Police Reopen Probe Into Designer’s 1966 Death at the Hands of Billionaire Tobacco Heiress

·3 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photo by New York Times Co./Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photo by New York Times Co./Getty

A Marine corps veteran has come forward to implicate billionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke in the decades-old death of her close confidant, prompting a reopening of the case.

Robert Walker, now 68, was just 13 years old when he says he witnessed the socialiate intentionally drive into designer Eduardo Tirella in what was initially deemed an “unfortunate accident.”

Tirella’s death had been shrouded in mystery for more than 50 years and became the subject of the book Homicide at Rough Point, released in February of this year. Duke had died years earlier, in 1993.

Walker, who decided to come forward after the new book was published, spoke to the author of that book, Peter Lance, about what he witnessed that day in an article by Vanity Fair published Thursday.

According to Walker, who was riding his 10-speed bike as a paperboy near Duke’s estate at the time, a loud argument preceded the collision.

“I initially heard the argument and screaming of two people,” Walker told Vanity Fair. “The arguing stopped for a couple of seconds, and the next thing I heard was the roar of a motor, the crash, and the screaming of a man,” he was quoted saying.

He said he then witnessed Duke plow into Tirella again after the sound of a man, presumably Tirella, screaming in terror.

Walker told Vanity Fair that he had not only had he seen the murder, but approached Duke “seconds” after it happened when she emerged from the car with her Tirella’s lifeless body trapped under it.

Walker reportedly told Lance that Duke had shouted, “‘You better get the hell out of here!’” after he approached her in the seconds following the collision, and that she appeared to try and block him from looking beneath the car at Tirella’s body. When he offered to go get help, he said, she yelled, “Get out of here now!”

Walker said he kept secret what he saw on Oct. 7, 1966, for many years, though the events of that day have remained “seared” into his memory. He said his father, who died in 2000, had dissuaded him from coming forward sooner for fear that he would become a suspect in the murder.

He added that he had finally marshaled the courage to tell the truth, saying: “This was the sensational murder of a wonderful person who was wrongly taken from the earth. It needs to be righted. It needs to be told.”

His account has had an almost immediate effect on law enforcement.

“Yes, I can confirm that I’ve been assigned to follow up with this case due to new information provided by Robert Walker,” Newport Police Det. Jacque Wuest told The Newport Daily News.

“This case is now open for further review due to new facts coming forward,” Wuest said in a separate statement. “It is an active investigation.”

Police had initially closed the case just a few days after Tirella’s death, deeming it a tragic accident in spite of counterclaims from local residents who for years suggested that Duke had wiggled her way out of culpability. In his book, Lance also alleges that after she killed Tirella, a police chief with Mafia ties conducted a sham investigation to cover it all up and shield Duke from an indictment.

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