Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

"The Heiress Trap"

The Schloss (German for "castle") had been built in the 1400s as a summer palace for the bishops of Salzburg, but in pre-World War II had been converted into a summer getaway for the wealthy. Its host, Baron Hubert von Pantz, was perhaps best known for his affair with French designer Coco Chanel, created a resort at which celebrities mixed with the wealthy and aristocratic. During its brief heyday before it was taken over by the Nazis during the Austrian occupation, Mittersell was famous for hosting celebrities like Cole Porter and royalty like the future Queen of the Netherlands, Juliana, who spent her honeymoon there.

Prince Alfie von Auersperg & Sunny, 1956
Prince Alfie von Auersperg &
Sunny, 1956

Once the Nazis took over Austria, the Schloss became the private getaway of Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, and SS officers soon replaced the rich and famous. The Germans left Mittersell in better shape than they found it, and after the war Baron Pantz was convinced by some American friends to reopen the resort. But times had changed in Europe, and nobles with titles and no money were more common than their rich counterparts, making it difficult for Pantz to find paying guests among his European friends.

Fortunately, the war had been good to the Americans and soon nouveau riche from America were flocking to the castle to rub elbows with the poor, but titled, Europeans. In the first years following the war, brewer Anheuser Busch, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and entertainers Bob Hope and Bing Crosby signed the guest register along with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and less-well-to-do princes, barons, dukes and other bluebloods.

Pantz had stumbled upon a unique symbiotic relationship. Rich Americans awed by titles and destitute nobles in search of wealth mingled at the resort, each seeking what the other had to offer. Pantz, "tired of feeding and housing these healthy young men, put [the poor nobles] to work around the club as shooting guides and sports instructors," Wright wrote. "When the von Pantzes... could say to a guest 'this is your tennis instructor, Prince Kumar of Barota,' it had an electrifying effect on the wary mothers of heiresses, who normally regarded a sleek young tennis pro as Enemy Number One."

One such young man was Prince Alfie von Auersperg, a 19-year-old blond Adonis known as a top sportsman and lady-killer. Alfie, a German, had little except his title, for his family estates were on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. But he was fortunate to have relatives who still retained vast wealth, and they gave him an allowance that enabled him to summer at Mittersell.

It was during a dance at Mittersell on her first day at the resort that Sunny Crawford met Prince Alfie, and the two fell in love immediately. Sunny's mother was opposed to the marriage. He was four years younger than Sunny, Annie Laurie pointed out. That didn't matter, Sunny replied. Marrying him would mean living close to the communists, the mother argued. Where they lived didn't matter, as long as they were together, Sunny shot back. American men are better suited to marrying American women, Annie said. He will be unfaithful. Worst of all, she cried, he's Catholic.

But nothing she could do or say would change Sunny's mind. In July 1957 Sunny Crawford married Alfie and became Princess von Auersperg.

Maria Schrallhammer
Maria Schrallhammer

Shortly after the marriage, Sunny hired Maria Schrallhammer, a German maid who had once worked for the family of Adolph Krupp (the Nazi armament maker) before coming to work for Sunny. Maria had been trained all her life to be absolutely loyal to her employer, and she had learned well. She was privy to the inner workings of Sunny von Auersperg's life and responsible only for the care of the princess. Maria handled all of Sunny's laundry, cared for her wardrobe, and made sure Sunny was well fed and happy. Over time, Maria and Sunny became close, but the relationship was strictly servant-mistress.

In the end, Annie Laurie was right.

The pair genuinely loved each other, but they were incompatible. Alfie had a roving eye. He flirted, he cheated, he generally did whatever he wanted. Sunny, on the other hand, was lonely for New York and upset with Alfie's infidelities. The couple separated, having produced two children, Ala and Alexander, but throughout their lives, Alfie and Sunny remained friendly and cordial.

It was during her separation from the prince that Sunny met a charming and urbane Dane at a dinner party. The man was the executive assistant to billionaire J. Paul Getty and his name was Claus Bülow.

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