Irving H. Kamsler
Nassau County District Attorney
A booking photo from the arrest of Huguette Clark's accountant, Irving H. Kamsler, charged with attempting to distribute indecent material to 13- and 15-year-old girls online. He pleaded guilty in 2008 and remains a registered sex offender.
Investigative reporter Bill Dedman of
By Bill Dedman Investigative reporter
updated 9/8/2010 3:12:15 PM ET 2010-09-08T19:12:15

Maintaining three empty mansions, living in a hospital for 22 years, giving $10 million to a friend. All these require a good deal of cash. Perhaps this explains why some of the prized possessions of Huguette Clark, the mysterious 104-year-old copper heiress, are being liquidated. The $6 million Stradivarius violin her mother gave her for her birthday, the $23 million Renoir, her $24 million country house in Connecticut — all sold or for sale.

She is said to be quite alert, or was the last time anyone besides her attorney and accountant was able to visit her, some years back.

But she has been isolated for so long. Why are relatives being kept away — on her orders, or her attorney's? Does she know what has been sold? Does she know that the IRS was after her for unpaid income taxes? Does she know that her accountant has a felony conviction? Does she know that her accountant and her attorney ended up owning an apartment signed over to them by an elderly client?

  1. Part 1
    1. Copper King Mansion B&B
      At 104, mysterious heiress is alone now
  2. Part 2
    1. Who is watching reclusive heiress's millions?

      Reclusive heiress's assets are sold by two advisers, one an accountant with a felony conviction. Another elderly client signed over his property to the same accountant and attorney.

  3. More
    1. Investigated pair still controls heiress's wealth
    2. Generosity of an heiress: 4 homes for the nurse
    3. A PDF file for printing the photos
    4. Clark family notes and sources
    5. Contact the author

Her attorney, 78-year-old Wallace "Wally" Bock, will not shed any light on these questions. In a brief interview in the Manhattan office of the small firm Collier, Halpern, Newberg, Nolletti & Bock, he would say only that Huguette was quite a beauty in her day, that he talks to her regularly on the phone, that her mind is clear though her eyesight and hearing have dimmed with age. He also said he would not pass on to her a request for an interview, and that she doesn't care about publicity or reputation. He threatened to get a judge to stop from printing a word about his client.

Image: Wallace Bock
Collier, Halpern, Newberg
Wallace "Wally" Bock, attorney for Huguette Clark. He and accountant Irving H. Kamsler have owned property together that was signed over to them by an elderly colleague and client.
And he said that he was the first of her seven attorneys to meet her, having seen her twice.

A man who has met her many times, the man directly handling her hundreds of millions of dollars, is her accountant, who has had unpaid tax bills and is a registered sex offender in the state of New York.

Huguette's longtime accountant, Irving H. Kamsler, was arrested on Sept. 6, 2007, in Nassau County on Long Island, in an Internet sex sting. The indictment alleged that in 2005 and 2007 he had tried to entice 13- and 15-year-old girls in an AOL chatroom to meet with him, sending them pornography and describing touching their private areas. Of course, these weren't teenage girls, but undercover cops.

Police said Kamsler was using the AOL handle IRV1040 (as in his first name, Irving, and the IRS 1040 tax return). Kamsler told police that he thought he was in an adult chatroom, and was just "pretending" with women that they were girls.

Huguette Clark in 1930
Associated Press
This is the last known photo of Huguette Clark, taken 80 years ago. She has hidden away in a New York hospital room for at least the past 22 years. This photo was made on Aug. 11, 1930, the day of her divorce, in Reno, Nev. Her marriage lasted two years. She has no children.
But records show that Kamsler, now age 63, pleaded guilty in October 2008 to attempting to disseminate indecent material to minors in the first degree. He got no jail time, just five years of probation, a $5,000 fine, 100 hours of community service, and the usual sex-offender restrictions. After he was arrested, he resigned as president of his synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where he lives with his wife.

Property records in New York show Kamsler also had trouble with the IRS, with a tax lien in 2003 for $18,853, paid off three months later.

I tried to speak with Kamsler several times, leaving phone messages and stopping by his apartment to call upstairs from the doorman's station. His wife, Judi, said she would be hanging up the phone now, and did.

Huguette has had her own IRS problems, with four federal liens for unpaid taxes, according to property records: $1 million in June 2006, $1.1 million in April 2007, and smaller liens for $7,400 in August 2007, and $41,000 in August 2008. Each was paid off in less than a year.

(She also has money due her. Two states, New York and California, show Huguette Clark on their list of people with unclaimed funds. New York says she's owed money by the Bank of New York, Honeywell International, and the state comptroller, in amounts unspecified. The treasure in California is a refund from Sears, for $55.)

I'd heard that Kamsler sometimes works out of Bock's law firm. When I called the law firm and asked to speak with Kamsler, the call was transferred to Bock. He explained that Kamsler "doesn't work here," but "we work together quite closely," and he hung up the phone.

The Stradivarius
In 2001, the year Huguette turned 95 years old, one of her most personal possessions was sold.

