NEW YORK — Martha "Sunny" von Bulow, the heiress who spent the last 28 years of her life in oblivion after what prosecutors alleged in a pair of sensational trials were two murder attempts by her husband, has died at age 76.
She died Saturday (December 6, 2008) at a nursing home in New York, her children said in a statement issued by family spokeswoman Maureen Connelly.
Mrs. von Bulow was a personification of romantic notions about high society — a stunning heiress who brought her American millions to marriages to men who gave her honored old European names.
But she ended her days in a coma, giving no sign of awareness as she was visited by her children and tended round the clock by nurses.
She was the offstage presence that haunted the two sensational trials of her husband, Claus von Bulow, in Providence, R.I.
At the first trial, in 1982, Claus von Bulow was convicted of trying twice to kill her by injecting her with insulin at their estate in Newport, R.I. That verdict was thrown out on appeal and he was acquitted at a second trial in 1985.
The murder case split Newport society, produced lurid headlines and was later made into a film, Reversal of Fortune, starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons.
Claus von Bulow is living in London, "mostly taking care of his grandchildren," said Alan Dershowitz, the defense lawyer who won his acquittal at the second trial.
"It's a sad ending to a sad tragedy that some people tried to turn into a crime," Dershowitz said. "I hope this finally will put to an end to this terrible tragedy."
Claus von Bulow's main accusers were his wife's children by a previous marriage, Princess Annie Laurie von Auersperg Kniessl and Prince Alexander von Auersperg. They renewed the charges against their stepfather in a civil lawsuit a month after his acquittal.
Two years later, Claus von Bulow agreed to give up any claims to his wife's fortune, estimated at up to $40-million, and to the $120,000-a-year income of a trust she set up for him. He also agreed to divorce her, leave the country and never profit from their story.
Prosecutors contended that Claus von Bulow wanted to get rid of his wife to inherit a large hunk of her wealth and be free to marry a mistress.
The defense countered by picturing Martha von Bulow, who suffered from low blood sugar, as an alcoholic and pill popper who drank herself into a coma.
Claus Von Bulow was accused of injecting his wife with insulin in 1980, causing her irreversible coma.