Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

Motive

Alexandra Isles made a brief, but important, appearance on the witness stand in the trial's sixth week. A reluctant witness for the prosecution, she had come to Newport only in response to a subpoena from Famiglietti. Her reluctance was not to protect the man she loved, but to protect her own reputation and her child. Yes, she had given Claus several ultimatums to leave Sunny and marry her, and yes, he had given her money to buy a BMW, but she was not his mistress. In her eyes, a mistress is a kept woman, one who is supported by the married man. It was clear from the outset of their relationship that Alexandra could buy Claus several times over.

She was called to provide half of what prosecutors considered Claus' motive for wanting Sunny dead. The state did not have to prove motive to convict, but motive often helps persuade jurors of guilt.

Alexandra's testimony showed how the relationship had soured over the last few months. At the request of her attorneys, she had broken off the relationship with Claus when he was indicted. When she was preparing to leave the stand after an afternoon of testimony, Famiglietti asked her if she still loved Claus.

She mumbled something inaudible, and the prosecutor asked her to repeat herself.

"I don't know," she replied.

The other half of the motive was, of course, money, and Morris Gurley, the trust banker told jurors about the sum Claus stood to inherit if Sunny predeceased him.

Sunny's fortune, he told the court, was approximately $75 million. Of that, $45 million was held in trust, and she was living off the interest income from the trust. The remaining $30 million was in cash, real estate, securities and art works.

In the event of Sunny's death, Claus would get approximately $14 million, one half of the liquid assets minus the fees for trustees and executors. The cash portion of the inheritance was $10 million, or about 100 times what he earned annually from the trust Sunny had set up for him. All in all, it was significant motive for murder.

Complicated tax dodges that allow fortunes to skip generations while performing charitable work eliminated Ala, Alexander and Cosima from suspicion of complicity, Gurley explained. They stood to inherit even more money from Annie Laurie Aitken, an 80-year-old dowager who was probably wealthier than her daughter. In return, their children would inherit Sunny's fortune 21 years after her death. This every-other-generation scheme enables dynasties to pass their wealth to descendents without having the government take its cut each time a matriarch or patriarch dies.

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