Her mother, Anna, had loved instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, the famous Italian maker of stringed instruments. Anna had collected a quartet of Strads — two violins, a viola and a cello — which had been owned by Niccolò Paganini, the Italian violinist and composer. Anna made them available in 1945 to the Paganini Quartet, which she sponsored. The group played for the Clarks at Bellosguardo, their Pacific retreat in Santa Barbara, on social occasions in the 1940s. She later gave the instruments to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, which sold them in 1994 for $15 million to the Nippon Foundation in Japan.

But there was another violin, a finer one, which Anna kept in the family, giving it to Huguette in 1956 for her 50th birthday. This violin was from 1709, the beginning of Stradivari's "golden period." It's called La Pucelle, or The Virgin. When the Parisian dealer Jean Baptiste Vuillaume took it apart in the 1800s, he found that it had not been touched since Stradivari created it. Vuillaume added a distinctive tailpiece with a carving of Joan of Arc, the virgin warrior known as La Pucelle.

Stradivari violin La Pucelle
Greg Gilbert  /  The Seattle Times
One of the finest violins made by Antonio Stradivari, La Pucelle, or The Virgin, was locked away in Huguette Clark's New York apartment for nearly 50 years, after her mother gave it to her as a birthday present. Her attorney arranged to sell it in 2001 for $6 million. The tailpiece depicts Joan of Arc, the virgin warrior. Below you can see and hear the first recording of this violin.

The London violin expert and dealer Charles Beare, who handled the 2001 sale, said that out of the 550-some surviving Stradivari violins, this one is "almost certainly in the top five or six." Beare heard from Huguette's attorney, Bock, that she had finally decided to sell it. He immediately called David Fulton, a software millionaire in the Seattle area. A former concertmaster, Fulton had merged his Fox Software database company into Microsoft, using his fortune to collect the world's finest violins.

Beare remembers telling Fulton, "I have in hand the very best Strad that will ever be available to you, almost certainly the finest Stradivari that's not in a museum and certainly the best-preserved. This is the last chance you'll ever have to get a fiddle this great. Are you interested?"

Fulton agreed, sight unseen.

There was a hitch. Beare said the confidentiality agreement proposed by Bock was so onerous that it would forbid the purchaser from revealing that he owned the violin, much less who he bought it from, or even the seller's gender. He could not play it in the presence of anyone, ever. Fulton responded that the violin either was for sale, or it wasn't. A less restrictive arrangement was negotiated: The buyer agreed to a 10-year-ban on revealing the previous owner. Fulton agreed to this, and won't discuss the seller until the agreement expires in 2011, when he plans to describe it in his biography.

All these arrangements were made with attorney Bock. Beare recalled that Bock said that even he had never met his client.

Beare went to Huguette's apartment at 907 Fifth Ave. for the Stradivarius. He was shown up the freight elevator, and there it was, in a leather case on the stainless steel counter in a bare kitchen. A young man working for Huguette showed Beare a well-worn Strad, her "traveler," but explained that she kept La Pucelle untouched.

La Pucelle is indeed an extraordinary instrument, said acclaimed violinist James Ehnes, who played it for its first recording, on a disc called "Homage," featuring instruments from the Fulton collection, recorded in 2007 in Redmond, Wash. "It really has an amazing purity of tone," Ehnes said in a promotional video. "But purity with incredible breadth as well. I think that it's like a beam of light that is very strong and very wide. ... I've never seen another violin like it." You can see and hear Ehnes play La Pucelle in the accompanying video.

Before he left her apartment, the violin dealer got a tour. Beare saw the art gallery, with paintings by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh — and the Renoir that would be sold in 2003 at Sotheby's for $23.5 million.

He saw the conservatory, used by Huguette long ago as an artist's studio, stocked with tailor's mannequins dressed in kimonos and wigs. (I found online this small painting by Huguette, a view of a demure woman in a kimono. It's in a fine bamboo frame, signed at lower left by Huguette Clark in block letters, in the style of an Asian artist's "chop." Where was the painting? On eBay, where the winning bid was $104.)

In 1929, seven paintings by Huguette had been exhibited at the Corcoran, where her father had donated much of his collection. The Associated Press reported in September 1931, "Huguette Clark, who inherited millions from her father, William A. Clark, copper magnate and senator, has won considerable recognition as an artist. Her paintings received high praise from critics at an exhibition at the Corcoran galleries in Washington last year and now she is planning an exhibition in Paris. She is an accomplished musician."

In her apartment, Beare saw Huguette's mother's harp, but heard no music.

"There certainly weren't any signs of life."

An ordinary room
A doctor who saw Huguette up to 10 years ago has told friends that she was in good shape mentally. One time, in her smartly decorated New York hospital room stuffed with dolls from her native France, he mentioned to her the high cost of staying in the hospital, and, well, how the hospital had hit a rough patch financially, and...

Image: Painting by Huguette Clark
A 4.5x9" painting by Huguette Clark, thought to be from the 1930s. The frame has a small sticker on the back indicating it was framed by Milch & Smalls, 939 Madison Ave., New York.
According to one friend, Huguette caught on immediately, telling the doctor, I know what you're getting at. Here's what you do. You go to my apartment on Fifth Avenue. You take my attorney and your art expert, and you pick a painting off the wall. Sell it. Give that money to the hospital. And that, the doctor told his friend, is what they did.

Blocked by her attorney from an interview with Huguette, I made an effort to visit her in the hospital.

