Getting away with murder twice: Stern Crime highlights HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT, the true story behind billionaire Doris Duke’s 1966 killing of gay designer Eduardo Tirella.

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September 28th, 2022
By Peter Lance

In its 40th edition  
STERN CRIME, the wildly popular German true crime magazine, published an extensive takeout from my Duke investigation. The story first broke in the July/August 2020 edition of Vanity Fair. Then, the day after publication I began expanding my findings into HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT, a 438 page book documenting Doris Duke’s intent-to-kill murder of her longtime designer/art curator and companion Eduardo Tirella in early October, 1966.

For an overview Watch the YouTube Video.

Published in 4 editions in late February of 2021, the book prompted The Newport, RI Police Dept. to reopen the case after earlier deeming it “an unfortunate accident.” Back then Miss Duke, the wealthiest woman in America, was cleared 96 hours after crushing Eduardo under the wheels of a 2 ton station wagon outside the gates of Rough Point, one of her four U.S. estates. At the time she was thought to be the only living witness, but months after the book’s publication, all of that changed. 

WHAT PROMPTED THE NEW INVESTIGATION?

On July 2nd, 2021, Robert E. Walker, Jr., a former Marine (then 68) who had been the 13 year-old paperboy at Rough Point in 1966, read my findings and came foreward. He told police that he had been present on the late afternoon of October 7th, and not only heard the entire lead-up to Tirella’s death, but confronted Miss Duke moments later, after she emerged from the Dodge Polara “death wagon,” uninjured and acting with cold-blooded indifference to Eduardo’s homicide.

After Bob reached out to me at a book-signing in Newport, I took him up to Rough Point on July 4th and recorded multiple interviews with him recounting the details, which, I confirmed, he had told to a series of friends and fellow Marines as early as 1973.  The interviews led to my second piece in Vanity Fair which was accompanied by this video compiled by VF’s editors. In it, Bob describes how, after he came upon the crash, Miss Duke yelled at him three times to leave the scene, but because his father feared for his life if he came forward, he kept what he’d seen a secret for more than half a century.

The police investigation was commenced by Det, Jacque Wuest, the Newport PD’s cold case detective. Initially, she not only found Bob “credible” but confirmed that he’d given the identical account years earlier. The reopening of the case made international headlines when Mark Pratt reported the story for The Associated Press and it was published in thousands of print, online and media outlets worldwide.

Then, in mid November, 2021, after 5 months, during which she was promoted to Sergeant and left on three weeks vacation, Det. Sgt. Wuest closed the case, concluding that there was “no new evidence that warrants further review.”  This TIMELINE traces the tortuous trajectory of her 139 day probe.

Her conclusion came despite extraordinary new documentary and forensic evidence (set forth below) proving that Miss Duke murdered Eduardo with intent. It was evidence that synced precisely with Bob Walker’s memory of the events, which he’d recounted to Det. Sgt. Wuest on July 2nd, 2021.

 

THE SECOND COVER-UP

The day after she again closed the case, The Newport Daily News ran a piece by veteran reporter Sean Flynn reporting how the Newport PD was effectively embracing the 1966 verdict of the then Mafia-related Police Chief (Joseph A. Radice) that the billionairess, who died in 1993,  had no criminal culpability for Eduardo’s death. That position was supported by the current Chief Gary Silva, and endorsed by his superior Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., the City Manager.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

My book, contains 60 pages of annotations proving that the notoriously possessive and jealous billionairess, who escaped criminal charges in 1963 when she stabbed her common law husband with a kitchen knife, killed Eduardo in a jealous rage outside the gates of her English manor-style estate.

Among the evidence is the recently discovered photo below, (taken by Ed Quigley) showing Newport PD Sgt. Fred Newton (the chief accident investigator at the time) working the crash site at lower right. As I learned in my investigation, Sgt. Newton had actually solved the case within hours of Tirella’s death, but had to excise the truth from his official report on the orders of Chief Radice.

THE MURDEROUS QUID PRO QUO

Eight days after her exoneration, Doris Duke began giving of tens of thousands of dollars to various Newport institutions, including Newport Hospital where she had been hidden away from State investigators on the night of Tirella’s homicide by the Assistant County Medical Examiner whom she had just hired as her personal physician. In effect, the one official bound by law to determine the victim’s cause of death, had gone on Miss Duke’s payroll within hours of his killing.

