-death trial. According to the attorneys for the family, Tirella, 42, had earned $43,000 ($351,000 today) the year he died, and could have realized that sort of income for decades. Duke testified that she “always asked Eduardo’s advice before buying or planning anything for her estates.” He had counseled her on the purchase of art worth tens of millions and transformed the abandoned greenhouses on her New Jersey property into a spectacular botanical display. She had even set aside living quarters in each of her five estates to keep him close at hand.
In the end, Doris Duke was actually found negligent in Tirella’s homicide. And yet during the damage phase of the trial, her lawyer portrayed him as a ne’er-do-well. The verdict: After legal fees and expenses, each of his five sisters and three brothers received $5,620. “It was shameful, when you think of what he had done for her,” says Pola Zanay, 86, an artist and longtime friend of Tirella’s. “It was the worst kind of character assassination.” And what could have been Duke’s motive for killing Tirella? In Zanay’s view, it was simple: “She hated the idea of him leaving her.”
Agay man in the 1960s, Tirella, and his lover, Edmund Kara, a prominent sculptor, had many friends in the arts, including designers, musicians, and actors, such as Richard Burton, David Niven, James Coburn, and Sharon Tate. Tirella himself had an impressive background. He’d been a performer in New Jersey nightclubs in the early 1940s, falling in with Frank Sinatra. Tirella’s niece Donna Lohmeyer says that her mother “remembered them coming home to eat Italian after some of Frank’s dates at the Meadowbrook, where [bandleader] Tommy Dorsey played. But the war changed all that.” In 1943, Tirella enlisted in the Army and shipped off to Europe, earning a Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge.
Once he returned Stateside, he took a job running the millinery department at Saks, creating hats for gossip doyennes Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. A talented interior designer as well, he was soon working on the houses of the well heeled and landing occasional parts in films. Tirella refurbished Peggy Lee’s L.A. home and created Elizabeth Taylor’s beach house for the 1965 Hollywood production The Sandpiper. Vogue even ran a piece featuring his design for the kitchen at Falcon Lair, the Duke mansion in Benedict Canyon, once owned by Rudolph Valentino.
Along with her estates, however, courtrooms were Duke’s natural habitat. She had accumulated many enemies across the decades and generated years of legal cases, several involving her butler Bernard Lafferty, who was later accused of hastening her death. “Doris was bent on controlling the narrative of her mangled legacy,” says her onetime business manager Patrick Mahn. As he told New York in 1993, “Litigation was her favorite foreplay.” Starting at age 13, when Duke sued her own mother for control of her inheritance, she was involved in more than 40 lawsuits. “She could be incredibly vindictive,” insists Mahn, who coauthored Daddy’s Duchess, a scathing Duke biography. After he stopped working for her, Mahn claims, “she went bonkers and sicced the legal dogs on me.” Her godson, Pony Duke, who cowrote another tell-all, Too Rich, put it this way: “Doris gave no second chances. She collected people and then she threw them away.”
Some attribute her authoritarian personality to her father, James Buchanan Duke, who had made his first fortune with the American Tobacco Company. On his deathbed, he had reportedly warned his daughter, “Trust no one.” She’d been famously paranoid ever since.
Dee Dee, as her close friends called her, took to hiring ex-FBI agents to intimidate disgruntled friends and lovers who might be sources for reporters or biographers. Ex-staffers were threatened and bullied. Mysteriously, the entire case file for Tirella’s wrongful-death lawsuit has vanished from the Rhode Island Judicial Archives. In 1990, the dossier on the police investigation of the case was reported missing from the Newport Police Department. Even the negative of the photograph of the crashed 1966 Dodge Polara station wagon, which made the front page of the Newport Daily News the next day, disappeared from the archives at the Newport Historical Society.
The fire department’s logbook, however, still survives; it was recently discovered in the attic at headquarters. And its blunt description of the crash brings it all back into focus. According to the entry for that night, the first alarm came in at 5:07 p.m.: “Received call for auto accident…woman was hurt, car went (out) of control. Man…under car.” The 4,000-pound Dodge was so heavy that the power jacks on the ambulance couldn’t raise it, so a tow truck was summoned. By 5:40 p.m., in separate vehicles, Doris Duke and the lifeless body of Eduardo Tirella were speeding toward Newport Hospital.
Igrew up in Newport, the Colonial capital that thrived on the triangle trade of molasses, rum—and slaves. The riches from those ventures helped finance the American Revolution. A century later, Gilded Age families like the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Belmonts built a necklace of “summer cottages” around Newport’s famed Ocean Drive. But since 1723, when 26 sailors were hanged as pirates on a warm summer day before what historians called “a jubilant crowd,” Newport has always been a town steeped in moral ambiguity: a bastion of religious tolerance built on the scourge of slavery. Jackie Kennedy, whose mother’s estate was in Newport, would sign on as Duke’s No. 2 on the Newport Restoration Foundation and, given Duke’s ongoing efforts to refurbish the town, few on Millionaire’s Row or in the working-class waterfront streets raised too many questions about that “unpleasantness” up at Rough Point back in 1966.