At the lobby desk, the attendant said she was not registered. I wandered up to the part of the hospital where the rich can stay for their surgeries, in rooms that look more like a boutique hotel. No, she's not here, a helpful clerk said, but she looked up the name in the computer — "Yes, Huguette Clark," and gave me a location, another section of the hospital.

That turned out to be an ordinary, bustling hospital corridor, with a nurse's station and patient names written on a white board, but not hers. I asked for Miss Huguette Clark. The answer was, "Who are you to her?"

That's as far as I got. I wasn't going to barge into her room, and won't divulge the name of the hospital.

The apartment
Huguette's attorney and accountant not only work closely together. They also have owned real estate together — a New York co-op apartment that was signed over to them by an elderly client.

After six revisions to the will of the elderly client, Bock and Kamsler received $100,000 each, his Mercedes and his New York apartment — in addition to $368,000 in fees for handing his $4 million estate.

The elderly client was someone Huguette knew well. He was Donald L. Wallace, Huguette's attorney for many years before his death in 2002 at age 76.

Wallace' s law partner and attorney was Bock, who now is Huguette's attorney. And Wallace's accountant was Kamsler, now Huguette's accountant.

Wallace's goddaughter, Judith Sloan, said this week that he had severe dementia in his later years. He had no children of his own. She said earlier versions of his will had left to her and her brother the bulk of his estate, including two properties: a $1.5 million weekend house with 14 acres in the horse country of Dutchess County, N.Y., and an upscale apartment in the Dorchester, at 110 E. 57th St. near Park Avenue in New York City.

That gift changed in a new will that Wallace signed in March 1997, a month after he returned home from a stay in the hospital, according to probate records in the Surrogate's Court in New York City. (You can read the documents in this PDF file.)

Two new beneficiaries were added, to receive $50,000 each: Wally Bock and Irving Kamsler.

Under a trust agreement dated the same month, Bock and Kamsler also would become trustees of apartment 4D in the Dorchester. The agreement allowed Wallace to continue to live there, paying the taxes and maintenance fees. Under the trust, when Wallace died, the apartment would become theirs.

In a 1999 revised will, the amounts doubled to $100,000 each, and Kamsler also was to receive Wallace's 1995 Mercedes Benz E300D sedan.

If a lawyer who draws up a will receives a bequest in that will, New York law says this circumstance automatically raises a suspicion of undue influence. To sort out this potential conflict of interest, the law provides for the probate court to determine if the gift was made voluntarily. (This procedure, called a Putnam Inquiry, is a standard question on the state bar exam.)

Painting by Renoir, "In the Roses"
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
In 2003, the year she turned 97, one of Huguette Clark's paintings was sold by Sotheby's for $23.5 million. Renoir painted "In the Roses" in 1882.
After Wallace died in May 2002, as the court was processing his estate, Bock rebutted this suspicion of undue influence. He submitted a "Putnam affidavit," or sworn statement, explaining how he and Kamsler came to be named in their client's will. Bock explained that he and Wallace were not only law partners but also good friends. And Wallace treated Kamsler, his accountant for 25 years, "as the son he never had." Kamsler had visited Wallace in the hospital, arranged home care, just as a child would do for a parent, Bock explained.

"At no time did I ever request or suggest, directly or by implication, to DLW that he provide for me in his will," Bock wrote in his sworn statement. "On the contrary, I said to him that he was being overly generous, that he had done enough for me with various gifts given over the years. He insisted however, stating that the people he named as beneficiaries in his Will were 'his family' and that is what he wanted to do."

As for the possibility that Wallace suffered from dementia, Bock wrote that Wallace had indeed been unable to work after January 1997, when pneumonia led to coronary failure. However, "at all times, while there were limitations on his physical capabilities, his mental acumen never diminished."

The board says no
At the Dorchester building, Don Wallace's neighbors weren't happy. Court records show that the co-op's board had been suspicious, from the start, about switching his property into a trust controlled by his attorney and accountant, particularly while he was still alive.

The board refused in 1997 to make the switch.

Bock then sent over a signed letter from Don Wallace himself, saying he approved of the transfer. The typewritten letter from June 1997 referred to the creation of a trust, and referred to Bock and Kamsler as trustees, but didn't say that the trust called for Bock and Kamsler to eventually become owners of the apartment.

Again the co-op board refused.

Then Bock offered up a letter signed by the godchildren, saying they understood that Bock and Kamsler were trying to reduce Wallace's estate taxes by removing the property from his name, and that the two men would then become the owners when he died, just as the godchildren would eventually receive the Dutchess County home.

The letter, in September 1997, refers to the men's "friendship and loyalty" to Wallace. "Since Mr. Wallace has no other family and Mr. Bock and Mr. Kamsler have declined to accept payment, even for their professional services which they have and continue to provide him with, he felt that such a gift was entirely appropriate."

The goddaughter, Judy Sloan, said she signed this document because "there was a settlement. We had to hire an attorney. I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you more about that."

Later Bock and Kamsler did accept substantial payment for their work on Wallace's behalf, the court records show. Out of Wallace's estate, they paid themselves $30,000 in accountant fees, $75,000 in attorney fees, and $233,500 in executor fees.

Despite the letter, for a third time the co-op board refused to hand over the apartment. In April 2000, Bock and Kamsler took another tack, signing a lease with Wallace, according to the court records, meaning that in his final days he was subleasing his own apartment from his attorney and accountant.

