We’d all like to be one of those rich kids who fill their Instagram feeds with the expensive cars, vacations, and night-clubbing of the like we ordinary mortals just can’t afford. Life as one of those trust fund kids must be all gravy – no need to work and accountants to handle those pesky bills when they come in. What could go wrong?
A lot, apparently. From access to the kind of substance abuse that poor druggie kids can only dream about, to evading responsibility for careless crimes, all the way to violent radicalization and even vicious murder, the heirs of the world’s richest families are far from immune to turning toward the dark side – despite all their advantages in life. In fact, it may just be that being born into a life of luxury sets you up to be vulnerable to some of the worst temptations known to man.
Here are fifteen stories that begin with promise – riches, prestigious prep schools, social connections that could have led their lives anywhere they wanted. Instead, they took a downward spiral, and in some cases, never recovered.
15. Ethan Couch, The Affluenza Teen
Sometimes, you can be rich and mess up, even mess up big time, and your wealth cushions the fall for you. Until you mess up again, that is. Young Ethan Couch was just sixteen years old and driving drunk when he crashed his pickup truck into a group of four people, including a counselor who had stopped to help a woman with a broken down SUV, killing all of them. He also left the two teens who were riding in his pickup severely injured. Ethan’s parents bought the services of a clinical psychologist who cooked up the theory that Ethan was so rich and led such a privileged lifestyle that he couldn’t possibly comprehend the severity of what he’d done. What’s more, a sympathetic judge in the Forth Worth, Texas courtroom actually bought the argument. Even though the jury had convicted Ethan of various charges stemming from the DUI and manslaughter, the judge felt he was too rich to survive in prison and sentenced him to just 10 years probation. However, Ethan just couldn’t keep up with the requirements of his parole. A friend uploaded a pic of him on Snapchat doing beer pong, and he went AWOL on his probation officer. He and his mother both fled to Mexico. Once he was rearrested and returned to the States, a judge in adult court sentenced him to two years in prison for the parole violation. As an aside, his mother also ended up in jail due to a parole violation.
14. Blake Leibel, Trustafarian Killer
Blake Leibel, a so-called trustafarian — i.e. one who lives by his trust fund — and heir to a Toronto family real estate fortune, is currently in jail in Los Angeles, charged with the torture and murder of his girlfriend. After a privileged upbringing as the son of a well-known real estate developer in the Toronto area, Blake made his way to Hollywood where he amused himself by writing a screenplay and a graphic novel about murder while his parents paid for his home and gave him a monthly allowance of $18,000. Blake was juggling relationships in May 2016. He was married, and his wife had just given birth to their first child, but he was in the middle of divorce negotiations. He also had a girlfriend by the name of Iana Kasian, 30, who had also just given birth to their first child three weeks earlier. Yet another girlfriend had accused him of sexual assault, and he was already facing felony rape charges when the cops came to his door on that fateful day. When police entered the apartment, there was blood all over the place. Leibel was barricaded in the bedroom, and Iana was in there too — dead, with the gruesome details taken straight from Leibel’s graphic novel. She had been tortured and her body drained of blood, just as he described in his comic. Leibel has been held without bail since his arrest in May 2016 and faces the death penalty. He’s also been recently served with a wrongful death civil suit to the tune of $56 million by Kasian’s family.
13. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, The Underwear Bomber
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the infamous Underwear Bomber, was the son of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest businessmen. His upbringing was marked by privilege and luxury. He traveled the world and was educated at University College London – where he lived in his father’s $4 million apartment – and the British School in Lome, Togo. Somewhere along the way, he became disaffected and, to his parents’ alarm, developed more and more contacts within the radical Muslim community. In fact, his father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, a Nigerian banker with political connections, went so far as to notify Nigerian and US authorities about his son’s behavior. For whatever reason, nothing was done, and Umar went on to gain infamy as the guy who tried to bomb a transatlantic flight from Lagos to Detroit via Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2009 by hiding explosives in his underwear. Crew and passengers wrestled him into submission after he tried to detonate the explosives, and he was burned in the incident. Umar pleaded guilty, saying he was acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda, and authorities believe he had been trained by the terrorist organization in Yemen shortly before his arrest. In 2012, he was sentenced to life in prison.
