Claus von Bülow

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Claus von Bülow
Born Claus Cecil Borberg
(1926-08-11) 11 August 1926 (age 89)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Lawyer, socialite, critic
Spouse(s) Sunny von Bülow (1966–1987)
Children Cosima von Bülow Pavoncelli

Claus von Bülow (born Claus Cecil Borberg; 11 August 1926) is a British socialite of German and Danish ancestry. He was accused of the attempted murder of his wife Sunny von Bülow (born Martha Sharp Crawford, 1931–2008) by administering an insulin overdose in 1980 which left her in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of her life, but his conviction in the first trial was reversed and he was found not guilty at his second trial.[1]


Beginning life as Claus Cecil Borberg, Bülow was the son of Danish playwright Svend Borberg (1888–1947), who was regarded as a Nazi collaborator for his activities during the Second World War in the German occupation of Denmark. As a result, he chose to be known by his maternal surname instead of his father's. His mother, Jonna von Bülow af Plüskow (1900–1959), was daughter of Frits Bülow af Plüskow, Danish Minister of Justice from 1910 to 1913 and President of the upper Chamber of the Danish Parliament from 1920 to 1922, a member of the old Danish-German noble Bülow family, originally from Mecklenburg.

Clarendon Court, Yznaga Street and Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island

Bülow graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and practiced law in London in the 1950s before working as a personal assistant to J. Paul Getty. While he had a variety of duties for Getty, Bülow became very familiar with the economics of the oil industry. Getty wrote that Bülow showed "remarkable forbearance and good nature" as his occasional whipping boy, and Bülow remained with Getty until 1968. On 6 June 1966, Bülow married Sunny, the American ex-wife of Prince Alfred of Auersperg. He worked on and off as a consultant to oil companies. Sunny already had a son and a daughter from her first marriage; together, she and Bülow had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, born on 15 April 1967 in New York City.[2] She married the Italian Count Riccardo Pavoncelli in 1996.[3]

Murder trials[edit]

In 1982, Bülow was arrested and tried for the attempted murder of Sunny. The main evidence against him was that Sunny had low blood sugar, common in many conditions, but a blood test showed a high insulin level. The test was not repeated.[4] A needle was used as evidence against Bülow in court, with the prosecution alleging that he had used it and a vial of insulin to try to kill his wife. The discovery of these items became the focal point of Bülow's appeal.

At the trial in Newport, Bülow was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison; he appealed, hiring Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz to represent him. Dershowitz served as a consultant to the defense team led by Thomas Puccio, a former federal prosecutor. Dershowitz's campaign to acquit Bülow was assisted by Jim Cramer and future New York Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer who were then Harvard Law School students.[5] Dershowitz and his team focused on the discovery of the bag containing the syringes and insulin. Sunny's family had hired a private investigator to look into her coma. The private investigator, Eddie Lambert (an associate of the Bülows' lawyer Richard Kuh), was told by several family members and a maid that Claus had recently been seen locking a closet in the Newport home that previously was always kept open. Lambert and Kuh hired a locksmith to drive to the mansion, with the intention of picking the closet lock to find what the closet contained. They had lied to the locksmith and told him that one of them owned the house. When the three arrived, the locksmith insisted they try again to find the key, and after some searching, Kuh found a key in Claus von Bülow's desk that unlocked the closet. At this point, according to the three men in the original interviews, the locksmith was paid for the trip and left before the closet was actually opened, although the men would later recant that version and insist that the locksmith was present when they entered the closet. It was in the closet that the main evidence against Claus von Bülow was found. In 1984, the conviction was reversed, based on the fact that the main evidence had been gained illegally by someone who may have stood to gain from Bülow's conviction. In 1985, after a second trial, Bülow was found not guilty on all charges.[6]

At the second trial, the defense called eight medical experts, all university professors, who testified that Sunny's two comas had not been caused by insulin, but by a combination of ingested (not injected) drugs, alcohol, and chronic health conditions. The experts were John Caronna (chairman of neurology, Cornell); Leo Dal Cortivo (former president, U.S. Toxicology Association); Ralph DeFronzo (medicine, Yale); Kurt Dubowski (forensic pathology, University of Oklahoma); Daniel Foster (medicine, University of Texas); Daniel Furst (medicine, University of Iowa); Harold Lebovitz (director of clinical research, State University of New York); Vincent Marks (clinical biochemistry, Surrey, vice-president Royal College of Pathologists and president, Association of Clinical Biochemistry); and Arthur Rubinstein (medicine, University of Chicago).[citation needed]

Other experts testified that the hypodermic needle tainted with insulin on the outside (but not inside) would have been dipped in insulin but not injected; injecting it through flesh would have wiped it clean. Evidence also showed that Sunny's hospital admission three weeks before her final coma showed she had ingested at least 73 aspirin tablets, a quantity that could only have been self-administered, and which indicated her state of mind.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Alan Dershowitz wrote the book Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case (1985) that was cinematically adapted as Reversal of Fortune (1990). Jeremy Irons starred as Claus von Bülow (a performance which won him both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor), Ron Silver as Dershowitz, and Glenn Close as Sunny von Bülow.
  • Professor Vincent Marks and Caroline Richmond have a chapter on the science underpinning Sunny's medical condition in their book, Insulin Murders (London, Royal Society of Medicine Press 2007).
  • In The Simpsons season 5 episode 20, Bart states "the system works. Just ask Claus von Bülow" referring to the outright purchase of witnesses for the trial of mayor Quimby's nephew.
  • Television reporter Bill Kurtis narrated the American Justice crime series episode titled Von Bülow: A Wealth of Evidence.
  • The television series Biography produced and aired a documentary episode titled Claus von Bülow: A Reasonable Doubt featuring interviews with Claus von Bülow and Prof. Dershowitz.
  • Klaus Baudelaire from "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is named after Claus von Bülow.[8]


  1. ^ State v. von Bülow, 475 A.2d 995 (R.I. 1984).
  2. ^ "Cosima Borberg von Bülow f. 15 apr. 1967 New York, USA: – Skeel-Holbek, Schaffalitzky de Muckadell". Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Peerage – Person Page 14794: Count Riccardo Pavoncelli". Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Marks, Vincent (2007). Insulin Murders: True life cases. RSM Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-85315-760-8. 
  5. ^ Masters, Brooke A. "Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer" New York: Henry Holt & Co. (2006) p. 30
  6. ^ Gribben, Mark. "The Claus von Bulow Case". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Trial transcripts, June 1984
  8. ^ Melody Joy Kramer (12 October 2006). "A Series Of Unfortunate Literary Allusions". NPR. 

External links[edit]