A few years back MSNBC did a series of stories about a mysterious millionaire by the name of Huguette M. Clark. Up until this exposure, Clark had lived a very reclusive and quiet lifestyle. Not too much was known about her. At the time of the initial report, some even wondered if the heiress was still alive.
It turned out she was alive at that time, however, she quietly passed away on May 24, 2011 at the age of 104. Clark would have turned 105 on June 9 of that year.
The Clark Family
Clark was the daughter of U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark of Montana (1839-1925). W.A. Clark, who originally hailed from Pennsylvania but moved west to Montana, was branded as one of the "copper kings" after making his fortune out west. He did not come from a wealthy family, his fortune was self-made. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Clark was one of the two wealthiest individuals in America after making his money from Montana's mining industry.
He also would found a railroad in the southwest which led him to help found Las Vegas. 1 After a failed run at a Senate seat in 1899 (purchased - he resigned before he could be charged), with the help of a mining union, he won a senate seat in a legitimate election. Reports say he was motivated by greed.
Huguette had several half-siblings from her father's first marriage to a woman named Katherine Stauffer. The pair had married in 1869 and remained married until Katherine's death in 1893. Katherine and her six children mostly lived in Europe during the span of the marriage.
Huguette was born from Clark's second marriage to Anna Eugenia La Chappelle (the 1901 marriage occurred in Paris, some accounts have reported she was his ward). Two children, Andree and Huguette, were born of that marriage.
It appears Clark's first and second families did not have much interaction with little to do with one another.
Portrait of William Andrews Clark in 1917
The man, who led a political career that had been laced with scandal and questions over his business techniques, also left his daughter a substantial fortune. Many decades later this money would later become the center of controversy.
A Life of Mysterious Seclusion
At the time of her death, Clark had been residing in long-term hospital care in a New York City hospital under an alias name. Most of the 104 years she lived were shrouded in mystery.
Huguette wasn't even ill when she moved into the hospital in the early 1990s, according to media reports. She allegedly lived there, simply because she chose to. 2 She is said to have gone in to have some surgery and decided never to leave.
What happened in her life to decide to live so mysteriously?
In 1928, at the age of 22, Huguette had married William Gower, a law student and Clark family employee. The marriage had been very brief; the couple was divorced in 1930. Clark never had any children, nor did she ever remarry.
Initially, Huguette Clark was in the limelight with her father, as evidenced by many news articles during that time. However, eventually she would go into total seclusion, despite her prominent social status. This isolation would last for almost eight decades, until her passing - even several of those that "knew" her are said to have only spoke to her through closed doors.
1920 newspaper clip and photo reporting William A. Clark donated 135 acres to the Girl Scouts. The woman to the right is Huguette standing beside her father.
Over these years Huguette largely kept to herself, was never seen in public and there are few photographs in existence. At the original time her story broke in the media, the last known photo of her was taken back in 1930, shortly after her divorce occurred. She lived in New York, with her mother, Anna, but both mother and daughter led very private lives.
What is known is Clark's life included a love of dolls and art. She also owned an abandoned mansion in California which hadn't been visited since the 1950s, another mansion in Connecticut (Le Beau Chateau) where she never even slept a night, and her ownership of prime multi-million dollar property in New York City. Her NYC home consisted of one and a half full floors in an apartment building, 42 rooms in all.
Clark lived with her mother in the apartment building for decades. Her mother passed away in 1963. After the elder Clark's death, Huguette was said to have become even more reclusive. Interestingly enough, the California and Connecticut properties were well-cared for despite Clark's lack of apparent interest in either of these two homes. Her 5th Avenue home stood vacant after her decision to enter the hospital. It basically stood as a museum, including a valuable doll collection, no one would see.
Questions About the Money
Earlier reports highlighted a criminal police investigation about the heiress' estimated $500 million dollar fortune with her accountant and attorney in suspect (later estimates would indicate her fortune was worth $300 million). Drawing the attention of officials were several sales of personal property sold for millions, including a Stradivarius violin and a Renoir painting. Additionally, several other questionable monetary gifts were distributed from the Clark's estate. 3
An assistant district attorney from the elder care unit had reportedly visited Clark while she was in the hospital, more than once, and spoke with her.
At the time of Clark's death in 2011, the big question was—who would inherit the Clark family fortune? Family members were not permitted to attend her burial, nor was there a mass or funeral service. She died as she lived, very privately. She was laid to rest next to her mother, father and her sister, Andrée, who had died at the young age of 16. The family is buried in a mausoleum at the Woodlawn Cemetery, which is located in the Bronx.
At the time of Clark's death, her attorney had released a statement:
"Madame Clark's passing is a sad event for everyone who loved and respected her over the years," said Michael McKeon, spokesman for attorney Wallace (known as "Wally") Bock.
McKeon noted she died with "dignity and privacy", the way she wanted to. He also said her representatives intended to respect her final wishes.
Conflict Over the Will
Reports published during June 2011 revealed Clark had indeed left a will dated in April 2005. The beneficiaries of her vast fortune were very specific in the new will. For the most part, the copper heiress left the bulk of her estate to various arts' institutions, including the creation of an arts' foundation called the Bellosguardo Foundation. Her massive California estate was bequeathed to the new foundation. The estate, her childhood vacation home, was one that Clark had not visited in decades, and had sat empty for more than 50 years. Several people, including her goddaughter and doctor, were to receive sums of money.
Clark's treasured doll collection, its accessories and accompanying insurance policies were left to her nurse and friend, Hadassah Peri, along with 60 percent of the remainder of the estate after all other gifts were bestowed. At the time, it reports said this amounted to about $30 million after estate taxes.
Additionally, a sum of $500,000 was given to her attorney and the same amount to her accountant; the two men that had been under investigation in relation to the handling Clark's estate.
"I intentionally make no provision in this my Last Will Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years. The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my estate are the true objects of my bounty," Clark had written in her will [PDF]. 5
This will was reportedly filed only weeks after an earlier will that had left the money to her family. Her family maintained Clark was taken advantage of by her lawyer and her accountant in order to gain access to her vast fortune.
The case ultimately ended up in a major lawsuit involving numerous law firms. A settlement was made at the end of September 2013 to avoid a full-blown trial. According to the settlement terms, part of the wealth ($34.5 million) was redistributed to surviving family members. The attorney and accountant were not charged with any criminal charges and did not receive any monies beyond their professional fees. 6, 7
Investigative reporter, Bill Dedman, who originally brought Huguette's story into the limelight, stumbled on the story in an interesting way. He was preparing to move and was researching Connecticut homes for sale; then, out of curiosity, he reportedly began searching for expensive properties. 8 One of the homes turned out to be Le Beau Chateau, the multi-million dollar home Clark owned, but never even spent one night.
Interview with Bill Dedman, the man who uncovered the mysterious existence of Huguette M. Clark
What he uncovered was a major story which led him to New York City -- and to Clark's mysterious lifestyle. Eventually after writing many reports, Dedman would go on to author a book, with one of Huguette's cousins not involved in the lawsuit, called, "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune". The cousin has been said to have phone contact with Clark for nine years, and is in possession of recordings of these calls.
While the issues of the fortune appear to be resolved (at least for now), one mystery will always remain. Just why did Clark choose to live in such secrecy and seclusion all those years?
It is a question Clark took with her to the grave.
(Note: No photos of Huguette as an adult appear in this article as none appear to be in the public domain at this time).
Related reading: The Legal Case Surrounding Heiress Huguette Clark's Will
The Clark family mansion, taken before 1925 when the home was demolished/razed