INITIALLY DET. WUEST FOUND BOB CREDIBLE

On Aug. 2nd, Det. Wuest sent me this email acknowledging that she’d reopened the case, that it would not be ignored and asking my help to “bring justice for Eduardo’s family.” Then, two weeks later in this Aug. 19th email, she wrote that she had been instructed by Lt. Corey Huck, her supervisor, not to contact me. Sensing that the NPD was now obstructing her probe and a cover-up may be in the works, I began compiling that TIMELINE

It documents, how, on Sept. 15th, Det. Wuest made an unannounced visit to Mr. Walker’s home, at which time she told him that she’d been promoted to Sergeant and would soon depart on a three week European vacation. Further, after finding him “credible” in her July 2nd interview, she now asked the former paperboy whether he had effectively created his story after reading HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT. As Mr. Walker related her visit to me, he sensed that she was now backtracking.

On November 9th, with the case in its fifth month and no apparent end in sight, I sent The TIMELINE to The City Manager and members of The City Council, asking them to exercise some oversight over the Police Dept. with respect to Det. Sgt. Wuest’s investigation.

Accompanying my letter to them was this email I’d sent sent her Sept, 22nd. Highlighted in red, it underscored the compelling evidence, documented in my findings, that Miss Duke had acted with intent.

Nonetheless, on Nov. 18th, Det. Sgt. Wuest reached the conclusion that there was “no new evidence” to justify changing the “unfortunate accident” conclusion, reached corruptly in 1966 by the Mafia-related Police Chief Joseph A. Radice.

MEDIA REACTION

The next day The Associated Press filed a story covering Det. Wuest’s response. It was published in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, The Denver Gazette, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, The Houston Chronicle, and 100’s of international online, print and broadcast media outlets as far east as The Taiwan News.

THE EVIDENCE OF INTENTIONAL MURDER

The initial position of Det Wuest that there was “no new evidence,” flies in the face of massive documentation in HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT: namely, that on the late afternoon of October 7th, the richest woman in America, crushed Tirella to death under the wheels of the two ton station wagon moments after he’d told her he was leaving her employ.

CHAPTERS 32-33 of the book show that Miss Duke committed six intentional acts leading directly to Tirella’s death. As reported in CHAPTERS 6-7, she then conspired with Newport’s Police Chief, Joseph A. Radice, to produce a three page fabricated transcript of an interrogation that never took place. That Q&A closed the case, giving Radice the cover he needed to rule that Tirella’s violent death was the result of “an unfortunate accident.”

In effect, the Newport PD, in 1966, was allowing the tobacco, aluminum and energy heiress to get away with murder. Now 55 years later, in City Manager Nicholson’s statement, the legendary Rhode Island resort city is embracing that finding again.

As reported in CHAPTER 10 of my book, Radice, who had Mafia ties, retired seven months after closing the Duke case and bought a pair of condos in Florida. His false conclusion that Eduardo had been “crushed against the gates” of Rough Point made the front page of The Newport Daily News, the morning after Eduardo’s death.

But Sgt. Newton had told patrolman Edward Angel, the first officer on the scene, that as Eduardo was driving out of the estate with Miss Duke in the passenger seat, he got out to open the heavy wrought iron gates. Miss Duke, then slid behind the wheel, disengaged the parking brake, slammed down on the accelerator, causing gouges in the gravel driveway and roared forward. At that point, Eduardo turned and (to save his life) he jumped up on the hood of the Dodge Polara, breaking his right hip.

The billionairess then drove the two-ton wagon through the gates, and hesitated; stopping 12 feet into Bellevue Avenue, at which time Eduardo, rolled off the hood; injured but still alive.

According to Sergeant Newton, Miss Duke then drove forward, dragging him across the street where he came to rest, fatally injured, as the wagon crashed against a tree. The photo at right, taken by Ed Quigley, shows Tirella’s blood under the rear axle of the wagon after his lifeless body was extricated.

