Vanity Fair today broke an exclusive story from journalist Peter Lance that makes the case tobacco heiress Doris Duke used her vast wealth to get away with the murder of her gay interior designer Eduardo Tirella in 1969. Homicide at Rough Point alleges that the world’s third richest woman at the time deliberately crushed and killed Eduardo Tirella with a rented station wagon in a fit of rage after he told the heiress he was leaving her for a rising career in Hollywood.
Lance, who began his career as a journalist with The Newport Daily News just months after the Tirella’s death, paints a portrait of a privileged existence for the billionaire Duke, living a life of luxury due to the amassed fortune of her father, James Buchanan Duke. Born in 1856 to a tobacco plantation farmer, James acquired a license in 1885 to use a new automated cigarette making machine, and was supplying 40% of the American cigarette market five years later. It was the wealth generated from the tobacco market as well as from other future sources that funded Doris Duke’s extravagant lifestyle.
Eduardo Tirella was a rising behind-the-scenes star in Hollywood. He had earned a good reputation for his work on the movie The Sandpiper starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and was eager to return. Tirella had told friends he was going to Newport, Rhode Island, to tell Duke he was no longer working for her and was moving to the west coast.
Friends were concerned for Tirella. Duke was notoriously mercurial with an explosive temper. Tirella, who was responsible for the interior design and decoration of Duke's estates, had living quarters in all her homes across the country and globe. Duke had spent millions of dollars on art and antiques at the advice of Tirella over the years. In fact, the station wagon allegedly used to kill him had been rented by Duke in order to transport an item she had recently purchased on Tirella’s advice.
Duke reportedly exploded when Tirella informed her of his plans. According to Lance's account, the pair were driving and had stopped in front of her Newport mansion when Tirella exited the station wagon in order to open the front gate. Duke allegedly moved behind the steering wheel, floored the accelerator, and crushed Tirella, killing him instantly. The force of impact was so great the station wagon smashed through the gates and continued for several more yards before pinning Tirella’s lifeless body against a tree.
She was never arrested or charged with a crime. Instead, local police quickly ruled the killing an accident. Lance reveals that those responsible for investigating the case either retired with a sudden unexplained wealth or were questionably promoted soon after the case was closed with no charges against Duke.
The story struck a nerve with Lance, the five-time Emmy Award-winning producer and correspondent, and he is now at work on a book focusing on his broader investigation that he hopes will emulate some of the success of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Homicide at Rough Point is scheduled for release October 27, but can be preordered now at Amazon. You can read the exclusive story of Homicide at Rough Point at Vanity Fair.
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