Eight months after Tirella’s death, I got my first job in journalism as a cub reporter for the Newport Daily News. I would go on to a career as an investigative reporter and network news correspondent, later writing books on counterterrorism and organized crime. But the truth of what happened at Rough Point gnawed at me.
Then, in 2016, when candidate Donald Trump declared, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” it took me back to that incident. Somehow, the notion of a billionaire openly bragging that he could get away with murder sent me home to the story I should have covered in the summer of ’67. I had to know: Was Eduardo Tirella’s death really an accident? Or did the heir to one of America’s great fortunes turn a vehicle into a murder weapon—then conspire with the local authorities to cover it up?
When I started to kick over rocks, I was surprised by the number of Newporters with passionate opinions about the “accident.” On one popular Newport Facebook group, members regularly dissect the details of the case. Using that portal as a starting point, I reached out to people who claimed to have personal knowledge of the crash or its aftermath. One was Denise Clement, whose late mother, Rosemarie, was Police Chief Radice’s secretary at the time. Today, she is adamant: “My mother always said Doris Duke bought the city of Newport and got away with murder. She read the full police report and knew that there was a cover-up. After she retired and we drove past those houses that Doris had restored, she’d say, ‘Blood money paid for all this.’ ”
Linda McFarlane Knierim’s Facebook entries stood out too. Her father had been the caretaker at Rough Point on what Linda called “that horrible night.” She posted: “The help were all in shock. When I came into the kitchen they were crying and holding each other. I believe they all thought it was an accident. I know others believe differently.”
The more I dug into the mystery, the more I saw it as a story about class, privilege, and the concentration of wealth—one that resonates more than ever in the Trump era.
On Saturday, October 8, 1966, the morning after Eduardo Tirella’s death, the lead story in the Newport Daily News would soon make international news: “Newport police this morning refused to indicate when they would question Doris Duke, who was at the wheel of a station wagon that killed her 42-year-old male friend yesterday afternoon.… The only witness was Miss Duke who was admitted to Newport Hospital suffering from facial cuts and severe shock.”
The article continued, “Dr. Philip C. McAllister, acting state medical examiner, said Tirella died instantly of brain injuries.” What the story didn’t reveal was that after Duke entered the hospital that night, McAllister, a Rhode Island official, agreed, then and there, to become her personal doctor. He promptly placed her in a secure, private room, which made it impossible for state investigators to question her. In effect, the man legally charged with determining the official cause of death had gone on Doris Duke’s payroll.
McAllister told a reporter for the New York Daily News he “doubted Miss Duke knew what had happened,” calling it a “freak accident.” Explaining why he’d decided to keep investigators at bay, he said, “It would have been inhumane to make her recall the tragedy so soon.” The reporter then asked if it could have been anything but an accident. “Unthinkable,” McAllister replied. “I think they were devoted.”
The first time the Newport PD was able to question Duke was on Sunday, October 9, two days after the crash. It was a brief interview conducted in her bedroom at Rough Point in the presence of her New York attorney, Wesley Fach, and her business manager. Lieutenant Frank Walsh took her statement along with Detective George Watts as Duke sat in bed, flanked by a pair of German shepherds.
That bedside encounter produced the first of two “official statements” by Duke. Both were contained in the formal police report, which had gone missing for decades. That is, until last fall, when a government official heard that I was digging into the Tirella matter and thought the truth should come out. Within a few days, the long-lost 16-page file was emailed to me.
The report, which I have since authenticated, contained two “interviews” with Duke. The first, dated October 9, was a brief, four-question transcript of the bedroom statement. The next day Chief Radice summarized that account for the Associated Press, adding that “Tirella…was crushed against the iron gates, and then dragged across Bellevue Avenue and pinned under the car.” Calling the incident “an unfortunate accident,” he declared the case closed.
But almost immediately, Radice was criticized by the state’s attorney general, J. Joseph Nugent, who announced that he was “dissatisfied” with the weekend investigation. The chief also came under fire for releasing scant information to the press, as reflected in a front-page story in the New York Daily News, headlined: “COPS CLAM UP ON DORIS QUIZ.” So Radice quickly walked back his verdict, insisting that the probe was still open.
It was at that point, according to Newport attorney William O’Connell, that Radice told Duke’s Rhode Island lawyer, Aram Arabian, that he needed something more to close out the case. So Arabian suggested that the police “write something up” and if he approved, Doris would sign it. O’Connell—who practiced law with a close associate of Arabian’s—insisted (and the official file confirms) that the police then created what they represented as a three-page transcript of an interrogation of Duke, purportedly conducted at Rough Point the following day. In fact, it was a “script” made to appear as the Q&A of a real-time interview so contrived that it got Duke’s birth date wrong—an error that she had to correct and initial by hand.
