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Dominick Dunne: Excerpts from his work

Trials and ArbitrationHomicideHotels and AccommodationsDominick Dunne

This excerpt is from Dominick Dunne's article "Fatal Charm: The Social Web of Claus von Bulow," which originally appeared in Vanity Fair and is reprinted in Dunne's "Fatal Charms and the Mansions of Limbo" (1999). It was reported during Von Bulow's 1985 retrial and acquittal for the attempted murder of his heiress-wife, Sunny, who died in 2008 after nearly 28 years in a coma. This scene features Von Bulow and his then- mistress, Andrea Reynolds.

For the first several weeks of the trial in Providence, my room at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel was on the same floor as the rooms von Bulow and Mrs. Reynolds shared. For several years I had seen the two of them around New York. Although we had never spoken, we had often been at the same parties or in the same restaurants. The first day in the courtroom, von Bulow recognized me but did not acknowledge me. The second day he nodded to me in the men's room. When we met in the corridor on the fourteenth floor of the hotel, he struck up a conversation about a portable word processor I was carrying. At that moment the door to their suite opened, and Andrea Reynolds came out into the hall.

She said to von Bulow, "I don't know Mr. Dunne's first name."

"Dominick," I said.

Von Bulow, leaning toward her, said slowly and deliberately, "And Mr. Dunne is not friendly toward us."

"I'm being friendly now," I said.

They invited me into their room, which had a sitting area at one end of it. An open closet was crammed with Mrs. Reynolds' clothes and at least twenty pairs of her shoes.

"We mustn't talk about the trial," said von Bulow.

For a while we talked about Cosima von Bulow, who had that day been accepted at Brown University and would soon graduate from Brooks School in Massachusetts. Von Bulow spoke proudly and affectionately of her.

"Cosima has the best qualities of both her parents," said Andrea Reynolds. "She has the beauty and serenity of Sunny, and the intelligence and strength of Claus." Von Bulow acknowledged to me later Mrs. Reynolds' importance in Cosima's life. "She had been the adult woman to whom Cosima would constantly turn with her little flirtations or whatever a young girl wants to talk about . . . No new woman in my life could have survived a lack of affinity with Cosima."

"Senator Pell called this morning and wanted to have lunch with Claus in Providence," said Andrea Reynolds, "and you can print that." She was referring to Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island. "He obviously doesn't think he's guilty." Von Bulow remarked with the self-deprecatory kind of humor that had become a trademark with him, that he had declined the invitation because he didn't want to spoil the senator's chances of winning a sixth term by being seen with him in public.

That night I happened to fly back to New York on the same plane that Senator and Mrs. Pell were on. I struck up a conversation with Mrs. Pell and revealed that I was covering the von Bulow trial.

"I was with Claus von Bulow this afternoon and heard that the senator had called to ask him for lunch, " I said.

"Is that what you were told?" Mrs. Pell asked. Nuala Pell is the daughter of Jo Hartford Bryce, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company heiress, and a Newport neighbor of the von Bulows.

"Yes," I replied.

"Mr. von Bulow called my husband. My husband didn't call Mr. von Bulow," she said.

*

Seven months after the murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez, Dunne posed as a potential buyer for their Beverly Hills house in order to size up the room where their bullet-riddled bodies were found. Here is an excerpt from his article on the case, called "Nightmare on Elm Drive":

Seven months later, after the boys were arrested, I visited the house on Elm Drive. It is deceptive in size, far larger than one would imagine from the outside. You enter a spacious hallway with a white marble floor and a skylight above. Off the hallway on one side is an immense drawing room, forty feet in length. The lone piece of sheet music on the grand piano was "American Pie" by Don McLean. On the other side are a small paneled sitting room and a large dining room. At the far end of the hallway, in full view of the front door, is the television room, where Kitty and Jose spent their last evening together. On the back wall is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, filled with books, many of them paperbacks, including the American-history novels of Gore Vidal, Jose's favorite author. On the top shelf of the bookcase were sixty tennis trophies -- all first place -- that had been won over the years by Lyle and Erik.

Like a lot of houses of the movie nouveaux riches still in their social and business rise, the grand exterior is not matched by a grand interior. When the Menendez family bought the house, it was handsomely furnished, and they could have bought the furniture from the former owner for an extra $350,000, but they declined. With the exception of some reproduction Chippendale chairs in the dining room, the house is appallingly furnished with second-rate pieces; either the purchase price left nothing for interior decoration or there was just a lack of interest. In any case, your attention, once you are in the house, is not on the furniture. You are drawn, like a magnet, to the television room.

*

This excerpt describes an experience Dunne had during O.J. Simpson's 1995 murder trial. "All O.J., All the Time" appears in Dunne's 2001 collection "Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments."

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The O.J. of the trial is a more muted presence in the courtroom than the O.J. of the hearings, when he allowed his exasperation to show through grimaces, eye rolls, and, on occasion, audible comments or angry gestures. No more. Now he's like a trained Thoroughbred, behaving perfectly almost all the time, presumably on instructions from Johnnie Cochran, his slick lead lawyer, who dominates the courtroom. In this passive role Simpson is playing, his inner light has dimmed. Sometimes I fell that he needs verification that his power still exists, outside of the defense team whom he is paying. Recently, by chance, our eyes met. After all this time, it was our first contact, and we held it. The look in his eye was wary at first, as if he was unsure of my sentiments -- was I friend or foe? -- but then, for a fraction of a second, his expression softened. I saw and felt that famous devastating charm his friends have told me about. If he were not the defendant in a double-murder trial, he would have had me in the palm of his hand.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Trials and ArbitrationHomicideHotels and AccommodationsDominick Dunne
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