12. Andrew Luster, Max Factor Heir
Andrew Stewart Luster is the great-grandson of Max Factor, the man behind the giant cosmetics company. He was also heir to the family fortune. Andrew, however, was also a fan of GHB and date rape, a predilection that derailed his (and many others’) lives. Luster was arrested and charged with slipping GHB to three women and raping them at his home while they were unconscious in 2000. He went on the lam and was convicted of 86 counts of rape and sexual battery in absentia. The case became a media sensation that ended up involving Dog the Bounty Hunter of reality TV fame, who located him in Mexico in 2003. Dog actually ended up in a Mexican jail for a few days himself since bounty hunting was illegal in that country. To seal his fate, Luster had videotaped himself doing the deed(s). He was convicted of 86 counts of rape in 2003 and was originally sentenced to 124 years in prison. That sentence was thrown out in 2013, and he was resentenced to 50 years in jail with the possibility of parole. Luster had originally asked for a retrial, based in part on his “childlike” nature, but the judge rejected that argument, saying that living the life of a rich trust fund kid was no excuse.
11. Peter Dabish, Scumbag Killer
“Let me say this to you, Mr. Dabish. Your life path has been one that has been overindulged and unchecked.” That’s what Wayne County Circuit Judge Linda Parker said to the 24-year-old defendant during the sentencing phase of Peter Dabish’s murder trial in late 2010. It’s hard to argue with the Judge. Dabish’s father was one of the co-founders of Powerhouse Gym, a successful national chain, and he grew up with every advantage. That didn’t stop him from racking up a history of increasingly violent behavior, including a string of misdemeanor charges and allegations of abuse by former girlfriends. On the day he killed Diana Demayo, then a recent University of Miami grad who had recently returned to Detroit and became involved with him, Peter also fought with his superintendent and property management staff. Peter was allegedly angry over rumors that Diana was fooling around with another guy, and on March 11, 2010, he attacked Diana in his apartment. He tortured her for hours, leaving the apartment, and even her dog, splattered with her blood. To add to the horrific list of crimes, he called Diana’s father during the torture and taunted that his daughter couldn’t come to the phone because she was crying. Peter eventually called police and tried to claim Diana had overdosed. When they arrived, she was barely alive and died later in hospital. Dabish was eventually sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
10. Vorayuth Yoovidhya, Fugitive Red Bull Heir
Vorayuth Yoovidhya, grandson of Red Bull cofounder Chaleo Yoovidhya, was allegedly driving his black Ferrari in the early hours of a September morning in 2012 when he ran over and killed a motorbike cop in downtown Bangkok. He didn’t hang around to face the music, and he’s been on the run ever since. The cops followed a trail of leaking brake fluid back to Yoovidhya’s home. The family, now headed by Vorayuth’s father, Chalerm, is worth a cool $12.5 billion. So far, Vorayuth, whose nickname is apparently “Boss,” has ignored several court actions and police summonses to face the charges, and five years later, is said to be enjoying life at an undisclosed location far from his native Thailand. The case has caused widespread anger in Thailand because of the obvious privilege his wealth has given him. Vorayuth’s passport has been revoked, and Interpol is now involved in the hunt for the wealthy young man. At first, he was posting pics from his skiing vacation and while at the race track, among other things, but he seems to have gone quiet recently.
9. Osama bin Laden
Within a system of polygamy, Osama bin Laden was the 17th child of 53 born into his Saudi Arabian clan. The family owned a construction business with multi-billion dollar government contracts that fed family coffers. When the patriarch, Sheik Mohammed bin Laden, died in 1968, all of those 53 siblings inherited $500 million each. We all know how Osama bin Laden ended up spending most of those millions — on recruiting and training terrorists. He was going to university until 1979, when he joined the Mujahideen in Pakistan who were then fighting against the Soviet Russian occupation of Afghanistan. That’s right — the Mujahideen who were supported by the US at the time. He went on to found Al-Qaeda, and was subsequently banned from Saudi Arabia. The rest of the bin Laden family, rather than hating America, had deep business ties to the country. Direct blood relatives of Osama’s continue to live and do business in the US today. The family has said, and the evidence seems to back them up, that they severed all ties with Osama years ago, and the current patriarch, Sheikh Abdullah bin Laden, has publicly denounced the former terrorist kingpin.
8. John Hinckley, Jr., Would-Be Assassin
John Hinckley Jr.’s name will forever be linked with his assassination attempt on President Reagan on March 30, 1981. But the descent into a troubled state began long before that date for the son of the wealthy Hinckley family, his father an oil industry executive based in Denver. His family was even connected to the Bush clan, including George H. W. Bush himself. Problems with depression led to John frequently dropping out of school by the time he attended Texas Tech University, and he always had problems with relationships. In 1980, his parents tried to have him hospitalized, but his treating psychiatrist didn’t agree. He’d become obsessed with actress Jodie Foster after seeing the movie Taxi Driver and began stalking her. In fact, the idea of killing the president came to him as a way of impressing her. That’s what was on his mind when he loaded up and went after Reagan when he was coming out of the Washington Hilton Hotel in DC in 1981. Reagan’s lung was punctured, and aid James Brady sustained brain damage and ended up in a wheelchair. At his trial, John was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was incarcerated in the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. He was freed from the mental hospital in August of 2016 after 35 years at the age of 61.
