12.09.08

I Helped Save Claus von Bulow

In a Daily Beast exclusive, his former mistress Andrea Reynolds offers her behind-the-scenes account of one of the 20th century's most sensational trials.

I met Sunny von Bulow more than two decades before I fell in love with her husband, Claus von Bulow. Sunny and Claus were two charming, flamboyant socialites at the very top of American high society. So when Sunny was found unconscious on the floor of the couple’s Newport, Rhode Island mansion in December of 1980—and Claus was accused of attempting to murder her—the trial became one of the 20th century’s most sensational. Claus was ultimately acquitted on appeal, but Sunny never woke up from her deep sleep. Last Saturday, after 28 years in a coma, she finally passed away in a New York nursing home.

I knew Sunny and Claus well. Sunny and I met in the winter of 1959, at the deafeningly expensive Palace Hotel in Saint Moritz, Switzerland. Almost every evening, the hotel’s Restaurant Grill, with its excellent orchestra playing dance music in the background, was the place to be. I was then married to the attractive and very wealthy Pierre Frottier, and had a table reserved every night.

I ingested all the pills Sunny was known to be taking, then had my personal physician perform a blood test on me and send it to the same laboratory Sunny’s blood had been sent to.

As we were enjoying one evening with friends, the table next to ours exploded in shouts and screams. It was littered with Champagne bottles, and its occupants were obviously inebriated. A very handsome, tall, blond man jumped up, grabbed a bottle of Champagne, and smashed it over the head of a spectacularly beautiful blond woman. She fell off her chair, and I saw that there was blood trickling down her forehead. Jumping up, I got the woman to stand and, with difficulty, walked her to the ladies room.

Since I was much smaller than the wounded woman, I made her sit on one of the toilet seats. There, after unfastening the pins holding up a fashionable chignon, I started to remove two or three glass chards that were lodged into her scalp.

"My name is Andrea Frottier, and I hope you don't mind that I mixed up, but I am a compulsive ambulance chaser," I told her.

"My name is Sunny, and I am the wife of the man who hit me over the head."

"What is his name?" I asked.

“Prince Alfie Auersperg," was the answer. (Alfie was Sunny’s first husband, and father to her two older children, Ala and Alexander, who later accused Claus of killing Sunny.)

"You’d better go to bed and put a towel on your pillow,” I said. “But I don't think you need stitches, the bleeding has almost stopped. Let's meet tomorrow, at Alexandre, the hotel's hairdresser, where I have an 11 a.m. appointment. I'll gladly let you have it."

We met the next day as arranged at the hair salon. We did not become friends, but had friendly conversations at couture shows in Paris once or twice yearly after that.

I didn’t meet Claus until two years later, in the winter of 1961. Pierre and I gave a large dinner party in the Grill of the Palace Hotel. One of our guests asked to bring as her date Claus Von Bulow, a very social, witty, good-looking Dane living in London. He was close to Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat cars, as well as the Roman Prince Dado Ruspoli. These three men were impenitent playboys, but Claus seemed to be the most successful of the trio. Hence, Gianni and Dado decided to play a rather morbid joke on their Danish friend. At the party, they told anyone who would listen that Claus was a secret necrophiliac. I had a wicked sense of humor, and as soon as my guests were seated, I asked Claus to explain what necrophilia was all about. He burst out laughing and amused everyone.

Pierre and I did not become close friends with Claus at that point, but we ran into each other at parties now and then.

Some twenty years later, I heard about the trial in Newport, Rhode Island, in which Claus was accused of attempting to kill his wife, none other than Sunny, the ex Princess von Auersperg, by twice injecting her with insulin. I followed the proceedings on television and quickly came to the conclusion that Claus’ lawyer was incompetent. My next move was to write a letter of support to Claus, which said in essence that I couldn't believe he had the make-up of an assassin, adding, “Claus, if you need a shoulder, call me.”

In March of 1982, Claus was found guilty of attempted murder, but released home to New York, pending bail. He called me a few days later and invited me for tea. It was close to love at first sight, but the main object of my love was Cosima, the daughter Claus and Sunny had had together. Soon to be sixteen years old, she was an enchanting young girl who had lost her mother, as well as the love of her half-siblings Ala and Alexander, because they thought her father Claus was guilty and she did not. And now she was about to lose her father, too. This was an irresistible situation for an ambulance chaser.

I must put on the record that when I reunited with Claus and met Cosima, I was incredibly lonesome for two reasons. One is that my only child had left me to go to college, and that created a huge void in my life—I’m a sort of perennial mother. The other reason was that my husband Sheldon had gone off. He left me for “business reasons,” though the business had mainly to do with gallivanting with other women in England.

