“The Von Bulow Affair” was the most scandalous and sensational murder trial of the 1980s, borne from the bowels of high society that existed between white-linen parties of Newport and white-powder mischief at New York’s poshest nightclub. America was riveted by the charges that Danish-born aristocrat Claus von Bulow twice attempted to murder his heiress wife Sunny by insulin overdose to inherit her millions and marry his mistress. Claus’s first conviction was overturned on appeal, and a second trial found him not guilty, but many still believe he’s to blame for her eventual death in 2008, more than a quarter century after falling into a persistent vegetative state.
In a six-part original scripted series from Universal Cable Productions, THE VON BULOW AFFAIR (wt), currently in development for Investigation Discovery, tells the whole story unfiltered, chronicling the death of America’s aristocracy through the tragic demise of one of its last dynastic families. Based on the book “The Von Bulow Affair” by author and playwright William Wright, the series is executive produced by Meryl Poster (Chicago, Cider House Rules, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce) and Ilene Rosenzweig (Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce), who is the writer/executive producer on the project. THE VON BULOW AFFAIR is slated to premiere exclusively on ID in 2018.
“THE VON BULOW AFFAIR was as much a true crime whodunit as it was a family drama that opened the ‘mansion door’ on the dark deeds of, arguably, one of society’s most infamous villains,” said Henry Schleiff, Group President at Discovery in a prepared press release. “We are thrilled to partner with the talented team at Universal Cable Productions and acclaimed producer Meryl Poster to tell this nearly unbelievable story to an entirely new generation of viewers.”
“The Von Bulow family story has long fascinated America and the world. There are so many compelling, probing and conflicting facts from what we know that makes it a worthy story to dig into once again,” said Dawn Olmstead, Executive Vice President, Development, Universal Cable Productions in a prepared press release. “ID is the ideal partner for this story with their commitment to investigating history’s greatest true crime stories.”
The two mysteries that drive the series are whether Claus killed Sunny and how her fairytale life came to such a dark end. Hollywood remembers the case through its movie dramatization, Reversal of Fortune, based on a book of the same name authored by Claus’s defense attorney. THE VON BULOW AFFAIR tells Sunny’s side of the story for the first time, revealing the fresh-faced all-American society princess who was nicknamed “Sunny” for her happy disposition. The police wrote her death off as a Valley of the Dolls-esque overdose but it was her son Alex and daughter Ala who spearheaded a private investigation that ultimately convinced the Rhode Island D.A. to pursue their stepfather Claus for murder.
THE VON BULOW AFFAIR is produced for Investigation Discovery by Universal Cable Productions, and is executive produced by Meryl Poster and Ilene Rosenzweig, who is also the writer/EP on the project and a former editor at the New York Times. For Investigation Discovery, Angela Bromstad is executive producer, Sara Kozak is senior vice president of production, Jane Latman is executive vice president of development, and Henry Schleiff is Group President, Investigation Discovery, American Heroes Channel and Destination America. Meryl Poster is repped by Victoria Cook at Frankfurt, Kurnit Klein & Selz. Ilene Rosenzweig is represented by Gersh, Writ Large and attorney Michael Schenkman.
Background on The Von Bulow’s: via Wikipedia
On June 6, 1966, Sunny married Claus von Bülow, a former aide to oilman J. P. Getty, and they had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, in 1967. By 1979, significant stresses and tensions had developed in their marriage, and both Sunny and Claus spoke openly about the possibility of a divorce.
On December 26, 1979, after the family had come together for Christmas at their Newport, Rhode Island mansion, Clarendon Court, she was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into coma but was revived. After days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the result of low blood sugar and diagnosed her as hypoglycemic, warning her against overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating.
While no foul play was suspected at the time, Claus von Bülow was later accused of causing this incident by injecting her with insulin.
In April 1980, she was again hospitalized after appearing incoherent and disoriented; their doctors reconfirmed she suffered from “reactive hypoglycemia”. She was advised to maintain control of the hypoglycemia by following a strict diet, limiting her sugar intake, and avoiding alcohol.
On the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, Clarendon Court, in Newport, Rhode Island, she again displayed confusion and uncoordination. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning she was discovered lying on the bathroom floor, unconscious and unresponsive.
She was taken to the hospital where it became clear that this time she had suffered severe enough brain injury to produce a persistent vegetative state. Although clinical features resembled a drug overdose, some of the laboratory evidence suggested hypoglycemia.
The Court of Appeal ordered disclosure of the notes taken by the Auersperg children’s attorney. These showed that Claus von Bülow did not want to terminate life support, as had been alleged.
Because of the increased marital tensions between Claus and Sunny von Bülow in the fall of 1980, her children were suspicious that her brain injury was the result of foul play by him. Her two eldest children persuaded Richard H. Kuh, the former New York County District Attorney, to investigate the possibility Claus von Bülow had attempted the murder of their mother. After the gathering of evidence, Rhode Island prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury who returned an indictment, and in July 1981, he was charged with two counts of attempted murder.
Her husband, Claus von Bülow, was convicted of attempting her murder by insulinoverdose, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. A second trial found him not guilty, after experts opined that there was no insulin injection and that her symptoms were attributable to over-use of prescription drugs. The story was dramatized in the book and movie, Reversal of Fortune.
Sunny von Bülow lived almost 28 years in a permanent vegetative state until her death in a New York nursing home on December 6, 2008.
A press release from Discovery and information from Wikipedia was used in the creation of this story.