Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Heidi Fleiss: The Million Dollar Madam

The Days of Innocence

On December 30, 1965, at California Hospital in Los Angeles, Heidi Fleiss was born to pediatrician Dr. Paul Fleiss and schoolteacher Elissa Fleiss. Heidi was raised in a large family with three sisters and two brothers. She had a happy childhood and a good relationship with her parents and siblings.

Video cover: Hollywood Madam
Video cover: Hollywood Madam

According to Vicky Allan's article "Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam" Heidi's parents enjoyed nature and the family spent many summers hiking and camping throughout the United States. Heidi visited many historical sites, such as the Grand Canyon and the redwood forest, which impressed her. During one of the family trips they visited Hearst Castle in San Louis Obispo, California. Heidi suggested in her biography Pandering, that the extravagance of the castle captured her imagination and gave her a glimpse into the world of the rich and famous. It was a lifestyle she would be drawn into years later.

At the age of 12, Heidi earned a reputation in her Los Feliz area neighborhood as a friendly and responsible babysitter. Many hired her to watch their children. Eventually, her service was in such demand that it became difficult to keep up with all of the requests. Recognizing an opportunity to make a lot of money, Heidi began a babysitting service and employed her friends to take over some of the work. It was an educational experience and she learned that she had a knack for business.        

Even though Heidi exhibited entrepreneurial talent, she did poorly in junior high and high school. Fearing that her bad grades would prevent her from going to college, she paid students so that she could copy their work. To make matters worse, she became more isolated from the other students because she had difficulty fitting in. Heidi became increasingly frustrated with school and often skipped classes.

According to Pam Lambert's August 2003 People article, when Heidi skipped school she often went to the beach or racetracks where she found solace. Eventually, she dropped out of school in 10th grade. Over the subsequent years she worked at several jobs, including a flower shop sales girl and a waitress. However, Heidi found little satisfaction in her work. She had higher aspirations.

Grayhall Mansion
Grayhall Mansion

At 19, Heidi attended a party with a friend in Beverly Hills. It was held at Grayhall Mansion, the home of the famous financier bachelor, 61-year-old Bernie Cornfeld. She was impressed with his extravagant lifestyle and was eager to meet the charismatic millionaire. At the time, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world. 

At the party, Heidi was introduced to Bernie, and the two got along well. Before long, she secured a job as his personal secretary, answering phones. They eventually began a relationship. Allan suggested that Heidi was determined to live with Bernie, hoping that from then on her life would be "Easy Street." The relationship would change her life forever.