To force the co-op board's hand, Bock told the court that in August 2000 he drew up a final document for Wallace to sign: a codicil, or amendment, to his will, leaving the apartment to Bock and Kamsler. The purpose, Bock later told the court, was to "make it impossible for the Dorchester to refuse to recognize Mr. Kamsler's and my ownership of the apartment in the event of the decedent's [Wallace's] demise."

After Wallace died in 2002, the probate court had the option to inquire into all this, including interviewing the godchildren and the co-op board. But the court's independent adviser, an attorney with the county Public Administrator's office, recommended against an inquiry. While allowing that the codicil was "an unusual instrument," attorney Peter S. Schram wrote that Bock assured him that he and Wallace "were close friends as well as business associates for many years." And Schram relied on the documents signed by Wallace. He didn't spend long looking into the situation, billing the court for only four hours, including court appearances, reviewing documents, interviewing Bock and writing his report.

Bock and Kamsler did not respond this week to's questions about how they ended up with Don Wallace's apartment.

Through all the years when Wallace was Huguette Clark's attorney, his goddaughter Sloan said, she sent him around the globe buying dolls for her collection. Court records show that Wallace's weekend house, when he died, contained more than $130,000 in French Bisque automaton dolls, a type of antique doll with a music box.

Wallace never saw Huguette face to face, Sloan said, but would stand outside the room and speak with her through the door.

Though Wallace liked Huguette, Sloan said, there was one source of constant frustration.

"He was never able to get her to do up a will."

'A puzzling situation'
It doesn't appear that Huguette Clark is anywhere close to going broke, despite the IRS troubles and her high expenses. Her properties alone — in Manhattan and Connecticut and California — are worth more than $200 million. She's thought to have at least that much still in the bank.

Maintenance on her Santa Barbara, Calif., home has been scaled back considerably. Barbara Doran, the former estate manager's daughter who visited the oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara with Huguette's permission in 1999, said the number of gardeners had dwindled from 25 to only a few.

Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild
Le Beau Château, the Clark estate in New Canaan, Conn., is on the market at $24 million. Huguette bought it in 1952, expanded it, and never moved in.
In times past, expenses at her Connecticut home in New Canaan have sometimes been high, particularly for a house whose owner never spent a night in it. In 1996 and 1997, a management company proposed doing $1.5 million in maintenance, including $312,000 in work on the windows, $99,000 in roofing, $344,000 in masonry, $4,000 in plumbing, $714,000 in painting (including $4,700 to paint a coat closet). Huguette's attorney at the time, Wallace, wrote that he was "shocked" by the cost, and ordered a new estimate. That one came in at $831,000, and the work began. The home went on the market a decade later, priced at $34 million. It's now down to $24 million.

'Referrals can come from anyone'
For Huguette's financial institution, this would be a puzzling situation. On the one hand, it's unusual to have a customer the bank has never met. On the other hand, banking executives are not in the habit of pushing against the walls of confidentiality: If a customer wants to remain private, and the attorney and accountant have the proper documents, that is her right.

Huguette and William Clark walk in parade in 1922
The New York Times
We don't know which of the purported photos of Huguette are actually of her. This one by The New York Times, labeled as a photo of Huguette and her father in the Easter Parade in 1922 on Fifth Avenue, may not be her at all. Relatives said they think it may be a granddaughter from his first marriage, but they can't be sure.
Still, it's unusual when the attorney may never have met the client and says he doesn't visit her regularly. It's even more unusual when the accountant has met her but has a criminal conviction. What is a financial institution to do, absent evidence of wrongdoing? And what bank wants to risk alienating a wealthy client by asking questions?

Legal experts said it may be possible to force Huguette's attorney and accountant to show that she is being well taken care of, medically and financially.

An attorney who worked on the Brooke Astor case, in which the doyenne of New York society had her wealth drained by her son and his attorney, said Huguette's bank could file a guardianship petition, asking a court to appoint someone to handle her affairs. Family could do the same — though Huguette has no children, only distant relatives.

"Actually, anyone has standing," said the attorney, Susan Robbins, meaning anyone can go before the court, without needing to have a personal stake in the matter. Robbins was the court-appointed attorney for Astor, the philanthropist who died in 2007 at age 105. Astor's son, Anthony D. Marshall, was convicted in 2009 of siphoning $10 million from his mother. Her lawyer, Francis X. Morrissey, was also convicted.

It's not always that simple, said another lawyer in the Astor case, Ira Salzman. (He represented Astor's grandson, who questioned management of her affairs by her son.) A court would probably require some evidence before pressing an elderly person's attorney for more information. "The court isn't going to do an inquiry just because the family is curious." On the other hand, Salzman said, if Huguette's attorney has control of her finances and health care, but rarely visits her, that itself raises a question.

Short of going to court, a specialist in adult welfare cases in New York City suggested an alternative. Anybody who is concerned about the financial or physical well-being of an elderly person, even if that person doesn't have direct evidence of wrongdoing, can contact Adult Protective Services. (Referral instructions are here. To complete the referral, one can use her address of record, her empty apartment in New York City, 907 Fifth Ave.)

