NEW YORK (PIX11) -- She tried to live her life in utter secrecy and solitude. But the death in New York this week of one of America’s wealthiest heiresses, at the age of 104, has brought waves of attention to the strange, strange tale of Huguette Clark.
When MSNBC investigative reporter Bill Dedman first broke this story a year ago, the classic American story of the poor little rich girl was redefined forever. Now that she's gone, the world she tried so hard to keep at bay for 80 years, is looking at her bizarre life, and asking “Why?”
The photo you see above is of Huguette Clark in 1930. Unbelievably, it is the last picture ever taken of her.
"This is a story of vast wealth, and beautiful properties that have hardly ever been touched, and a woman who was private to an odd degree," says Connecticut Post reporter Brittany Lyte. She began following the story of Huguette Clark a year ago, when she visited the vast Fairfield county estate owned and scrupulously maintained by Mrs. Clark for 60 years. But she was an utterly absentee owner.
“She never spent a night there," said Lyte, “And never furnished it.”
A groundskeeper who's worked there for over two decades asked PIX11 News to leave Thursday, and wouldn’t answer any questions. But he told Lyte last year that he had never met his employer a single time. Indeed, until yesterday, he thought she had been dead for years.
The house is now for sale at $24 million. It’s not visible from the gates, but you can take a virtual tour of the eerily empty mansion on the realtor’s web site Http://www.104danshighway.com/
Huguette Clark was the daughter of gilded age robber baron William Clark, who became one of the richest men in the world mining copper in Montana, buying a US senate seat while he was at it. After building a 121-room mansion on 5th avenue, he died in 1925.
Huguette married briefly, that photo above was taken on the day of her divorce. After that, she disappeared from public view forever.
The 52-acre Connecticut property wasn’t the only piece of superb real estate Huguette owned, maintained, and then completely ignored. A sprawling estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, California, said to be worth $100 million, hadn’t been visited by Clark since the 1950’s. She also owns two floors of an apartment on Fifth Ave. overlooking Central Park at 72nd street, also said to be worth $100 million. Huegette lived there with her mother until she died in 1963.
Then, in 1988, Clark left the Fifth Avenue apartment to live -- not in any of her other splendid homes -- but in plain, drab rooms at Manhattan hospitals. Not because she was sick, but because she wanted to. Most of the final decades of her life were spent at Beth Israel Medical Center on First Avenue. The few people who saw her said she seemed happy with the private care she paid for in the hospital. She loved cartoons, especially “the Flintstones.” The dolls she'd loved and collected since she was a little girl, were always around her.
That raised a flag for psychotherapist and author Dr. Robi Ludwig. "If someone is hanging out with dolls or feels comfortable with dolls, then maybe emotionally she was really a very little girl.” Even more telling about Huguette, Ludwig said, was her decision to leave behind her beautiful homes, for a hospital.
"People who do that tend to like the idea of being taken care of, it's like having faux mothers and fathers around, someone to take care of you, be nice to you, and she obviously needed that,” said Ludwig.
With death, nothing really changed. There was no funeral. She was interred Thursday in her family’s massive mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. But the burial was held early in the morning before the cemetery was open to visitors. The only people in attendance were funeral home and cemetery employees.
So now, Huguette Clark finally rests, with her father, mother, and siblings, leaving behind a life shrouded in mystery. Now comes the inevitable legal wrangling over her fortune, estimated to be around $500 million. The lawyer and the accountant who oversaw her finances have come under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, looking into both elder abuse and theft. No charges have been filed.
The few distant relatives Huguette had left were kept from seeing her by the attorney, who said he was just passing along Mrs. Clark’s orders that no family be allowed near her, not even at her burial. Reportedly, Clark had a will. The possible legal fight could well result in more waves of exactly what Huguette Clark tried to avoid for 80-years: any kind of attention from other people.
"She had enough money to stay away from society, and that's what she wanted, and that's what she got,” said reporter Brittany Lyte. Psychotherapist Robbie Ludwig had her own thoughts about why the story of Huguette Clark is so baffling, and yet so compelling, to everyone who hears it.
“We tend to think of people who have a lot of wealth as having a lot of options,” said Dr. Ludwig. “And we see in certain cases, some of these people have very small lives, that their money can create even more problems for them, and they end up quite alone at the end of their lives, which is sad.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times