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COLUMN ONE : A Tale of Money and Mystery : Billionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke's death has spawned a wealth of disputes. She died much as she lived--in secrecy, loneliness and on the edge of scandal.

April 10, 1995|PAUL LIEBERMAN and JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Duke dogs were legendary. Visitors likened driving onto her estates to "The Hound of the Baskervilles"--dogs surrounding your car, snarling, until a servant gave them a signal and they turned, like that, into pets. Now the nurses dutifully recorded their presence at Falcon Lair, as in: "Nuku in room to assist with 'attack dogs.' "

Duke's bedroom became a medical ward with six nurses working in shifts. She had to be medicated, monitored, turned hourly in bed and helped to the commode. She had a stomach tube for feeding and a tracheotomy tube to assist breathing. Still, her condition did not seem that bleak to one young nurse--or so Tammy Payette asserted later, in the affidavit that set off far-reaching investigations.

"When Miss Duke arrived home from the hospital, she was in good, stable condition and alert," Payette said. "There was total potential for her to become rehabilitated. . . . Miss Duke's life expectancy was at least five years."

The doctors say it was obvious Duke was dying, but Payette insisted: "No one ever told me that Miss Duke was in critical or terminal condition."

Duke herself wasn't saying much, although nurses recorded occasional mood swings as she entered the last month of her life.

The morning of Oct. 7, she was "very calm." But by 3 p.m., she was "awake--angry. Wants to go to either CS (Cedars-Sinai) or Duke University Hospital." Then at 4:30 p.m., simply: "wants to go."

It was just three words: "wants to go." What did Duke mean?

To Payette, she "wanted to be rehabilitated so she could go to Duke Farms."

But Dr. Kivowitz said in a deposition that Duke had something heavier in mind when they had a "very candid" talk that evening in the bedroom with an Italian marble fireplace and windows overlooking lush gardens. Kivowitz said he told her "that with continued medical care, she would be as she was now and . . . ultimately deteriorate and die.

"I remember very clearly a statement that she made . . . that she couldn't go on living the way she was," Kivowitz said. He said he assured her that the nurses would "take very good care of her. . . ."

"She turned to Bernard, who was closer to her head than I was, and she said, 'Bernard, he doesn't get it, does he? . . . I want out.' "

From then on, Kivowitz said, rehabilitation was downplayed and the mission became keeping Duke clean and making her comfortable--largely with drugs.

The morning of Oct. 8, the nurses' file included a reminder: "NO CODE BLUE per Dr. Kivowitz." Do not resuscitate.

On Oct. 18, a nurse noted, " 'I want to die' pt. states how she feels." But Duke mostly was sleeping.

According to credit card receipts in the court record, Lafferty went that week to Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and spent $254 on gifts for the nurses. Duke's American Express Platinum Card listed visits to Giorgio Armani on Rodeo Drive on Oct. 20, 21 and 22, as well, bringing charges at the clothing store to $20,000 during the month.

No day is more disputed than Oct. 27. By then, notes list Duke's treatment as "TLC," tender loving care, with "room lights down." Intravenous "drip" doses of Demerol were increased, then more potent morphine included, starting at 5 mg. "I did not want Miss Duke to be awakened," Kivowitz said.

Doyle, the lawyer, and Glassman, the plastic surgeon, visited the house and met with Kivowitz.

Payette alleges in court papers that Kivowitz then said, "it was time for Miss Duke to go." Shanley, the chef, says in an affidavit that a parcel containing morphine was brought into the kitchen, and that Lafferty grabbed it and said, "Miss Duke is going to die tonight."

Kivowitz, though, recalled a somber death watch--with Lafferty "crying his eyes out."

The morphine drip was increased, first to 10 mg., then 15 mg. By 11 p.m., Duke was breathing as few as five times a minute.

Kivowitz left for a trip out of town, but kept in touch by phone and put a partner on call. At Duke's bedside were the maid Nuku, Nuku's sister, Doyle and Lafferty.

At 2:30 a.m., the nurses noted "effort breathing . . . but patient is lingering." After a 4 a.m. call to Kivowitz, the morphine was upped to 25 mg.

Later, the doctor would spend five days being grilled by Donald Howarth, a lawyer for Demopoulos who asked: "Had you ever discussed with Miss Duke the use of drugs to cause her to die?"

Kivowitz said, "I increased the morphine so she will not linger and suffer in any way."

Howarth: ". . . So that she would die?"

Kivowitz: "So that she would not linger, that she would not suffer, and ultimately that she would die perhaps shortly or sooner than she would have otherwise died from her medical conditions, which I judged within a 48-hour period were of a terminal nature."

The nursing instructions said, "If Pt. expires; Do not call 911!"

The last entry is at 5:48 a.m. "Resp. ceased."

Kivowitz' fill-in, Dr. Joshua Trabulus, signed the death certificate. It described the dead woman as a self-employed "farm owner."

Probate Battle / A Feeding Frenzy of Allegations

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