No blood was found on the gates, but Officer Angel, who was also interviewed by Det. Wuest, discovered blood, skin and hair on Bellevue Avenue at the very location, Sgt. Newton told him the victim had rolled off the hood. At the time, Officer Angel believed that this location had been the initial Point of Impact, but he later learned from Sgt. Newton that Mr. Tirella and gone up on the hood of the wagon before Miss Duke crashed through the gates. Thus, effectively there were two points of impact: inside the gates and on the street.

In the photo at left taken by Jerry Taylor, the morning after the homicide, all of the damage to the heavy wrought iron gates was to the lower rungs, whereas the Autopsy Report showed that, except for his fractured hip, all of Eduardo’s fatal injuries were to his upper body and brain, the direct result of being “dragged under the vehicle.” He was never “crushed against the gates,” as Chief Radice told the press.The long missing official Death Certificate, which I also found, confirms that.

In an August interview with me for my second Vanity Fair piece Officer Angel said, “If the former paperboy’s account is credible it could very well mean that [Doris Duke] was covering up her actions and was pretty deliberate about it. She had a history of losing her temper over the years. So she would have been capable of that kind of act; first in killing him and then immediately thereafter in the cover-up. If [the] testimony is to be believed, this changes everything… It certainly throws a whole new light on the case.”

THE FIRST POLICE COVER-UP IN 1966

On Oct. 9th, 1966, two days after she murdered Eduardo, Doris Duke sat in her bedroom at Rough Point seen below in a photo by Adam Fithers. German shepherds flanked her as she was briefly questioned by Lt. Frank H. Walsh and Det. George Watts of The Newport PD, in the presence of her business manager and New York lawyer. It was the only account of the death that she gave to police.

This never-before-seen transcript, uncovered during my investigation, shows that Lt. Walsh asked only four questions. On the basis of that paper-thin Q+A with Duke, Chief Radice, initially closed the case, then briefly reopened it after being criticized by the RI Attorney General at the time for rushing to judgement.

At that point, the Chief conspired with Miss Duke’s Rhode Island attorney Aram Arabian to create that fabricated three page transcript of an alleged “interrogation” at Rough Point, the next day, October 11th, 1966. It was nothing more than a “script” of a Q&A written by The Newport PD, that never took place. But once Doris Duke and Arabian signed off on it, the case was officially closed.

WORLDWIDE MEDIA REACTION
TO THE PAPERBOY’S ACCOUNT

On September 2nd, Sam Dangremond filed a Newport story for TOWN AND COUNTRY magazine, citing the findings in HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT.

As the AP story broke from coast to coast in The Boston Globe and The Seattle Times,  The Daily Beast soon filed its own piece. There was international coverage from The  Independent  and The U.K. Daily Mail. Famed historian Michael Henry Adams who spoke at one of my signings at The Brenton Hotel, soon posted a brilliant analytical piece on the significance of Bob Walker’s findings at Advocate.com

This drone video shot by Newport cinematographer Lowell Blackman, shows the proximity of Rough Point — the scene of the crime — to Bob Walker’s starting point “on the night of,” at the southeast corner of Ledge Road.

Sean Flynn followed up with a page-one story August 9th in The Providence Journal  Newport This Week had a front page piece on Aug. 12th, the same day that veteran UK reporter Richard Mineards who’s based in Montecito, California, led his weekly column with it in The Montecito Journal.  

With these links you can read my original 8,000 word investigative piece in the July/August 2020 edition of VanityFair.com which was published across 14 pages in the magazine.

CONTINUING COVERAGE

By Sana Pashankar The Duke University Chronicle October 18th In February of this year, journalist Peter Lance published “Homicide at Rough Point,” which draws on newly uncovered evidence from police reports to photos of the crime scene, to argue that Duke killed Tirella “with intent.” CLICK HERE for the full story. CLICK HERE for Sana’s discussion of HOMICIDE on the DukeWeek podcast. Meanwhile…

NEWPORT BOOK TOUR

Throughout July I gave a series of talk’s in The Brenton’s second floor “Living Room. Wednesday July 14th featured  historian Adams and legendary Newport activist Pauline Perkins-Moyé. The previous Wednesday Bill Bartholomew did his third podcast with me from the “Living Room.”

You can listen to it here, then hear Bill’s wildly successful podcast in our two previous outings: On August 4th after the story hit VF and on February 23rd.

