Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case


Claus von Bülow, portrait
Claus von Bülow,

At first glance Sunny Crawford, the princess von Auersperg, and Claus Bülow had nothing in common. Everything Sunny was — shy, New World rich, content with her lot — Claus was not. He was a Dane whose family fortunes were lost during a post-World War I financial panic, and he was as driven as Sunny was complacent. While she was happy spending the evening at home with her children, Claus was the consummate partygoer.

Born Claus Cecil Borberg in Copenhagen, he was raised by his divorced mother and grandfather, a former Danish minister of Justice. Claus inherited his tenacious nature from his grandfather, Frits Bülow, who rebuilt some of his financial empire in the years before World War II and served as the equivalent of the head of the Danish federal bank before the German occupation.

Claus Bülow's family was linked to the prominent German von Bülow clan, perhaps best known for its support of the German composer Richard Wagner, who carried on a long-term affair with Cosima von Bülow, wife of Wagner's favorite orchestra conductor. Claus' father, playwright Svend Borberg, was a German sympathizer who was head of the Danish-German Literary Society (for which he was convicted of collaboration after the war). The Bülows had lost some relatives in the 1862 Danish-German war, which prompted his grandfather's hatred of Germany, but Borberg had seen his plays successfully produced in Berlin and had developed friendships with the German intelligentsia.

As was typical for well-to-do Danes in the World War interregnum, Claus was educated in Swiss schools at St. Moritz. This exposure to the ultra-rich gave Claus a taste of how he wanted to live and perhaps instilled in him a silent contempt for the super-rich boys who looked down at the less affluent youth from Denmark. In any event, at a young age, Claus used his contacts with the upper class to impress them with his charm, intelligence and ability.

When the Nazis invaded in 1940, Claus found himself trapped in Denmark with his father. Although Svend tacitly supported the Nazi regime (his collaboration consisted only of not overtly criticizing his German masters), he knew that his son would be safer outside the country. Claus's mother, Jonna Bülow, arranged to have her son spirited out of the country in the belly of a British Mosquito bomber.

Trinity College, Cambridge, England (CORBIS)
Trinity College, Cambridge, England

Claus Bülow graduated from Trinity College in Cambridge, England, in 1946 and moved to London after becoming a barrister. He practiced law throughout the 1950s, gaining experience and contacts. Eventually, an acquaintance introduced him to oil magnate J. Paul Getty, who hired the up-and-coming barrister as a personal assistant in 1959.

Getty wrote that Bülow took "a tremendous load of administrative, preparatory and detail work from my shoulders." He gave Getty legal and public relations advice, and showed "remarkable forbearance and good nature" as Getty's occasional "whipping" boy.

In 1985, as Rhode Island prepared for the second von Bülow trial, the Providence Journal reported that Claus also helped procure medicines for Getty, including, "rejuvenation" drugs.

"While Getty once praised Bülow for his 'rapier-quick mind, penchant for hard work and highly personable manner,' others who knew him at the time have described him as a 'sly' and 'supercilious' man who often attempted to make himself look good at the expense of Getty's staff," the Journal reported. Claus' employment with Getty ended in 1968, two years after marrying Sunny Crawford von Auersperg.

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