Five days after the accident—with this second “interview” inserted into the record—the case was finally closed. On Wednesday, October 12, the New York Times reported that “the police termed today as ‘Definitely an accident’ the death of Eduardo Tirella…Chief Radice said.” That same day, the chief of detectives told the Providence Journal, “There was no evidence of foul play.”
For the volatile heiress, it was over. Doris Duke escaped any criminal liability. And the $75,000 in civil damages that she was later forced to pay to Tirella’s family didn’t even equal the cost of the Goddard Chippendale highboy she had bought a month before the trial, at Parke-Bernet, for $102,000—a record price at the time for a piece of furniture.
The police report, however, was not the only account of the crash. Hunting through the National Archives, I managed to find a 173-page interrogatory prepared for a parallel case involving Avis Rent-a-Car Systems, the owner of the station wagon. Filed in federal court and presumably unseen for 50 years, it reveals additional admissions from Duke herself:
A man and a woman. The first civilians on the scene were Lewis Thom of Milwaukee and his daughter Judith, a nurse who’d just been commissioned as an ensign at the Newport Navy base. They were sightseeing at the time.
I tracked down Judith Thom Wartgow, now retired after 30 years as a paramedic. “We were driving down Bellevue Avenue,” she recalls, “when we came upon this accident. The car was against a tree across the road from this open gate. When I got out, this tall woman was in the street, walking back and forth, hysterical. We started to look around the car to see if someone was hurt, when she took off for the house running, so I followed.”
Once inside the mansion, Wartgow remembers, Duke ran up to the second floor, calling for someone, but she soon circled back outside. “I was trying to get her to stop,” she says. She told police at the time that Duke “came down the stairs saying she had run over Ed.” That recollection ran counter to Doris’s claim in the Avis case that she’d rushed into the house in search of him. But by this point, Wartgow had gotten a good look at Doris’s face. In the New York Daily News coverage of the crash, McAllister stated that Duke needed 30 stitches; the Newport Daily News noted that the two strangers who had arrived on the scene had found her “bleeding from head cuts.” Five decades later, Wartgow disagrees emphatically. “No. She had a few bruises and scratches. But nothing where blood was running down her face.” The ex-nurse seemed surprised by that detail, since she’d left Newport the next day and had never read the press accounts.
“Very little about the way the Newport police handled this had anything to do with responsible homicide investigation,” says retired NYPD detective James Moss, who has cleared hundreds of murder cases for Brooklyn South Homicide. In 2018, I asked him to visit Newport to examine the evidence I’d uncovered. “You’d absolutely want to question witnesses in-depth on the relationship between the killer and decedent to determine if the death involved ‘intent.’ But they wrapped this one up on the basis of a fabricated Q&A requested by the person-of-interest’s own lawyers. Astonishing.”
Prior to the crash, Chief Radice, like many locals, had had his own run-ins with Duke. For years, she had unleashed her German shepherds to roam the Rough Point grounds, causing multiple attacks on passersby. In May 1964, after two tourists on Cliff Walk were victimized in a single week, Radice ordered “the destruction or removal” of two of the dogs. Doris, in response, erected a chain-link fence, effectively placing an impassable barrier along the walkway, one of the state’s top tourist attractions.
Then, shortly after Tirella’s death, Duke’s foundation made that generous gift to restore Cliff Walk. The following May, Chief Radice retired after 42 years on the job. At the time, his annual salary had been $7,000. Four years later, he bought the first of two condo units in a new building in Hollywood, Florida.
Today, Radice’s granddaughter Elayne Paranzino says she’s lived ever since with rumors that Radice, who died in 1997, had been bought off by Duke. “I confronted my grandfather one day,” she contends. “I said, ‘Don’t you lie to me.’ He said ‘Elayne, none of these rumors are true. I didn’t get any money from her.’ Then, when I pressed him, he chuckled. ‘You think I was paid off? You can have it if we can find it.’ ”
Doris Duke’s two husbands disappointed her in different ways. First, there was Palm Beach socialite James Cromwell, 16 years her senior, whose check bounced when he tried to pay for their 1935 honeymoon. Next came Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, whose legendary male endowment was compared to a pepper mill. Duke showered Rubirosa with gifts, including polo ponies and an estate in France. But the marriage eventually soured and they divorced in 1948.
Then, in the early ’50s, Duke met a young jazz musician named Joseph Armand Castro, who would soon take her on the wildest ride of her long life. Fifteen years younger than Duke, Castro was a piano prodigy and band leader who played with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Zoot Sims. According to Stephanie Mansfield, author of the Duke biography The Richest Girl in the World, Joe first met Doris at a concert in Honolulu. She then invited him back to Shangri La, her Diamond Head estate. By 1953 they were living together at the Bel Air Hotel, and he later claimed that she bought Falcon Lair for the two of them.
