Huguette Clark was 103 years old in February 2010, when a photo essay published on MSNBC.com by a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, Bill Dedman, made her famous for the second time in an otherwise mostly unremarkable life. Searching to buy a home for his family, Dedman stumbled upon a mystery: Clark, who’d been much publicized in the 1920s as the debutante daughter of America’s second-richest man, owned sprawling estates in California and Connecticut and several huge Fifth Avenue apartments, spent small fortunes to maintain them, but didn’t occupy any of them. Though presumed to be living, her whereabouts were unknown—she’d been a recluse since her mother died in 1963.
Another mystery was the fate of the nine-figure fortune they’d inherited from Huguette’s father, William A. Clark, a dimly remembered copper baron and, briefly, a United States senator from Montana.
A year later, when Dedman revealed that the heiress had just celebrated her 104th birthday in a nondescript New York hospital room and had lived exclusively in hospitals for more than 20 years, curiosity turned to morbid fascination. Why had she locked herself off from the world? Why was her human contact limited to a few nurses and doctors, a lawyer, and an accountant, many of whom received large amounts of money (she gave almost $1 million to a nurse in a single year), extravagant gifts (the same nurse got multiple homes, a Lincoln, a Hummer, and a Bentley Arnage Le Mans) and expected even larger windfalls from her estate? Did she know that her lawyer and accountant had been “given” property by an earlier client, and that accountant was a convicted felon and registered sex offender?