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A Steamy Romance Gets Frosty in Court : Relationships: Reports of torrid notes, extravagant spending and connections to European demi-royalty are captivating a normally staid Boston. Sometimes, breaking up really is hard to do.

November 28, 1995|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Talk about a Puritan image problem. First Demi Moore does Hester Prynne. Then former Ford model Catherine de Castelbajac portrays herself in a courtroom as an "X-rated Protestant princess."

"My poor nerve endings are already hungry," De Castelbajac told Bill Koch--a multimillionaire yachtsman who gained fame for his 1992 America's Cup victory--in one of a series of steamy letters and faxes read to jurors on the eve of Thanksgiving, a sacred day of Puritan reckoning. "You are creating such a wanton woman."

The correspondence became public last week as Koch sought to evict De Castelbajac from his $2.5-million condominium at the Four Seasons Hotel here. The daily reports of torrid communiques, extravagant spending sprees and connections to European demi-royalty captivated a community where staid and sedate remain the ruling complimentary adjectives of choice. Wallpaper-print dirndl dresses are considered high fashion in the Pilgrims' old stomping grounds, and how one woman could be expected to drop $7,500 on a single frock mystifies a chromosomally thrifty populace.

Koch, 55, does not contest the fact that he gave that amount to De Castelbajac--who is either 42 or 43, depending on the report--to purchase a dress. In court she conceded that she instead spent the money on "an operation."

"What kind of operation?" asked Koch's attorney, Elizabeth A. Burnett.

"A cosmetic operation," De Castelbajac replied.

Liposuction, to be precise. (Where on her body the liposuction occurred was not revealed.)

Known to intimates as Kate, Catherine Chambers was born in Santa Barbara and educated at New York City's Barnard College. Her selection in 1975 as Mademoiselle magazine's college model of the year launched her on an international career.

In Paris she became acquainted with Jean Charles de Castelbajac, a marquis-turned-fashion designer whom she married in 1979. One of their two sons has been living with his mother in Koch's 3,700-square-foot apartment opposite Boston's Public Garden. Under terms of her divorce from the marquis, Catherine de Castelbajac received a $30,000 cash settlement, an art collection she estimates to be worth $400,000 and yearly payments of $80,000 until the year 2004.

A recent Fortune magazine report placed Koch's net worth at $600 million. He is a native of Kansas with three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an assortment of businesses located in New England, Florida, Kansas and Colorado. Koch said in court that he thinks of himself as a sportsman and "a philanthropist of sorts."

*

They met in 1992 when friends of his invited her to his Cape Cod estate. While their love was fresh, Koch described De Castelbajac as "a woman that all men dream about." But in an interview with the Boston Herald--trumpeted on the front page, as was a week's worth high-profile coverage of the proceedings--Koch said he had investigated De Castelbajac and found her to be little more than "a Santa Barbara surfing girl."

But love is legendary for its blind spots. During their 2 1/2-year liaison, De Castelbajac sent faxes to "Big Beautiful Bill." She faxed rhapsodic about "those arms, those shoulders, that ass, those kisses!" In a paean to techno-romance, she characterized her passion for Koch as "beyond calculation by the largest computers."

In court last week, though, it was hard to imagine such ardor. Frumped up in an austere navy blue suit and gumdrop-sized pearls, De Castelbajac wore horn-rimmed glasses and sat with her chin in her hands, reminiscent of Rodin's "The Thinker." Her blond hair was swept into a stylish chignon that even Hester Prynne might have admired. Koch, for his part, wore owlish eyeglasses, the kind of Mod hairstyle popularized by the Beatles in the late 1960s, jowls and a scowl.

Jowls or no jowls, De Castelbajac maintains she "gave up a whole life in Europe" to live with Koch in Boston. She said that after she settled into Koch's life, his friends "consistently remarked how you had changed--and how happy they were to see that you could be with a woman who wasn't a bimbo, or a prostitute or a psychotic."

De Castelbajac at first moved into her own apartment in the chic Back Bay section of Boston. Koch asserts that in May, 1994, she asked to relocate to his seldom-used apartment at the Four Seasons. Even though he had married Joan Cranlund of New York, the mother of his 9-year-old son, a month earlier, Koch consented.

Koch claims he tried repeatedly to end their relationship. In a letter from November, 1994, he told De Castelbajac that he was unwilling to make a commitment and admonished: "Perhaps I am not the man for you."

As their affection waned, De Castelbajac wrote, "I still don't believe that this is my Billy. Something must be very, very wrong in your life now."

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Koch alleges that from October, 1994, to August, 1995, De Castelbajac ran up $47,000 in charges at the Four Seasons. Among the itemized expenditures was $2,500 for cat food.

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