"Referrals can come from anyone," said the specialist, Maxine Lynn, head of the legal guardian program at the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens.

If a court or Adult Protective Services took the issue seriously, Lynn said, a professional case evaluator would visit the elderly person in a hospital to judge her competence. The evaluator would ask her attorney for documents.

And, if Huguette Clark is up to it, the evaluator would take along a French-speaking translator to ask her a few questions.

Are you well cared for? Do you want to see your relatives? Have you been getting their cards and letters? Did you know about your accountant's guilty plea? Did you give your friend $10 million? Do you know what your Stradivarius sold for? Have you agreed to sell any paintings? Have you signed a will? What else have you signed?


Margaux Stack-Babich and Sara Germano contributed research in public records.


BACK TO PART ONE: At 104, mysterious heiress is alone now

More links for "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery":

All our coverage is collected at

The original photo narrative (on this page)

A PDF file for printing the photos

Notes and sources on the Clark family

Contact the author

© 2013 Reprints

Photos: The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal, mystery

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  1. By Bill Dedman, NBC News. Why are the mansions of one of America’s wealthiest women sitting vacant? Huguette Clark's father, the copper king and "Paris millionaire senator," was the second richest American — or first, neck and neck with Rockefeller. Huguette, 103, has no children. Where is she? And what will become of her fortune?

    Click on the photo to continue. (W.A. Clark Memorial Library) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. She doesn't live here. The mysterious Clark estate in Santa Barbara, Calif., has been empty since 1963. Named Bellosguardo for its "beautiful view" of the Pacific, it's worth more than $100 million, a 21,666-square-foot house on 23 acres. Caretakers have labored at the Clark estate for generations — and not met Huguette Clark.

    Click on the photo to continue. (John L. Wiley, Back to slideshow navigation
  3. She also doesn't live here. In 1951, Huguette Clark bought this home in New Canaan, Conn. She named it Le Beau Château, or "beautiful country house." And she never spent a night in it. Now her 13,459-square-foot home, with 52 wooded acres, is for sale for $24 million, marked down from $34 million. Taxes are $161,000 a year.

    Click on the photo to continue. (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. And she doesn't seem to live here, though her belongings are here. The largest spread on New York's Fifth Avenue is her three apartments at 72nd Street overlooking Central Park. She has 42 rooms and 15,000 square feet. That's all the 8th floor and half the 12th, worth more than $50 million. The building staff have seen Huguette ("u-GET") few times in 30 years.

    Click on the photo to continue. (Bill Dedman / Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Where did such wealth come from? It started with hard work, ingenuity and unfettered ambition. One of these miners in 1863 in Bannack, Mont., would, by the end of the century, own banks, railroads, timber, newspapers, sugar, coffee, oil, gold, silver, copper — seemingly unending veins of copper. He's on the right, William Andrews Clark, Huguette's father.

    Click on the photo to continue. (Newell family photo) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania in 1839, of Scotch-Irish and French Huguenot immigrants, Clark stood 5 feet 8½, with fastidiously tended whiskers, unruly red hair, and cold blue eyes. A contemporary wrote, "There is craft in his stereotyped smile and icicles in his handshake. He is about as magnetic as last year's bird's nest."

    Click on the photo to continue. ("The Clarks: An American Phenomenon," 1941) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. After two years panning for gold, Clark turned to selling goods he hauled by wagon through the Rockies. He bought eggs at 20 cents a dozen, marketing them for $3 a dozen to miners for a brandy eggnog called Tom and Jerry. He took a year back East to study geology at Columbia University, then returned to Montana, to Butte's "Richest Hill on Earth."

    (Lewis Pub. Co. / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Clark made his greatest fortune in the Southwest. His United Verde copper mine, in Jerome, Ariz., yielded a profit of $400,000 a month, or in today's dollars, $10 million a month. The trading post of Las Vegas was a stop on his rail line. Here he speaks to a crowd in Las Vegas from his Pullman car in 1905. Las Vegas today is in Clark County, named for him.

    (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Libraries, Special Collections) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Clark's desire was a title: Senator Clark. Montana denied him time after time, a battle called the War of the Copper Kings. Who knows how a feud flared between Democrats: Marcus Daly, left, a Catholic who loved racehorses, and Clark, a Presbyterian who loved art. Legislators picked senators; newspapers made legislators; all were for sale.

    (Montana Historical Society Research Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. An aide said, "We'll put the old man in the Senate, or the poorhouse." Clark was elected in 1899, but $1,000 bills turned up in envelopes. He had to resign. Clark said publicly, "I propose to leave to my children a legacy, worth more than gold, that of an unblemished name." Privately he said, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."

    (Montana Historical Society Research Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Clark's men tried one more audacity: On the day he resigned, they tricked the governor into traveling outside Montana. His lieutenant filled the vacancy — with Clark! When the governor returned, again Clark was out. Finally, he was elected in 1901. Though he retired after one term, for the rest of his life he insisted on being "Senator Clark."

    (Clinedinst / The National Magazine, 1905) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mark Twain had a few other names for Senator Clark. "He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs."

    (Library of Congress) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Clark's first wife, Kate, died in 1893, leaving him four grown children. In 1904, while in the Senate, Clark announced that he had taken a second wife in France three years earlier, and that the couple already had a 2-year-old daughter. At the time of the supposed marriage, he was 62, and wife Anna was 23. No proof of the wedding date has been found.