Up through the early ’60s, they were often in a booze-and-drug-fueled haze. Pony Duke observed that even though Duke believed Castro “to be a musical genius, perhaps the greatest jazz pianist in the world,” over time she became envious of the attention he got onstage. Desperate he might leave her, Duke had frequent bouts of depression, deepened by alcohol, barbiturates, and Castro’s temper. Their fights got more violent, and one night in 1963 at Shangri La, while Doris was playing a jazz piece, Castro supposedly made a crack, so she grabbed a butcher knife and slashed his arm.
On New Year’s Day 1964, she threw him out of Falcon Lair. He soon filed the first of three lawsuits, including one for assault and battery, alleging that she’d “attempted to kill” him, causing “a large permanent scar” that prevented him from working. He asked for $150,000. But within weeks, Castro was strong-armed by Duke’s attorneys, who held him incommunicado in Honolulu, persuading him, against his own lawyer’s advice, to renounce his litigation.
Within a year or so, Duke coaxed Castro back to Falcon Lair, set up a recording company for him, and promised to include him in her will. She’d already bought him a Mercedes 300 SL 300, worth the equivalent of $100,000. For the next year, things between them seemed to stabilize.
Then in the summer of 1965, her ex-husband Rubirosa was killed when he crashed his Ferrari 250 GT in Paris, and Doris lapsed into another depression. With Castro unable to console her, she spent more and more time with Tirella. By the following March, Duke, then 53, was growing angrier at Castro, after he was spotted with Loretta Haddad, a beautiful young singer.
In May 1966, Duke abruptly pulled the plug on Castro’s record company, where Peter Brooke was an executive. Not long after, in author Mansfield’s account, Brooke was awakened at 3 a.m. by a desperate Duke, begging him to rush over to Falcon Lair. When he got there, a maid led him into the kitchen where, as Mansfield tells it, “the room had been ransacked, broken dishes thrown on the floor. Standing in the open frame of a French window, wearing a T shirt, though naked from the waist down, was Castro, urinating over the railing into the garden below.” Brooke reportedly found Duke in her bedroom with a broken jaw. “The next morning,” Mansfield writes, “Doris fled Hollywood for Newport, accompanied by Eduardo Tirella.”
By the mid-1960s, after toiling for Duke for years and getting routinely underpaid, Tirella had finally broken out. He got an up-front credit for his design work on The Sandpiper. His partner, Edmund Kara, sculpted the bust of Elizabeth Taylor that was a plot point in the film. Taylor’s love interest was played by Charles Bronson, with whom Tirella appeared in a short scene shot at Nepenthe, a legendary restaurant high above the coast. “Between Big Sur and the house they shared in Laurel Canyon, Eduardo and Edmund had a full life,” says Kara’s friend Glen Cheda. “By 1966, they’d arrived at the epicenter of the West Coast art-and-music scene.”
In the book Canyon of Dreams, critic Kirk Silsbee describes how “Tirella’s renowned home parties [were] gatherings for creative people,” including actors Alan Ladd and Dennis Hopper. “He had a little Morgan sports car,” says his friend Pola Zanay, “and we’d drive up to Big Sur on Fridays. He and Edmund lived on an old Boy Scout camp near Nepenthe. On weekends they’d throw musicales—Eduardo loved to sing, so he’d have Bobby Short playing the piano. Kim Novak lived up there. She and I would lie in a loft above the living area sipping Champagne. It was a fabulous time.”
Around this period, Tirella was making the transition to set design, writes Silsbee, and that “didn’t sit well with Doris Duke.” After he went to work on his next film project, Don’t Make Waves, costarring his close friend Sharon Tate, the tensions escalated. “Doris was panicked,” observes Pony Duke in Too Rich. “Her entire life revolved around [Tirella’s] ability to make things [for her] look beautiful. She pleaded with him not to leave her… [But] Tirella was tiring of Doris Duke’s mood swings. He was worried that his motion picture design career was suffering because all of his time was being monopolized.”
Events came to a head in the late summer of ’66. “He was going back to Newport to tell her in person that he was leaving her employ,” says Cheda. “Edmund felt strongly that he shouldn’t go. He was fearful, because of his knowledge of what Doris was capable of.” His niece Donna concurs, “He told us the same thing. But Uncle Eddie felt he could control Doris. It was going to be this final curating job, and he’d be out.”
Zanay also recalls Tirella’s reservations about making the trip. As a precaution, she says, he consulted a clairvoyant named Dr. Jacques Hondorus, nicknamed the Psychic to the Stars: “Eduardo really wanted to extricate himself from Doris’s clutches. But it turned out that he needed major dental work that ran into the thousands of dollars. The only source he had to get that kind of money was by doing a job for her. So he went to Jacques to have a reading and Jacques advised him absolutely not to go back to Doris.”
“What makes this story such a tragedy,” she adds, “is that Eduardo was literally killed on the night before the rest of his life.”
There have been various theories about where Tirella and Duke were headed that fateful Friday. Chief Radice maintained that they were on their way to dinner. And yet Linda McFarlane Knierim, the caretaker’s daughter, insists, “My mom told me that they were going to meet somebody. A brief meeting. Because the cooks were preparing a meal for when they came back.”
