Larry Hillblom was born on May 12, 1943, and raised in Kingsburg, California. He was a graduate of Fresno State and the University of California, Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law and briefly clerked for San Francisco based attorney Melvin Belli. He is the subject of a biography by James Scurlock.
In December, 1969, Matson Navigation Co. introduced new container ships (Hawaiian Enterprise Class) into its Hawaii cargo service. These new ships were considerably faster than the older ships they replaced and they shaved several days off the crossing time from the west coast to Hawaii. But Matson had a dilemma on their hands because the shipping documents could not be mailed by U.S. Postal Service to their Hawaii customers in time to receive their freight when the ships arrived.
Larry Hillblom approached Matson and told them that he could get their documents delivered in time. What he did was to purchase airline tickets for passengers who could take 350 pounds of accompanied baggage with them; however, in Hillblom's case, the accompanied baggage was the Matson shipping documents. Other Hawaii companies with time-sensitive documents learned about the new service and Hillblom was off and running.
In 1969, Hillblom co-founded DHL, and the company was later transformed into a general air courier, and Hillblom's wealth expanded to several billion dollars. In the 1980s, he moved to Saipan, where he started several businesses and development projects in Hawaii, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Life in Asia
In Vietnam, he spent $40 million to restore the Dalat Palace Hotel as well as the Dalat Palace Golf Course, in an attempt to recreate colonial times. Other investments included the Novotel Dalat, Novotel Phan Thiet and Ocean Dunes Golf Course and the Riverside Apartments outside Ho Chi Minh City. The investment was done via an overseas holding company to avoid an American embargo against Vietnam. The Dalat Palace Hotel featured French restaurants and "Larry's Bar". The hotel opened in 1995 under Hillblom and his Vietnamese partners' ownership with management personnel provided by Accor.
Hillblom was an aircraft enthusiast, and flew several vintage aircraft. His seaplane crashed on May 21, 1995, on a flight from Pagan Island to Saipan. The bodies of the pilot, Robert Long, and of a fellow passenger / business partner were found; Hillblom's body was never recovered.
Hillblom's will stated that the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) would receive his estate, and did not specify any children in the 1982 will. There was no "disinheritance clause" in the will, which caused quite a bit of controversy. After his death, his estate was the subject of lawsuits from children fathered across the Pacific. According to Saipan law, illegitimate children born after a will has been drawn up are entitled to make a claim on the estate.
Women from several Asian and Pacific countries made claims that he had deflowered them by committing statutory rape on them and was the father of their illegitimate children. Most of the attorneys in Saipan became involved in the case, according to one Saipan attorney. However, since Hillblom's body was not recovered in the crash, there was no DNA that could be used to determine paternity. Mysteriously, his house in Saipan was discovered to have been wiped clean. The sinks had been scrubbed with muriatic acid, and toothbrushes, combs, hairbrushes and clothes were found buried in the backyard, making them useless for DNA testing.
Investigators discovered he had a facial mole removed at UCSF Medical Center, and it was still there; UCSF agreed to relinquish the mole (although its release could, of course, deprive UCSF of the estate if it could be used to prove Hillblom had sired children). It later turned out that the mole was not from Hillblom.
Hillblom's mother, brother, and half-brother initially refused to submit their DNA (which could have also been used to determine paternity of the various children). Investigators then decided to use a different tactic: how did the DNA of the children compare with each other? Since the girls were located in different countries, if the children shared certain DNA markers, they would almost certainly have the same father. In the end, a judge ordered Hillblom's brother and mother to submit to genetic testing. The tests confirmed that four of the eight claimants were Hillblom's children.
It was ultimately determined that a Vietnamese child, Lory Nguyen; Jellian Cuartero, 5, and Mercedita Feliciano, 4, of the Philippines; and Junior Larry Hillbroom, of Guam were fathered by Hillblom. In the final settlement, each of the four children received $90 million (about $50 million after taxes and fees), while the remaining $240 million went to the Hillblom Foundation, which followed Hillblom's wishes and donated funds to University of California for medical research.
A film by Alexis Spraic documenting the legal hoopla that took place after Hillblom's death, titled Shadow Billionaire premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. It is publicly available and goes through the paternity controversy in detail.
- One man is an island; How the founder of DHL fled to a Pacific paradise, waged a tax war against the US and fathered an atoll full of children By Susanah Cahalan, New York Post, 15 January 2012
- Wall Street Journal, "A Vietnamese Hotel Gets Second Chance In 'Capital of Love'; DHL Co-Founder Left Behind A Complicated Legacy And a Hot Spot in Dalat", James Hookway, January 3, 2006, Pg. A1
- Smith, Matt (2000-04-05). "Ca$h for Genes". SF Weekly. Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC. Retrieved 2012-07-02.
- Frank, Robert (March 20, 2000). "The Fatherlode: Settled Paternity Suit Makes Junior Hillblom One Very Rich Kid --- Three Others Get $50 Million Each, Too, but Wealth Has Certain Drawbacks --- Jetting in to Catch the Knicks". Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.). p. A1.
- Curtius, Mary (May 20, 1999). "Asian Children Finally Get Part of $550-Million Estate; Wealth: U.S. businessman's trysts caused a tangled legal battle. UC will also get a substantial piece of the inheritance". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). p. 1.
- San Francisco Business Times, "The Week in Review", page 10, January 16, 1998.
- Shadow Billionaire, Tribeca Film Festival, 2009
- Shadow Billionaire (2009) at the Internet Movie Database
- Cash for Genes
- Hillblom Foundation
- Asian Children Finally Get Part of $550-Million Estate
- Anything for the Buck, The Big Buck