    (The Butte Miner) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. His new wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, had been Clark's ward. She came to him as a teenager for support. Clark sent her from Butte to boarding school, then to Paris, where she studied the harp. He visited by steamship. They had two daughters: Andrée, born in 1902 in Spain, and Huguette in 1906 in Paris, where they lived with Anna.

    (The Butte Miner) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. "THEY'RE MARRIED AND HAVE A BABY," thundered Daly's opposition paper. All this was news to Clark's children from his first marriage, who were older than his young wife. One older daughter wrote that, while she was "greatly grieved and dreadfully disappointed, we must all stand by our dear father."

    (The Anaconda Standard) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. After he left the Senate, Clark moved his young wife and daughters into this Beaux-Arts house he built at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street in New York. It had 121 rooms, four art galleries, Turkish baths, a vaulted rotunda 36 feet high, and its own railroad line to bring in coal. All for a family of four. It was known as "Clark's Folly."

    (George P. Hall & Son / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Clark spent as much as $7 million on the house, about three times what it would later cost to build Yankee Stadium. The mansion's treasures included this Louis XVI salon, a marble statue of Eve by Rodin, oak ceilings from Sherwood Forest, and the grandest American collection of European paintings, lace and tapestries.

    (Salon Doré, 1770, on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Clark hosted organ recitals, so his neighbors on Millionaire's Row could see his paintings by Degas, Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, van Dyck, Gainsborough, Cazin, Rousseau. Once his chosen artworks were installed in the house, Clark bought few more. If he acquired any more paintings, he wrote, he would have to remove something.

    (Edgar Degas, "The Dance Class," 1873, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Writer Wallace Irwin set it all to verse: "Senator Copper of Tonopah Ditch made a clean billion in minin' and sich. Hiked for New York, where his money he blew, bildin' a palace on Fift' Avenoo. 'How,' says the Senator, 'kin I look proudest? Build me a house that'll holler the loudest. None of your slab-sided, plain mossyleums! Gimme the treasures of art ...

    (George P. Hall & Son / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. ... an' museums! Build it new-fangled, scalloped and angled, fine like a weddin' cake garnished with pills. Gents, do your duty, trot out your beauty. Gimme my money's worth, I'll pay the bills.' Pillars Ionic, eaves Babylonic, doors cut in scallops resemblin' a shell. Roof was Egyptian, gables caniptian. Whole grand effect when completed was — hell."

    (One of four galleries in the Clark mansion, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Clark's wife was rarely seen in public. He wrote of Anna, "Mrs. Clark did not care for social distinction, nor the obligations that would entail upon my public life." In 1912, former Senator Clark, 73, and Anna, 34, walked in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue with Andrée, 9. Huguette, not pictured, was just 5, starting her collection of dolls from France.

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Clark family traveled often to Paris. A ship's registry from 1914 sets birthdates for the family: William Andrews Clark, age 75, Connellsville, Pa., Jan. 8, 1839; Anna E., age 36, Calumet, Mich., March 10, 1878; Andrée, age 12, Spain, Aug. 13, 1902; and Huguette, age 8, Paris, June 9, 1906. At home, they had 10 servants and a French chef.

    (Ship's registry from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Clark and daughters visit Columbia Gardens, which he built in Butte. It was about 1917. Andrée (left) would be about 15, and Huguette 11. Clark was 78. In 1919, a week before her 17th birthday, Andrée died of meningitis. "When her sister died, it left a hole in her life," said Huguette's great-half-nephew through the first marriage, Ian Devine.

    (Montana Historical Society Research Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Through the '20s, society pages chronicled the debutante. "Miss Huguette Clark, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Andrews Clark of 962 Fifth Avenue, entertained a party of girl friends yesterday at Sherry's." At Miss Spence's School for Girls, she learned politics; Isadora Duncan taught interpretive dance. Skirts had to be 3 inches below the knee.

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. William Andrews Clark died in his house on Fifth Avenue on March 2, 1925, at age 86, with his wife and children by his side. He lay in honor in his own gallery, as his paintings looked down. President Coolidge sent flowers. Clark's will called for a "decent and Christian burial in accordance with my condition in life, without undue pomp or ceremony."

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. He was entombed, along with his first wife and Andrée, in this mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. His neighbors now are Woolworth, Macy, Pulitzer — all better remembered. Clark left $350,000 to a Clark orphans home; $100,000 each to Clark kindergarten and Clarkdale, Ariz.; $25,000 to Clark women's home; $2,500 to his butler.

    (Bill Dedman / Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Clark had promised his daughters from his first marriage that Anna would not inherit the New York City mansion. It was sold in 1927 for less than half what it cost to build, and was torn down for apartments. Many other houses on Millionaire's Row fell, including the Astor and Vanderbilt palaces. The Gilded Age had passed.

    (George P. Hall & Son / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Anna got the mansion in Santa Barbara and $2.5 million. The rest of Clark's estate — as much as $300 million, or $3.6 billion today — went to Huguette and the four older children, who soon cashed out all his businesses. Huguette, 18, also received an allowance for three years: up to $90,000 a year, equal to $1 million today.

