Sunny in a Coma

Photo: Charles Krupa/AP


Von Bülow was not his real last name: Claus’s Danish father, a drama critic who greatly admired the Germans, was convicted as a collaborator after World War II, so Claus took his maternal grand­father’s name. Trained as a contracts lawyer, he impressed J. Paul Getty enough to become his personal assistant, and at a party, he met Sunny Crawford, a beautiful heiress unhappy with her royal husband’s roving eye. In 1966, after her divorce, they married; by 1979, they weren’t as happy, and he was having an affair with a socialite actress. That December, Sunny dipped briefly into a coma; a year later, it happened again. She had suspicious traces of insulin in her system, and after the second time, her son, Alexander von Auersperg, and a P.I. he hired found a black bag in Claus’s locked closet that included an ­insulin-tainted needle. Claus was charged with attempted murder, and in 1982, he was sentenced to 30 years. He then hired Alan Dershowitz to handle the appeal. Truman Capote came forward to swear that Sunny had been an intravenous-drug user. In 1985, Claus was retried, at vast expense (writing in Vanity Fair, Dominick Dunne observed, “The powerful defense team assembled by Von Bülow for the second trial so outshone the prosecution that the trial often seemed like a football game between the New York Jets and Providence High”). Nine witnesses testified that Sunny’s condition might not be consistent with an insulin overdose. Claus was acquitted, Dershowitz wrote Reversal of Fortune, and Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for playing Claus in the film adaptation. Sunny died in 2008.

From the Archives: ‘Claus Von Bulow in the Loneliest Place,’ (February 15, 1982)

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Sunny in a Coma