Harle Tinney, a neighbor of Duke’s in the 1960s, supplies the answer. “One of my family’s very best friends,” she says, “was John Perkins Brown, an antique dealer in Newport. He approached us and said, ‘I’ve acquired an extraordinary piece; the bust of a woman, 15th or 16th century.’ ” It was a reliquary, one of a number of artworks created over the centuries to contain the bone of a saint—in this case, Saint Ursula, who had been martyred in the fourth century A.D.
“John Brown offered to sell it for $2,500,” says Tinney, “but it was too rich for our blood. So, he said, ‘I’ll sell it to Doris.’ ” It took months to restore the piece and, before Duke took possession, she wanted it appraised. “She never bought a work of art without consulting Eduardo, and that’s why she’d coaxed him back to Newport. They were on their way to John’s shop, The Blue Cat, late that afternoon to pick it up.”
And what about the staff at Rough Point, who were working in or around the 30-room mansion? Over the years, one theory of the crash stood out among the help. Some believed that because the estate’s iron gates opened inward, Duke, unfamiliar with the rental car, had to put the vehicle in reverse to allow the gates to swing open freely, but, in her confusion, she hit the gas.
Johnny Nutt, Duke’s former gardener, says that other staffers had a different take on the crash. “Miss Duke and Mr. Tirella,” he told me, “had a big argument that night as they left the house. He wanted to go back to Hollywood to resume his career. They got in the car. Mr. Tirella was driving. He got out to open the gate, but he left it in drive with the emergency brake on. He was going to come back and get in the car, drive it through, and lock it behind him. But for some reason, Miss Duke decided to drive. She was a big woman, a lot taller than him, and as she slid across the seat to drive it out, her knee hit the brake release. The car jerked forward. She went to slam on the brake, but she hit the gas. That’s the way I heard it.”
Nutt’s explanation is puzzling. First, because it suggests that Tirella intended to return to the vehicle and drive it after opening the gates. In her first statement to police, Duke had said that it was routine for her to slide over behind the wheel; something she’d done “a hundred times before.”
Moreover, in many vehicles of that era the driver engaged the parking brake with his left foot and released it by pulling back on it. Still, it was difficult to believe, knowing Duke as well as he did, that Tirella would leave the car in drive—and turn his back on her—whether the parking brake was on or not. In fact, the owner’s manual of the 1966 Dodge Polara clears things up. The parking brake on that model could only be disengaged by pulling a release lever located on the left side of the dashboard by hand. Not only would it have been impossible to release the brake on the floor by foot, but in some Polara models there was also an optional warning signal that flashed red when the brake was engaged.
As noted earlier, in the case against Avis, Duke stated that when Tirella got out to open the gate, “I moved over to the driver seat. I put my left foot on the brake and moved the gear shift lever from ‘park’ to ‘drive.’ ” In the wrongful-death trial, Tirella family attorney Edward Friedman had declared that “Miss Duke released the brake.” Since releasing the brake would have been a conscious act, was it somehow possible that Duke mistook the gas for the brake? “Not likely,” says ex-detective James Moss, “when you consider the size of the brake and accelerator pedals in that model wagon. The brake was horizontal, and the gas pedal was vertical. It defies belief that anyone could confuse them.”
That conclusion was later confirmed by a state official who appeared on the scene that night. At 10:30 p.m., Lewis Perrotti, an investigator for the Rhode Island Registry of Motor Vehicles, arrived at the mansion, having driven from Providence. “I was by myself,” says Perrotti, now 86. “It was dark. Using a flashlight, I saw tire marks in the driveway gravel inside the gate. Later that morning, my partner Al Masserone and I tried to question Doris Duke when she got back from the hospital, but a battery of lawyers had arrived, and they wouldn’t let us see her.”
By law, the registry’s investigators were supposed to question all drivers in vehicular homicides. “They put us off all day and then the police said we could be present when they interviewed her on Sunday.” But Perrotti says that when he and Masserone returned the following morning, they were told at the police station that the interview was already in progress.
“So, we rushed up to the estate. When we got there, they were just about finished. She was in bed with lawyers around her and two big dogs on either side. Lieutenant Walsh and the detective [Watts] were wrapping it up. We were allowed to observe, but we didn’t get to ask her any questions. It was almost like the fix was already in.”
The morning after Perrotti’s first visit, Tirella’s brother-in-law Robert Aughey, an engineer and former Marine captain, arrived at Rough Point with his teenage son, Robert Jr. They had driven from New Jersey, and at 6:30 a.m. the sun was just coming up. Aughey later testified under oath that he’d photographed tire-width “gouges” in the driveway, an inch and a half to 2 inches deep, 30 feet from the gate. “I remember those gouges clearly,” Robert Jr. told me. “It was like someone was sitting in the car, stomped on the gas, and made deep impressions in the gravel.”
