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Claus Von Bulow

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Claus Von Bulow

Claus von Bülow
Born Claus Cecil Borberg
(1926-08-11) August 11, 1926 (age 87)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Lawyer, socialite, critic
Spouse(s) Sunny von Bülow (1966-1987)
Children Cosima von Bülow Pavoncelli

Claus von Bülow (born Claus Cecil Borberg on 11 August 1926), is a British socialite of German and Danish ancestry.[1] He was accused of the attempted murder of his wife Sunny von Bülow (born Martha Sharp Crawford, 1931–2008) by administering an insulin overdose in 1980 which left her in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of her life, but his conviction in the first trial was reversed and he was found not guilty in both his retrials.[2]


Born as Claus Cecil Borberg, von Bülow's father was Danish playwright Svend Borberg (1888-1947). His mother Jonna von Bülow af Plüskow (1900-1959) belonged to the old Danish-German noble family Bülow, originally from Mecklenburg. His father was regarded as a collaborator for his activities during the World War II German occupation. He was the maternal grandson of Frits Bülow, Minister of Justice from 1910–13 and President of the first Chamber of the Danish Parliament in 1920–22. As a result he chose to be known by his maternal surname.

Von Bülow graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked as personal assistant to J. Paul Getty after having practiced law in London in the 1950s. Though he had a variety of duties for Getty, von Bülow had acquired a familiarity with oilfield economics. Getty wrote that von Bülow showed "remarkable forbearance and good nature" as Getty's occasional whipping boy. Von Bülow remained with Getty until 1968. On June 6, 1966, von Bülow married Sunny, the American ex-wife of Prince Alfred of Auersperg. Von Bülow worked on and off as a consultant to oil companies. Sunny had a son and a daughter from her first marriage; together, she and von Bülow had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, born 15 April 1967 in New York City.[3] She married the Italian Count Riccardo Pavoncelli in 1996.[4]

Murder trials

In 1982, von Bülow was tried for the attempted murder of Sunny. The main evidence was that Sunny had low blood sugar, common in many conditions, but a blood test showed a high insulin level. The test was not repeated.[5] A needle was used against von Bülow in court, with the prosecution alleging that he used it and a vial of insulin to try to kill his wife. The discovery of these items became the focal point of von Bülow's appeal.

At the trial in Newport, von Bülow was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison; he appealed, hiring Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz to represent him. Dershowitz's campaign to acquit von Bülow was assisted by Jim Cramer, who was then a Harvard Law School student. Dershowitz and his team focused on the discovery of the bag containing the syringes and insulin. Sunny's family had hired a private investigator to look into the coma. The private investigator, Eddie Lambert (an associate of the von Bülows' lawyer Richard Kuh), was told by several family members and a maid that Claus had recently been locking a closet in the Newport home that previously was always kept open. Lambert and Kuh hired a locksmith to drive to the mansion, with the intention of picking the closet lock to find what the closet contained. They had lied to the locksmith and told him that one of them owned the house. When the three arrived, the locksmith insisted they try again to find the key, and after some searching, Kuh found a key in Claus von Bülow's desk that unlocked the closet. At this point, according to the three men in the original interviews, the locksmith was paid for the trip and left before the closet was actually opened, though the men would later recant that version and insist that the locksmith was present when they entered the closet. It was in the closet that the main evidence against Claus von Bülow was found. In 1984 the conviction was reversed based on the fact that the main evidence was gained illegally, by someone who may have stood to gain from von Bülow's conviction. In 1985, after a second trial, von Bülow was found not guilty on all charges.[6]

At the second trial the defense called eight medical experts, all university professors, who testified that Sunny's two comas were not caused by insulin, but by a combination of ingested (not injected) drugs, alcohol, and chronic health conditions. The experts were John Caronna (chairman of neurology, Cornell); Leo Dal Cortivo (former president, U.S. Toxicology Association); Ralph DeFronzo (medicine, Yale); Kurt Dubowski (forensic pathology, University of Oklahoma); Daniel Foster (medicine, University of Texas); Daniel Furst (medicine, University of Iowa); Harold Lebovitz (director of clinical research, State University of New York); Vincent Marks (clinical biochemistry, Surrey, vice-president Royal College of Pathologists and president, Association of Clinical Biochemistry); and Arthur Rubinstein (medicine, University of Chicago).

Other experts testified that the hypodermic needle tainted with insulin on the outside (but not inside) would have been dipped in insulin but not injected; injecting it in flesh would have wiped it clean. Evidence also showed that Sunny's hospital admission three weeks before the final coma showed she had ingested at least 73 aspirin tablets, a quantity that could only have been self-administered, and which indicated her state of mind.[7]

In popular culture

  • Alan Dershowitz wrote the book Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case (1985) that was cinematically adapted as Reversal of Fortune (1990). Jeremy Irons starred as Claus von Bülow (a performance which won him both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor), Ron Silver as Dershowitz, and Glenn Close as Sunny von Bülow.
  • Professor Vincent Marks and Caroline Richmond have a chapter on the science underpinning Sunny's medical condition in their book, Insulin Murders (London, Royal Society of Medicine Press 2007).
  • Television reporter Bill Kurtis narrated the American Justice crime series episode titled Von Bülow: A Wealth of Evidence.
  • The television series Biography produced and aired a documentary episode titled Claus von Bülow: A Reasonable Doubt featuring interviews with Claus von Bülow and Prof. Dershowitz.


External links

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