    (Bill Dedman / Back to slideshow navigation
  29. To the art, Clark attached conditions. The Metropolitan Museum could have it, if it kept it all in a separate Clark gallery forever. The Met declined. The art went to his second choice, the Corcoran in D.C. His wife and daughters paid for a Clark wing to hold it. The museum found that some of the paintings were misattributed; this Corot was authentic.

    (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, "Repose," 1860, reworked 1865-1870, Corcoran Gallery of Art) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Clark bequeathed this advice as well: "The most essential elements of success in life are a purpose, increasing industry, temperate habits, scrupulous regard for one's word ... courteous manners, a generous regard for the rights of others, and, above all, integrity which admits of no qualification or variation."

    (Woodlawn Cemetery, Bill Dedman / Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Clark's descendants say he should be remembered as a Horatio Alger hero, a boy from a log cabin who conquered the worlds of finance, politics and art. "He lived exactly as he had planned," said André Baeyens, a great-grandson and diplomat, who wrote a book in French about the family. "He had a ferocious will to 'better my condition in life.'"

    (William Merritt Chase, 1915, Corcoran Gallery) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Bettering the condition of others wasn't his concern. Clark cut timber on federal land, and he benefitted from Arizona's "deportations" of union men who were kidnapped and driven out of state. Criticized for the sulfurous smoke and denuded landscape from his mines, he said, "Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves."

    (B.L. Singley, Butte, 1904 / Library of Congress) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. "Robber barons," some historians call the tycoons of that era. Others prefer "industrial statesmen." Unlike Carnegie or Rockefeller, Clark left little charity, only corruption and extravagance. "Life was good to William A. Clark," wrote historian Michael Malone, "but due to his own excesses, history has been unkind."

    (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. After her father's death, Huguette Clark practiced music and art; seven paintings she created were shown at the Corcoran. In 1928, she became engaged to William Gower, a law student whose father had worked for Clark. "No married couple ever started married life under more brilliant auspices," The New York Herald said.

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. They were wed at Bellosguardo, the Clark home in Santa Barbara, on Aug. 18, 1928. The groom was 23, the bride 22. That year, Huguette donated $50,000 to the city to restore a salt pond behind the estate (top), called the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. The couple moved into the elegant apartment on Fifth Avenue, with her mother in the same building.

    (Pictometry International) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. It lasted two years. To establish Nevada residency for a divorce in 1930, she moved to Reno for the summer with her mother and six servants. With the papers signed, mother and daughter took a cruise to Hawaii, then returned to the apartment in New York.

    (The Los Angeles Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. This is the last known photograph of Huguette, cornered by a photographer on the day of her divorce in August 1930. In 1931, an Irish nobleman denied reports that he would marry Huguette, then 24. She dropped her seat at the opera, and slipped from the society pages.

    (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. After her mother died in 1963, Huguette stopped visiting Bellosguardo. Vintage cars remained in the garage. Paintings stayed on the walls, depicting her sister, Andrée, living well past her death at age 16, on into middle age. A caretaker's stepdaughter, Joan Pollard, recalls, "It was immaculate, as if someone had just left for the weekend."

    (John L. Wiley, Back to slideshow navigation
  39. In 1964, Huguette gave 215 acres near Santa Barbara for Boy Scout camps. "These camps serve 4,000 kids a year," said Ron Walsh, a Scout executive. "She did a lot of people a lot of good through the years." In 2003, she sold this Renoir for $23.5 million. In 2007, the IRS placed a lien on her houses for $1 million in back taxes; it was paid quickly.

    ("In the Roses," Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1882) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Huguette is trying to sell Le Beau Château, in wealthy New Canaan, Conn., an hour from New York City. She bought it in 1951, and added the wing at top right. It has 22 rooms, nine bedrooms, nine baths, 11 fireplaces, a wine cellar, trunk room, elevator, and walk-in vault. It has sat empty for 57 years, so the kitchens need updating.

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. The only residents on 52 acres are the caretaker and his son, in twin cottages, and wild turkeys and deer. The property is silent except for a waterfall. Her attorney put it on the market in 2005 at $34 million, now $24 million. Neighbors in this corner of town include Harry Connick Jr., Paul Simon, Glenn Beck and Brian Williams.

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Why would someone buy such a retreat, and never use it, but hold on to it for half a century? Huguette's great-half-nephew, André Baeyens, said he was told by his mother that Huguette bought Le Beau Château as a sort of bomb shelter during the Cold War. "She wanted a place where she could get away from the horrors."

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. "Huguette has always led a sort of reclusive life," said nephew Devine. "I think everybody's respected that. She wasn't just sitting in a room herself all her life. She had a small group of friends, confidants and assistants, very small, probably fewer than five people. Her world was always very small; when Anna died, it just became smaller."

    (Le Beau Château, Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Now 103, she may be in a nursing home or hospital. Relatives say they don't know, and fear that flowers and letters are discarded before they reach her. Her attorney, Wallace Bock, won't say. Devine said, "I think various family members have asked Mr. Bock for information, and he's always very respectful of his client and doesn't wish to reveal anything."

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Facing Central Park with curtains drawn, her Fifth Avenue apartments contain her mother's harp and Huguette's French dollhouses. Only a few times in decades has the building's staff seen her, a thin woman retreating into the shadows. They say she's not there now. André Baeyens said of his aunt, "She's withdrawn from this world."