To find out why so many people are passionate about this book sample the Intro, Preface and the first two chapters.

MEANWHILE…

HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT has earned Ninety-one  5-star reviews on Amazon.com. Watch the YouTube Video.

You can order the book, now  available in four editions: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle/Nook and Audible at: amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google, Books-A-Million, Thriftbooks, BookDepository, McNally-Jackson, Bookshop.org, abebooks, Walmart & Target

DOWNLOAD A BONUS PDF

To get a sense of what a Renaissance Man and war hero that Eduardo Tirella was, Download Chapters 1, 2, 17, 30 & 31 of HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT.

THE CONTINUING DISTORTION OF THE TRUTH
BY THE NEWPORT RESTORATION FOUNDATION 

On June 16th, The Providence Journal published a page-one story from Newport Daily News coverage in which Sean Flynn reported that after maintaining AN EXHIBIT at Rough Point, the home museum of billionairess Doris Duke, which contained the false claim that her murder of gay designer Eduardo Tirella in 1966 was an “accident,” The Newport Restoration Foundation changed it, describing Tirella’s death as “an incident.”

They also removed the false assertion that Duke, the richest woman in America at the time of the homicide, “settled” a 1971 wrongful death case “with Tirella’s family” after she was found civilly liable. The initial EXHIBIT seen by thousands of tourists for more than two years, had been the object of controversy for months, generating local, state and national media coverage.

WJAR-TV correspondent RJ Heim did a followup to his Four Part Series in March.

The modified EXHIBIT, which still contained several misstatements of fact, was added to a wall-sized space at the end of the Rough Point Tour in April of 2019. It remained unchanged throughout the entire 2020 season, even though the initial findings of my investigation into Eduardo’s death published July 16th, 2020 in Vanity Fair, shattered the accident theory.

The Exhibit remained intact when the estate was opened for the 2021 season on March 20th. Three days later, it became the subject of a complaint sent to Mark Thompson, Executive Director of The NRF (below) by Donna Lohmeyer, Eduardo’s niece, who wrote to him asking the Foundation to remove the Exhibit, which she said misrepresented her uncle’s death.

In her letter Ms. Lohmeyer wrote that she was “shocked at the utter indifference the NRF has shown.” On Monday, April 26th, Mr. Thompson received MY LETTER along with a copy of my new book. That same day,  ADVOCATE.com  broke the story of the ongoing EXHIBIT controversy nationally.

THE MODIFIED EXHIBIT

While the NRF changed to “incident,” the previous false assertion that Eduardo’s death was the result of an “accident,” and while they removed, the false claim that Doris Duke “settled” the 1971 wrongful death case “with the Tirella family,” the Exhibit continued to contain multiple affirmative falsehoods. It remained intact for most of 2021 and has since been removed.

Modified or not, that Exhibit, seen by thousands of visitors since April of 2019, continued to distort history and denigrate the memory of Doris Duke’s victim. Its use was unbecoming of a non-profit Foundation which had a 2018 Fair Market Value of: $75,816,493, according to its IRS 990 tax return filed on July 25th, 2019.

THE NRF’S RESPONSIBILITY TO HISTORY
AND THE TRUTH BEHIND EDUARDO’S DEATH

In a statement issued to WJAR-TV on February 18th, 2021 the NRF claimed that it “does not have the capacity or resources to conduct a separate investigation” of my findings. The NRF’s stated mission is to “preserve, maintain, and interpret Aquidneck Island’s 18th- and early 19th-century architectural heritage.” A key component of that heritage is Doris Duke’s home museum.

Many of the priceless works of art at Rough Point were curated by Eduardo Tirella, whose life ended outside its gates in 1966. So, it’s fair to ask: if a $75  million dollar Foundation doesn’t have the capacity or resources to confirm the truth behind his violent death, who does? As we now know The Newport PD has abandoned that inquiry.

