Peter Lance is a five-time Emmy winner and has received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Journalism. He used to work for ABC News and is the author of the bestselling book, Deal with the Devil: The FBI’s Thirty-Year Relationship with a Mafia Killer.
His newest investigative piece revolves around Doris Duke, once deemed “the richest woman in America”. In 1966, Duke ran over her best friend, Eduardo Tirella, in her station wagon, killing him at the front gates of her lavish estate known as Rough Point.
Lance, a Newport native, grew up hearing the whispered rumors of Duke around the elite seaside town. Many in Newport believed that Tirella’s death wasn’t a mere accident, but instead, was deliberate murder.
Armed with his decades-long career in journalism, and inspired by the recent events in America, Lance set out to ask the question, did Doris Duke use her money and power to get away with the murder of her best friend, Eduardo Tirella? His findings reveal a chilling answer…Yes. Vanity Fair is breaking the story in their new issue, launching today, and in October, Lance’s full account will be told in his book Homicide at Rough Point.
To start, I have to ask, what drew you to investigate this case?
I’m a Newport local, and I started working with the Newport Daily News in 1967. The town was filled with rumors that Duke had murdered her friend. People had been saying all kinds of things, like that she paid off the cops, and used her status to move the pieces in her favor. So, the story has always been with me, like it’s been with all Newport locals.
Then, more recently, when I heard Trump make that comment, “I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” a lightbulb went off inside me. I was like…I need to look into this. I kept asking myself, is it possible that Doris Duke got away with murder simply because of the power she wielded?
You seem to have become very passionate about this case, which, as an investigative journalist, I can understand. What have you found most shocking in all this?
Well, personally, I really feel for Eduardo. He was an up-and-coming Hollywood designer who worked on films like The Sandpiper and Don’t Make Waves. He had become good friends with actress Sharon Tate, and was well on his way to becoming a huge figure in the entertainment industry.
After his death, the family tried to sue Doris Duke, and at the trial, Duke’s lawyers made sure to really play up the fact that Eduardo was gay. And as you can imagine, being gay in the 60s wasn’t going to win you any points with a jury. His niece, Donna Lohmeyer, has even been quoted as saying, “She killed him twice. She destroyed his body, and then she eviscerated his memory.” After hearing that, I knew I needed to know the whole story.
In my recent feature about Newport, I visited Rough Point, where they do mention the “incident”, but are very forgiving to Duke. Claiming it was all an unfortunate accident. Do you think your findings are going to spark controversy?
Oh, of course. But here’s the thing…My findings are completely truthful. And the truth trumps innuendo any day of the week. Also, they only started mentioning Eduardo recently, once they discovered I was investigating the story. The tours at Rough Point never used to even mention Eduardo. So, they can say whatever they want, but as a journalist, it’s my job to make sure that the truth comes out, no matter how rich and powerful you are.
So, can you tell us about the Vanity Fair piece and the book? What can readers expect from each?
The Vanity Fair piece is my original story that tells the events of what happened at Rough Point and the cover-up around it. It’s the essence of my investigation.
The book goes much deeper. It’s kind of like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Just as Savannah was a character in John Berendt’s story, Newport is a character in mine. The town has such an intricate history, and the money and power that live there are so important to understanding what happened in the Duke case.
That’s always the best kind of nonfiction, when it’s so intriguing and powerful that it reads like a novel.
Oh yeah, and trust me, this is a story that should have been told long ago. I hope it can bring justice to Eduardo, and reveal what really happened, exposing the world to the truth.
Peter Lance’s feature premieres in the new issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands today, and his book ‘Homicide at Rough Point’ will be released in October. To sign-up for the preorder on Amazon, click here.
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