Under Rhode Island criminal law, the degree of culpability in a homicide hinges on the issue of intent. Apart from Murder One—typically reserved for the killing of law enforcement officers—second-degree murder is a function of “malice aforethought.” Traffic deaths are usually associated with “manslaughter” because they involve accidents, which are, by definition, unintended. So what happened in this case? We know that Tirella got out of the car and walked to the gates. From Duke’s October 9 bedroom statement, we know that Tirella had just enough time to reach the lock when the station wagon “leaped forward.” The damage to the gates shows that they were struck virtually head-on at a point when they were still closed.
With the help of Donna Lohmeyer, I managed to ferret out Tirella’s official autopsy report, which had been misfiled in the basement of the Rhode Island medical examiner’s office for five decades—under the name “Tirella, Edmund” (not Eduardo). It shows that his injuries were entirely inconsistent with the official theory of the crash. Although Duke had at first told the authorities that Tirella “was crushed against the iron gates,” the report filed by the pathologist, Dr. James J. Flanagan, notes that except for a right hip fracture, all of Tirella’s other injuries were to his upper body. He sustained zero damage to his legs.
The Polara wagon was six-and-a-half feet wide. It was idling 15 feet back from the gates, more than enough room to open them without Duke having to put the vehicle in reverse. Then, in an instant, it hurtled toward Tirella from a dead stop. And yet, all the damage to the gates occurred in an area below the level of Tirella’s waist. So, if Doris Duke had crushed him against those gates, as she’d told police, why were there no injuries to his lower body?
The answer began to emerge when I got hold of an unpublished photo taken by a news photographer who’d shot the scene. It came to my attention courtesy of Jane Maguire. Her husband, John Quigley, was the stepson of the late Ed Quigley, who had been a photographer for the Newport Daily News when I worked there. I reached out to the Quigleys, who searched their basement and found some of Ed’s old negatives and prints. Within that cache was a wide-angle shot of the crash scene. Visible near a bicycle, at left, are three of the five balusters that had snapped off the gates as they were bent outward, over the metal-covered “stop,” embedded in the driveway to hold the gates in place.
Joseph G. Silvia, the 88-year-old blacksmith who’d repaired the gates, remembers that “they were exceptionally heavy. Wrought iron. It would have taken quite a bit of force for them to go up and over that stop.”
The picture reveals something else significant: the man in the fedora at the lower right-hand of the frame. His name was Fred Newton, a detective sergeant. I went back and found a profile of him that I’d written in 1967 on how he’d trained all of the Newport PD’s recruits. He was known as a straight shooter, who always conducted himself by the book. Over the years, I had lost touch with Fred, who’d died in 1999. But 14 years after Tirella’s death, he’d become chief of the Newport PD himself, and my sense was that if anyone had discovered what really happened at Rough Point that night, it would have been Fred Newton.
And so he did. I finally learned what he’d learned after I located the first officer who showed up on the scene while Duke was still in the car, wedged against that tree.
Edward Angel had been a rookie patrolman assigned to “The Avenue” beat, along mansion row. On October 7, he’d just gone on duty at 5 p.m. Within minutes, the radio in his patrol unit crackled with word of an accident. He hit the roof lights and sped to the scene. “There was a woman inside the vehicle,” he says. “She was extremely upset. I looked down and found someone underneath the car, all rolled up. I was inexperienced and young, so I blurted out, ‘He’s under the car.’ That sent her into shock. She jumped out and, thank God, there was a young Navy nurse there”—Judith Thom Wartgow—“and I asked if she could help her. I was focused on whoever was under the vehicle, whether he was still alive.”
A short while later, after Tirella’s mangled frame was extricated, Angel pulled out a pad to make a sketch of the scene. “I walked into the middle of Bellevue [Avenue], looked down, and I saw some skin and blood,” he says. “I drew a diagram of what I thought had been the point of impact between the subject and the vehicle—where I thought he’d been run over.” In Angel’s drawing, the impact—based on the blood and human remains he’d found—occurred not at the gate but out in the street.
Unclear as to who Tirella was—or his relation to the woman he now realized was Doris Duke—Patrolman Angel’s first thought was that she’d hit a pedestrian crossing the avenue. “I submitted my findings,” he recounts, “and the next day, I got called in by Sergeant Newton. He took me back up to the scene and showed me markings on the gates that suggested somebody had been forced up on the hood of the car. Then he walked me into the middle of Bellevue, explaining that the blood and the skin I’d found were from when the victim rolled off and fell in front of the car.”
According to Angel, Fred Newton believed that Tirella went up on the hood of the wagon before it hit the gate. “That was his theory of the crash,” he says. “Then at some point after the gates blew open, she hesitated, tapped the brakes and he rolled off. At that point he was run over by the vehicle and dragged to the point where he was still underneath it when it hit the tree.” That would account for why the lower gates were pulverized but Tirella’s legs were undamaged.
