Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Heidi Fleiss: The Million Dollar Madam

On the Wild Side

Bernie Cornfeld
Bernie Cornfeld

Bernie had a great influence on Heidi. He taught her valuable life lessons and business practices. With Bernie, Heidi experienced a lifestyle previously unknown to her: expensive gifts, money and elaborate vacations. Yet, she wasn't completely happy.

Even though the two loved one another, it was difficult for Bernie to be monogamous. He had a weakness for classical beauties, which resulted in numerous affairs. Heidi eventually broke off the relationship. Bernie's daughter Jessica Cornfeld's suggested in her article "My Father, The Playboy Who Could Never Have Enough Lovers," that despite the breakup, they maintained a close friendship until Bernie's death from an aneurysm in 1995.

Following the breakup, Heidi's life changed drastically. She moved back to L.A. and obtained a real estate license. She worked for a prestigious Beverly Hills real estate firm and made enough money to live comfortably. However, it was not comfort Heidi sought but opulence. She had grown accustomed to the lifestyle she led with Bernie and did not want to settle for less. It was at this time that she met a woman who introduced her to the world of prostitution.

Heidi Fleiss
Heidi Fleiss

When Heidi was 22, she dated a filmmaker named Ivan Naggy. One evening at a nightclub, Ivan introduced Heidi to a woman named Elizabeth Adams, a.k.a. Madam Alex. Madam Alex, a 60-year-old Philippine native, ran the most prosperous prostitution service in Los Angeles, which catered to the rich and famous. However, she wanted to retire and was looking for someone to run her business for her.

Earlier that year Madam Alex experienced legal troubles and she feared that if she were caught hiring out prostitutes again, she would serve jail time. She believed Heidi was just the person who could take control of her sex service.

Heidi was expected to learn every facet of the trade, which resulted in her prostituting herself. According to a February 2002 interview with CNN's Larry King, Heidi claimed that her actual prostitution experience was relatively "short-lived." She quickly rose to the rank of "assistant Madam," a job at which she proved to be skillful.

Madam Alex
Madam Alex

Many of Madam Alex's workers were aging and ordinary looking. One of Heidi's first tasks was to hire a new batch of eager young girls who were more attractive. Most of the girls learned of Heidi's recruiting by word of mouth. Most were in their early to mid-20s, beautiful, energetic and ambitious. Many were friends and acquaintances of Heidi who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to meet wealthy men and make a lot of money. Almost immediately after the new workers were employed, profits for the service skyrocketed.

Madam Alex's profits rose by approximately 400%, but Heidi made only a small percent of the earnings. Nevertheless, she was able to afford a $1.6 million house in the Benedict Canyon section of L.A. previously owned by actor Michael Douglas. She lived there with her best friend, Victoria Sellers, the daughter of actor Peter Sellers and actress Britt Ekland. The two threw wild parties at the house, including a birthday party for Mick Jagger. The house got trashed.

Madam Alex and Heidi's clients were some of Hollywood's top producers, directors and movie stars, such as Charlie Sheen. Other clients represented the world's wealthiest and most famous men, including royal figures, heads of state, sheiks and business tycoons. Just when business was at the pinnacle of success, tragedy struck.

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