MR. THOMPSON RESIGNS

In my April 26th letter, I called upon Mark Thompson, the NRF’s Executive Director, to remove that entire wall-sized Exhibit so that continued visitors to Duke’s home museum wouldn’t be misled about the facts. Further, I asked that he meet with me in July, when I visited Newport, and cite any factual assertion in my book, relating to Eduardo’s death, that he can demonstrate to be incorrect. He never replied. but on September 1st The NRF announced Mr. Thompson’s resignation.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL MEDIA:

March 24th, 2021 Diane Anderson-Minshall, the CEO of Pride Media, reviewed HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT in ADVOCATE.com

It was supposed to be one last goodbye for Eduardo Tirella, a onetime performer and popular milliner who hung with Frank Sinatra before becoming a talented decorator, art curator, and in middle age, a promising movie set designer. Tirella, a gay war hero and Italian-American (back when that was still considered “ethnic” in America) was on the cusp of Hollywood success at 42. A good friend of Sharon Tate, Richard Burton, and other actors, Tirella had just spent a decade curating art projects for the many estates of Doris Duke — then the richest woman in America.

No one leaves Doris Duke, it was said. Not even her designer. In Peter Lance’s meticulous book Homicide at Rough Point — which delves into Tirella’s 1966 death, the scant police investigation, subsequent lawsuits, and rumors of a cover-up — the former ABC News correspondent argues that Tirella knew telling Duke he was leaving could put him in danger. She had, after all, stabbed an ex with a butcher knife during an argument. But Tirella clearly hadn’t expected her to slide into the driver’s seat, run him down, and keep going until she rammed his body between two tons of steel and the trunk of a tree. CLICK for the full REVIEW. CLICK for Diane’s Interview with Peter Lance.

March 25th Reed Tucker. NY POST: FOX NEWS  The 1966 Dodge station wagon roared across the street in Newport, Rhode Island, smashing through a fence before coming to a stop against a tree, its front almost completely caved in. Locals and the police were on the scene quickly. The October 7, 1966, crash has always been dismissed as an “unfortunate accident.” But now, a new book claims the incident was much darker than that.  “Absolutely she intended to kill him,” says Peter Lance, whose book, Homicide at Rough Point is out now. CLICK for the print story.

March 20th Matthew Wright for DAILY MAIL

Doris Duke, the fabulously wealthy tobacco heiress and socialite once dubbed ‘the richest girl in the world,’ got away with murder when she ran over her artistic director in 1966 and got police to cover up the misdeed – an author claims in his new book.

The October 7, 1966, crash in Newport, Rhode Island, that killed Eduardo Tirella and involved the heiress, daughter of American Tobacco Company founder James Duke, is covered in Peter Lance’s new book Homicide at Rough Point.’

“Absolutely she intended to kill him,” Lance, who grew up in Newport and worked as a journalist there, said to the New York Post. “He continued: “Newport is this strange kind of a place where everyone is connected to everyone else. One of the biggest legends in town was always that Doris Duke got away with murder. When I was a cub reporter, the town was buzzing with this rumor.”  Doris inherited her father’s massive fortune when he died in 1925, also acquiring the Newport estate – known as Rough Point. The heiress was notorious for her tense relationships and horrible treatment of service workers.  CLICK for the full story.

Screen PART ONE, PART TWO, PART THREE & PART FOUR of NBC 10’s series on HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT produced and reported by two-time Emmy-winning correspondent R.J. Heim.

VANITY FAIR ran HOMICIDE as the lead investigative piece across 14 pages in its July/August 2020 issue. It turned out to be one of the most read VF stories of the year. In fact, AppleNews+ called a special audio recording of the story, The Best True Crime Audio of 2o2o.

That first VF piece got worldwide attention with pieces in The U.K. Daily Mail, and Out magazine.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE

The initial media release on HOMICIDE was picked up by The Associated Press. ADVOCATE.com, one of the world’s most read LGBTQ+ publications excerpted CHAPTER ONE Then, on February 2oth, Ian Punnett devoted his entire three-hour broadcast of Coast to Coast Am to HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT.

If you turn the pages of HOMICIDE AT ROUGH POINT you’ll see that in addition to the true crime story of Doris Duke’s murder of Eduardo Tirella, the book is an uplifting memoir of growing up in one of the most unique small town’s on earth: Newport, RI. Many chapters on the rich history of The City By The Sea, intercut with the murder mystery which unravels as you move through the book.

Copyright 2022 By Peter Lance All Rights Reserved.

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