    (Bill Dedman / Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Her eighth-floor apartments contain two galleries, seven bedrooms, rooms for nine servants. And her fortune? Where will it go? "The rest of the family would respect her decision," said nephew Devine. "But if she leaves it all to some sketchy cause that she has no close connection to, that would be of some concern."

    ("Apartments for the Affluent," 1975, by Andrew Alpern) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Her attorney, Bock, said her hearing and eyesight have diminished with age — after all, she'll be 104 in June — but her mind is clear, and he receives instructions from her frequently by phone. He said he would not pass along a request for an interview. "She's a very private person. She doesn't care about publicity or reputation."

    (Huguette Clark in France, "Le Sénateur Qui Aimait La France," Andre Baeyens) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Tracing the lives of William Andrews Clark and his Huguette, we are left with mysteries. What does she remember of "Papa"? Is she well cared for? What will she leave to the world? "It's hard to find out what the real story was," said nephew Devine. "No one is alive — except for Huguette."

    (The Copper King Mansion) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. W.A. Clark Memorial Library
    Above: Slideshow (48) The Clarks: an American story of wealth, scandal and mystery
  2. Hugnette Clark Gower
    Slideshow (17) Mystery heiress

Video: Where is mystery heiress?

  1. Transcript of: Where is mystery heiress?

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back now at 8:20 with a mansion mystery. Where's the owner of a $100 million California estate that's been lovingly cared for but empty for nearly half a century? Here's NBC's Bob Dotson .

    BOB DOTSON reporting: It's called Bellosguardo , Beautiful View , and you can see why. Perched over the Pacific in Santa Barbara , it looks like it's waiting for someone who has gone off for the weekend. Wow, these are pretty roses. But the owner hasn't been seen in Santa Barbara since Barbara Dorin was a kid.

    Ms. BARBARA DORIN: It's like " The Secret Garden " and " Nancy Drew " all rolled up into one.

    DOTSON: Dorin 's dad took care of the place for 50 years. Most of that time, caretakers were the only ones living on this 23-acre estate. If a six-year-old plays hide-and-seek in a place like this , she may never be found.

    Ms. DORIN: Unless she wants to be found.

    DOTSON: Same with the sole owner, 104-year-old Huguette Clark . This is the last known photo of one of the most secretive and wealthiest women in America . Her belongings fill 42 rooms in the largest apartment on New York 's prestigious Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park , but the staff has only seen her a few times in the past 30 years. She's not at her sprawling Connecticut estate either. Andre Baeyens , Huguette 's great-half-nephew, says she bought it back during the Cold War , but never moved in.

    Mr. ANDRE BAEYENS: Everything stopped for her when her mother died.

    DOTSON: Her life stopped, too.

    Mr. BAEYENS: She didn't want to go out, no, no, she just would be at home and play with her dolls.

    DOTSON: Huguette gave them as gifts to children of friends around the world. Once, she bought two first-class seats to Paris and sent her personal physician along to see that the doll arrived safely. One of Huguette 's companions figured the doll probably ended up in the overhead bin so the doctor could take his wife.

    The reclusive heiress had no children of her own, but: She would invite me over to have tea in the afternoon.

    Ms. DORIN: The little girl who hid in the garden, like her.

    DOTSON: I have a great picture that she took of me.

    Ms. DORIN: With a Polaroid camera , one of the world's first instant pictures. What was Huguette like?

    DOTSON: Very warm, very giving.

    Ms. DORIN: Why would someone so giving hide herself away? Perhaps she grew tired of living life in the headlines. Her father, Former Montana Senator William Clark , was 62 when Huguette was born. Her mother, Anna , 23. No record of their marriage was ever found. Society buzzed. But Clark was rich as Rockefeller , so he set them up in a Fifth Avenue mansion that cost three times more than the original Yankee Stadium . Huguette inherited a fortune in railroad cars, copper mines, cattle, timber and banks. Her dad also owned the land that would one day be known as Las Vegas . But it was here in Santa Barbara that she began backing away from all that, retreating from the world after a brief marriage. Her husband, William Gower , was a bank clerk making 30 bucks a week. She told her friends great wealth was a menace to happiness. So was Edward Fitzgerald , the Duke of Leinster , who told a British bankruptcy court he came to America looking for a rich wife .

    DOTSON: It's a sad thing, it's a sad thing. When I think about it, it's awful, awful.

    Mr. BAEYENS: The duke denied newspaper reports that Huguette and he were a couple, but she stepped into the shadows for good.

    DOTSON: She's still alive. She's still alive.

    Mr. BAEYENS: In New York City , he said. My colleague, Bill Dedman , 's investigative reporter, tracked her to a hospital.

    DOTSON: It's drab. Patient names written on a -- on a board in the hallway. It couldn't be more ordinary.

    BILL DEDMAN reporting: She's doing fine, her attorney says, but wants to be left alone. So we will not reveal the hospital's location. Huguette was born to great wealth in a gilded age. She's lived her long life in a gilded cage. There are no heirs to her vast fortune. What will happen to it is a mystery, like the life she lives. For TODAY, Bob Dotson , Santa Barbara , California.

    DOTSON: You know, it just goes -- you know, you can have everything and it's not enough.

    ANN CURRY, co-host:


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