Review of Fatal Crash Involving Wealthy Heiress Doris Duke Finds No New Evidence

After taking a new look at the 1966 death of an employee of wealthy heiress Doris Duke that was ruled an accident, the Newport, Rhode Island police department concluded last week there was no new evidence to change that finding, the Associated Press reported.

The police decided to take a new look into the death of Eduardo Tirella in July after new witness Bob Walker, 68, talked to police after reading a book about the case.

Detective Jacque Wuest was in charge of the review and said while Walker, a 13-year-old paperboy at the time of the accident, was a "credible" witness, the detective found nothing to change the results of the original investigation. "There is no new evidence that would change the previous conclusion in this matter, nor is there any new evidence that warrants further review," she said in a statement to Peter Lance last week.

He never talked to the police about the incident when he was a paperboy because his father feared for his life if he did. After reading Homicide at Rough Point, by Peter Lance, he came forward.

Lance's book suggested Duke acted with intent when she struck Tirella with a car at her mansion. Walker was the first person to arrive at the scene and he said his account of what happened was different from the official's version.

The office of City Manager Joseph Nicholson Jr. agreed with the police findings and said in a statement "at this time we cannot ascribe any definitive motive or intent to Ms. Duke."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Heiress Doris Duke, Killed Employee, New Investigation
When Heiress Doris Duke, the fabulously wealthy tobacco and power company heir, ran over and killed longtime employee and confidant Eduardo Tirella at her Newport, Rhode Island mansion in 1966, many people never bought the official police report that the death was an "unfortunate accident." But the city manager in Newport, R.I., is standing by the city police department's review of the 1966 death of the employee of Duke, and found, like the original investigation, it was all an accident. Pictured, Duke attends a polo match on Feb. 24, 1950, in Cairo, Egypt. File/AP Photo

"To that end, it would be imprudent to either reclassify this incident or to offer any further commentary beyond our official opinion. Accordingly, as we have previously articulated, it remains the opinion of the Newport Police Department that there is not sufficient evidence to draw any firm conclusions as to the motivations of Ms. Duke," Nicholson said in the statement.

Lance, in a telephone interview Tuesday, called the findings of the police review "absurd."

In a statement, he said that as the author of several books critical of the FBI on counterterrorism and organized crime, "I have never seen such an abdication by a law enforcement agency of its responsibility to tell the truth about a known criminal act."

Duke inherited her money from her father, James Duke, president of the American Tobacco Co. and co-founder of the company known today as Duke Energy. Duke University in North Carolina is named for her family.

Tirella had worked as a designer for Duke for several years. On the day of the death, the pair were taking the car to look at an artifact, according to Lance's book. But Duke was furious at Tirella for telling her that he was leaving to become a set designer in Hollywood, Lance said in the book.

Police conducted a brief interview with Duke several days after Tirella's death at which point investigators took her at her word that it was an accident.

Duke had a huge amount of clout in the city in 1966, and apparently still does, Lance said.

"What it means, effectively, is that Doris Duke, who died in 1993 at the age of 80, still wields a huge influence over the current City of Newport administration," he said.

Heiress Doris Duke, Killed Employee, New Investigation
Heiress Doris Duke, right, and her attorney Aram Arabian, leave Superior Court on June 17, 1971, in Providence, R.I. When Duke, the fabulously wealthy tobacco and power company heir, ran over and killed longtime employee and confidant Eduardo Tirella at her Newport, R.I., mansion in 1966, many people never bought the official police report that the death was an "unfortunate accident." But the city manager in Newport, R.I., is standing by the city police department's review of the 1966 death of the employee of Duke, and found, like the original investigation, it was all an accident. File/AP Photo