So being faced with a situation where I could be useful, I couldn’t resist it. The first thing I did for Cosima was organize a birthday party for her. She was sort of a lonesome, traumatized little girl. Claus and Cosima had lost access to their Rhode Island estate, Clarendon Court. My daughter Caroline owns a property in the Catskills, which is nowhere near as splendid as Clarendon Court, but that made it possible for Cosima to come out here on weekends with her dad. All her girlfriends were welcome too, which her mother had never really allowed because she didn’t like noise. I also had a daughter and son-in-law who were about the age of her half-brother and half-sister. And I had one more asset that Cosima loved: golden retrievers, seven of them; her dogs had had to stay behind at Clarendon Court. So at my daughter’s place in the Catskills, she found somewhere she could have fun with her friends. Those were very joyous weekends.

Before starting an intimate relationship with Claus, I had to make absolutely sure that Sunny was not in an insulin-induced coma—I wasn’t about to have an affair with a possible murderer. So the first thing that I did was ask Claus to give me all of Sunny’s medical files and all of the medical evidence that had appeared in the trial. The medical jargon was over my head, so I personally hired an endocrinologist and he walked me through the records.

Another thing that convinced me of Claus’ innocence was a fact underreported by the press. About three weeks before Sunny entered the coma that she never awoke from, she had taken an overdose of aspirin; the ER doctors who performed the lavage on her stomach said the suicide attempt was probably a “cry for help.” It was Claus who got her to the hospital quickly that night. Why would he save his wife’s life, only to try to murder her a few weeks later?

The next thing I did was make an appointment to see Professor Rosalyn Yalow, who had won the Nobel Prize for perfecting the radioimmunoassay (RIA) test that was used to convict Claus. Professor Yallow was categorical: "The insulin count of Sunny von Bulow's blood test was completely erroneous.”

When I asked her why she did not come forward and testify to this, she said, "I did not want to sully my Nobel Prize with the von Bulow circus.”

I told her that she should be ashamed of herself. I didn’t mince my words. I said “You mean that 32 years imprisonment of an innocent man are more important than the Nobel prize? That's disgusting! Will you testify now?” She refused. After some back and forth, she said, “Look, there are five guys who have worked under me who will not have a problem testifying in a second trial.”

I gave this information to the brilliant lawyer, Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was in charge of Claus' appeal. More importantly, I got in touch with an amazing man: Dr. Michael Baden, the world-famous forensic pathologist.

From that moment on, Dr. Baden became the Herbert von Karajan of the scientific and medical aspects of Claus' second trial. In the meantime, Professor Yalow’s assurance that Sunny’s blood test was wrong had opened the gate for me to have a relationship with Claus. In 1983, I moved into Claus and Cosima’s apartment, and I brought my own bed. I didn’t want to sleep in Sunny’s bed, so I put it in Cosima’s room. That’s a Catholic type of hypocrisy. I was still married to Sheldon Reynolds, but it was not a good marriage. It was not like I broke up something sacred. He was the one who was constantly away. I loved him.

To prove Claus’ innocence, I had my personal physician perform a blood test on me and send it to the same laboratory Sunny’s blood had been sent to. Prior to the test, much against my doctor’s wishes, I had ingested all the pills that Sunny was known to be taking daily. It was pretty scary, and I felt pretty bad. I had to sign a letter that made it quite clear I had made that decision on my own and I was prepared to take the responsibly if anything had happened to me. It was an experiment—I don’t have diabetes and I’m not hypoglycemic, so my normal insulin count is exactly perfect. To everyone's surprise, my blood test came back with a very high insulin count. In other words, the same lab that had conducted Sunny’s blood test had returned mine with faulty results.

Lastly and most importantly, Professor Dershowitz and I sent out a questionnaire to ER doctors all over the country. In it, we described to them Sunny’s condition (without naming Sunny) when she was initially brought into the hospital in her coma. We asked them to respond, describing what they would have done to save her life had they been there that night. The procedures they described sounded nothing like the ones performed by Sunny’s physicians in Rhode Island.

All of us have since moved on in our own ways. I had another relationship with another man. Cosima and I grew apart when she went off to college. Claus left for London, and Cosima eventually did too. Cosima bears a grudge against me because I gave an interview in which I was asked whether I thought Claus was a good husband to Sunny, and I said, “Well, probably not good enough.” I think that annoyed her. I do have a very friendly ongoing relationship with Claus.

May Sunny finally rest in peace.

RELATED: I Killed Sunny von Bulow by Suzy Welch
Covering the Sunny von Bulow Trial by Lynn Sherr

Andrea Reynolds is currently writing two books: her memoir, humorously titled The Lady Was A Tramp , and a murder mystery, entitled Suspicion . After Claus Von Bulow won his appeal, Simon & Schuster commissioned Reynolds to write a book about her affair. It was subsequently subpoenaed in Von Bulow’s civil trial and never published.