If Newton was correct, Doris Duke had killed Tirella with intent. In fact, according to the cumulative evidence, she engaged in four voluntary acts before she hit him. First, she slid behind the wheel. Next, she released the parking brake by hand. She then moved the shift lever from park to drive. Finally, she hit the accelerator. The wagon surged forward and struck Tirella, who went up on the hood. But instead of “crushing” him against the gates, as Chief Radice had claimed, Tirella remained on the hood, alive, as the Dodge blew through the gates and roared onto Bellevue Avenue. At that point, according to what Sergeant Newton told Patrolman Angel, Tirella rolled off the hood, and she ran him over. In fact, in the official police report, Newton wrote that “tire marks…indicated” that Duke had “steered” the vehicle, which moved “with tremendous…acceleration.”
The deep, parallel, tire-wide gouge marks that Robert Aughey had photographed from 30 feet back support Newton’s sequence of events. The ’66 Dodge Polara was 18 feet long. The rear tires were three feet from the back bumper, so the math would have been right: the front bumper 15 feet from the gate—the tire gouges in the gravel 15 feet back from there. The distance from the gates to the tree was just under 80 feet.
Edward Friedman, the attorney for the Tirella family, had stated at trial that “Tirella was dragged about 40 feet and was pinned beneath the car when it stopped.” In other words, he was dragged from the middle of Bellevue Avenue—the very point where Angel had first noticed the blood and the skin. In the Quigley photo that depicts Newton at the gate, no residue of blood or remains is visible between the gate stop and the middle of the street. But another shot by Quigley, taken from under the Dodge, shows what looks like a large bloodstain
Curiously, it was the negative of that very photo (shown at the beginning of this story) that went missing from the Newport Daily News archives at the historical society. And yet John Quigley’s wife, Jane, found a print, made in 1966. What’s more, Robert Aughey Jr. recalls that the morning after the crash he noticed a sticky substance near where his uncle’s body had come to rest. “I remember kneeling down and putting my fingers in it,” he says. “Lifting them up, they were bright red with blood.”
Newport police detective Al Conti, a retired 28-year veteran of many investigations along Bellevue Avenue, believes Fred Newton’s theory of the crash to be entirely plausible. “If it was me that night and I heard her coming and I’m facing the car,” he told me, “my first instinct would be to jump up on the hood. What happened to Mr. Tirella was outrageous, no matter what the cause, but to think that he might have seen his own death coming”—facing Duke from the other side of the windshield—“is an awful prospect to consider.”
I submitted all of this evidence to Harm Jansen, a senior staff engineer with Collision and Injury Dynamics, one of the nation’s top forensic consulting firms. This is his conclusion: “Based on my analysis of Sergeant Newton’s own diagrams in the police report, it’s clear that Doris Duke was on the accelerator for at least three seconds before the vehicle went through the gates. There is no evidence that Mr. Tirella was pinned against them. It’s clear that he went up on the hood, fell off, and got run over, mid-street. This was a multi-sequence event in which the driver made a number of affirmative decisions in the course of the incident. The analysis of his injuries, limited to upper body, the head-on damage to the lower sections of the gates, the account of Edward Angel, the first officer on the scene, and the contemporaneous investigation by the senior police accident investigator, Sergeant Newton, lead me to conclude that the event did not occur as described by Doris Duke.”
For months after Eddie’s death, according to Tirella’s niece Donna Lohmeyer, Doris Duke would call her mother (Tirella’s sister) late at night and weep with her over the phone. As Lohmeyer remembers, “Mom said Doris told her she kept a picture of him in a sterling silver frame next to her bed in every one of her estates.” But no such photo was on display in Duke’s bedroom at Rough Point when I recently visited there on the 52nd anniversary of Eduardo’s death.
In fact, in the 20 years that the estate has been open as a museum, Eduardo Tirella’s name was left out of the Duke narrative. Then in April 2019, after word circulated in Newport about this Vanity Fair investigation, a display was added to one wall in a rotating exhibition space. Its title: “The Accident at the Rough Point Gate.” The text reiterated the official police explanation of Tirella’s death, and, in an accompanying video, Rough Point’s curator called any suggestions to the contrary “a local myth.”
But if one takes a closer look at the interior of Rough Point, there is another connection to Tirella worth noting. Within weeks of his funeral, Duke took possession of the Saint Ursula reliquary—the artifact she’d asked him to appraise the evening she killed him. Eventually, Duke positioned it on a table in the main hall at the foot of the mansion’s large staircase. Every evening thereafter, when she went up to bed, that statue was there to remind her of “that horrible night.”
After Duke died, the old staff remembered how she had referred to that piece not as Saint Ursula, but Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music, whose feast day was November 22. That happened to be Doris Duke’s own birthday. In the end, this narcissistic woman—with enough money and power to view the world entirely through her own distorted lens—had even managed to recast that last work of art into her own image.
******I here cease to quote from the fascinating work today of Mr Peter Lance for The Vanity Fair Magazine*****
IN THE NAME OF GOD.AMEN####################################################################Index Librorum ProhibitorumI wear the chain I forged in life.
