Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clifford Irving's Hoax

Coming Unraveled, Coming Clean

Chester Davis with Bill Grey in background
Chester Davis with Bill Grey in background
 

That same month, Howard's attorney Chester Davis filed suit against McGraw-Hill, Life, Clifford Irving and Dell Publishing Company, citing that they had violated Howard's right to publish his own autobiography. Howard had been pushed too far. He demanded his privacy and he was not about to let Clifford or those who supported him interfere with his basic human rights.

During the height of the storm, Swiss police were involved in an investigation into a suspicious bank account under the name H.R. Hughes. Within a short period of time over $750,000 passed through the private account only to be whittled away down to approximately $150 shortly thereafter. It was suspected that the account was in some way involved in the huge scandal, taking place overseas in New York involving Howard Hughes.

Check deposited to Swiss account
Check deposited to Swiss account

A link was made, when it was discovered that the checks from McGraw-Hill made out to Howard were indeed cashed at the bank. However, it was not Howard receiving the money. After questioning the bank tellers, investigators learned that a woman named Helga Hughes was depositing and withdrawing the large sums entered into the account. Intriguingly, the woman bore a remarkable resemblance to Clifford's Swiss/German wife Edith.

In late January, the Swiss police paid a visit to Clifford and Edith's home on the island of Ibiza. They were anxious to interview Edith and determine her possible role in the emerging bank scandal. Edith denied having any knowledge of the bank account and Clifford backed up her story but the police weren't convinced. Fay, Chester and Linklater stated that when Clifford was asked about the unusual circumstances, he stated that there was a possibility that "1) He had been dealing all along with an imposter. 2) Howard Hughes had, for his own inscrutable purposes, used a 'loyal servant' to cash the checks for him. 3) He, Irving, was a hoaxer". It didn't take much longer for the truth to be revealed.

James Phelan
James Phelan
 

Clifford's lies were becoming unraveled. The connection between Clifford and Phelan and Dietrich's manuscript was discovered. Moreover, when the manuscripts were compared, the resemblances between them were uncanny. It became obvious that Clifford stole a large portion of their manuscript to be used for his own book.

To make matters worse for Clifford, McCulloch learned that he had lied about his whereabouts when he was allegedly interviewing Howard Hughes. In actuality, the places where he said he had been did not correspond with his travel records. It became clear that Clifford lied about the entire book and the circumstances surrounding its creation. Moreover, it was discovered that during the alleged many rendezvous with Hughes, Clifford was actually keeping company with his various mistresses around the world, gathering data of a different sort. Gradually, the hoax was becoming exposed.

On January 28, Clifford and his wife Edith publicly confessed to orchestrating and taking part in one of the most elaborate hoaxes of the century. They further confessed that it was Edith who deposited the checks made out to Hughes. It was also learned that she and Clifford falsified her passport in order to withdraw the money from the Swiss bank account, which they established under the name H.R. Hughes (Helga R. Hughes, not Howard R. Hughes). 

Not surprisingly, the confession led to a media frenzy. Headlines and news reports around the world sensationalized Clifford, Suskind and Edith's illegal but daring exploitation of Howard Hughes and the world's most prominent publishing and magazine companies. Just as much attention was given to Clifford's mistresses, especially Baroness Nina Van Pallandt. Fay, Chester and Linklater stated that more reporters covered the hoax than those reporting on the ongoing war in Vietnam.

 

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