How short the list one could compile of those of whom it can be said that fame and money did not deprave?
IL MIGLIOR FABBRO
At Washington, capital city of the terminally self-absorbed, mortal man holds to fleeting, feeble and fallible opinion, God immutable fact.
- In sunshine and in shadow~~I hold tight to the Republican view of time and money~~I write night and day~~yet~~while impecunious~~I am vastly overpaid~~in that taking pay to do what I love is unfair~~to my employer~~in a fair system~~under such circumstances~~I should pay him~~not he me~~I am far, far too old a man to be sexually confused~~praise Jesus~~but I am yet young enough to be politically confused~~is anyone not~~in an absolute sense~~I am a Catholic Royalist~~in a practical sense~~I am a Classical Liberal~~a Gaullist~~a Bonapartist~~an American Nationalist Republican~~in either sense~~my head is soon for the chopping block~~to hasten my interlude with Madame La Guillotine~~I write without fear~and without favor of~any man.
- At Washington, capital city of the terminally self-absorbed, mortal man holds to fleeting, feeble and fallible opinion, God immutable fact.
- In sunshine and in shadow~~I hold tight to the Republican view of time and money~~I write night and day~~yet~~while impecunious~~I am vastly overpaid~~in that taking pay to do what I love is unfair~~to my employer~~in a fair system~~under such circumstances~~I should pay him~~not he me~~I am far, far too old a man to be sexually confused~~praise Jesus~~but I am yet young enough to be politically confused~~is anyone not~~in an absolute sense~~I am a Catholic Royalist~~in a practical sense~~I am a Classical Liberal~~a Gaullist~~a Bonapartist~~an American Nationalist Republican~~in either sense~~my head is soon for the chopping block~~to hasten my interlude with Madame La Guillotine~~I write without fear~and without favor of~any man.~~Finis Origine Pendet…The escape commences…~~September, 1957~~Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic parochial school, called, by anyone of any background, simply: “Chan~al,” a place where, of an autumn day in 1957, school, for me, began and ended in the first convening of the first grade in which a tiny nun, one Sister Dom Bosco, appeared before me, just behind the window appearing at far left of this photograph, and piped out this: “I may be small, but so then, is the Atom Bomb.”~~My determination to escape school commenced immediately on hearing about this Atom Bomb business and took 16 dicey and arduous years to finally accomplish.~~~~Non SibiThe declaration that:“I am here to save mankind,” means that:“I am here to rule mankind.”The escape continues…~~September, 1966~~The Cathedral Latin School~~Finis Origine Pendet~~Κύριε ἐλέησον~~
Rejoice and Glad!!
~~Amen~~~The Original Angry Bird~~The Catholic University of America Screaming Red Cardinal Mascot~~~~EX LIBRIS~~~~THEOS EK MĒCHANĒS~~19th Juin, Friday, Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, the 2020thWebsite: http://johndanielbegg.wordpress.comhttp://www.facebook.com/JohnDanielBeggPublicAffairs http://www.tumblr.com/blog/theoldsoldiershome1952
Tweets: @jtdbegg“Jean-Marie Le Pen is a friend. He is dangerous for the political set because he’s the only one who’s sincere. He says out loud what many people think deep down, and what the politicians refrain from saying because they are either too demagogic or too chicken. Le Pen, with all his faults and qualities, is probably the only one who thinks about the interests of France before his own.”~~Alain Delon~~Actor
John Daniel Begg raises cotton.
In the Old South, the real Southland, we had a charming expression, when asked what an idle man did for a living:
~~“Oh, he raises cotton.”~~
- Which meant, he did absolutely nothing at all, as cotton, “the white gold,” raises herself.
CONCEPT OF THE CATHOLIC AND ROYAL ARMY OF AMERICA (CRAA)
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA Seal of The Catholic University of America
Deus Lux Mea Est
Acta Est Fabula
The escape concludes…
The Catholic University Of America, Washington, The Federal District of Columbia.
1976, Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi.
“Who first seduc'd them to that foul revolt? Th' infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv'd The Mother of All Mankind" ~~ Paradise Lost Book One Verse 35 Our Mr MiltonHow short the list one could compile of those of whom it can be said that fame and money did not deprave?
Acta Est Fabula.
Ne plus ultra
Our Ubiquitous Presence
Our Queen now 68 years on
Simply the best President we could ever hope to have.
Regina ~ Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi
May, 1963– Steve McQueen tooling around LA in his Jaguar XK-SS. — Photograph by © John Dominis/ Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images. Local legend holds that at least one L.A. law-enforcement agency had promised its officers that an “expensive steak dinner” awaited the guy who could nail McQueen and the Jag with a speeding ticket. The tale continues that, while he was spotted often and even pursued a time or two, he was never caught and never written. The steak dinner went unclaimed. Another story refutes the entire affair, alleging that McQueen was so awash in speeding tickets he nearly lost his license.
May, 1963– Steve McQueen driving his Jaguar XK-SS down Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, California. — Photograph by © John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images