7. Carlos the Jackal
Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka Carlos the Jackal, considered the inventor of modern terrorism, was born in 1949 in Caracas, Venezuela. His father was a wealthy lawyer, albeit also a Marxist. Ramirez’s education was liberal and emphasized communist philosophy, even as the family enjoyed the lifestyle of upper-class Venezuelans. His mother was a socialite who fueled her son’s appetite for travel and the finer things in life. Ilich — named as a nod to Lenin — developed a playboy lifestyle after attending a prep school in the UK. He later got himself expelled from the Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University in Moscow for lousy grades and problems with authority. The young would-be revolutionary then joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Jordan until the group was kicked out in 1971, but not before he’d gained the nickname “the Jackal.” From there, he went to London to come up with a list of names of potential kidnapping subjects and committed his first act of terrorism. He forced his way into the home of Joseph Sieff, president of Marks & Spencer and a prominent member of the Jewish community. The plan was foiled when his gun jammed. It was just the first of a long list of brazen acts of terrorism that Ilich specialized in as a kind of freelancer. When a colleague ratted him out and brought police to his Paris apartment, he simply opened fire on them after inviting them in. That’s when the media dubbed him Carlos the Jackal. After a long and destructive career, he was arrested in Sudan in 1994 and tried in France, where he is currently in prison.
6. Kathy Boudin, Prep School Radical
Kathy Boudin, both in her activist days and more recently, knows how to generate controversy, and she certainly had the right pedigree for a left wing terrorist. Her great uncle was a prominent Marxist theorist, Louis B. Boudin, and her father Leonard, a lawyer, had represented Castro‘s Cuban government, among other controversial clients. The family lived an upper-class existence in Greenwich Village, New York City. Despite that, Kathy had a taste for the radical side of life and joined the Weather Underground, an anti-Vietnam War group, along with the Black Liberation Army, after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. Both groups were responsible for a number of attacks, bombings, and other terrorist acts in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Kathy was convicted of murder after an armed robbery with the Weather Underground in 1981 left three people dead. A security guard and two police officers were killed in a shootout when they confronted her accomplices. Boudin drove the getaway car, and while she was not directly involved in the killings, her involvement in the underlying crime netted her felony murder raps. Her accomplices received lifetime jail sentences. After 22 years in jail, she was released in 2003. Boudin hit the headlines again in 2013 when she was offered a post as an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s highly regarded School of Social Work in New York City.
5. Anthony Marshall – Payback Time
The lonely rich kid, neglected by his social-climbing parents, is something of a cliché. But, at the heart of every cliché, there’s often a bit of truth. The Astor family wealth goes back to John Jacob, who became one of the richest people ever due to his business acumen, which included the areas of real estate and fur trading. Brooke Astor, born in 1902, was a socialite and renowned for her philanthropy. Maybe it’s easier to care about strangers than her own family — or at least, that’s what her son, Anthony Marshall, thought. Brooke’s marriage to Vincent Astor, then the heir to the vast Astor fortune, was her third marriage. The first was rumored to have been abusive, and her biographer, Frances Kiernan, insists in her book that he broke Brooke’s jaw when she was pregnant with Anthony. Whatever her reasons, she neglected Anthony more and more as her social profile grew more and more prominent. She was even quoted as saying that she was a “lousy mother.” Well, when parents are mean to their kids, they should perhaps know better than to depend on them in their old age. In 2007, Anthony, along with Brooke’s lawyer, was convicted of elder abuse, essentially having looted his mother’s fortune after she developed Alzheimer’s disease. It was actually Anthony’s son, Philip, who discovered his then 103-year-old grandmother living in a dirty apartment, unable to look after herself, and launched the lawsuit that discovered his financial mismanagement. Anthony went to jail in 2013 at age 89 and paid the estate back $12 million. He died in 2014.
4. Heirs To The DuPont Fortune
We’re not sure what kind of curse goes along with inheriting the DuPont fortune, but the newspapers have carried the lurid headlines relating to several of their number. The family’s fortunes began when Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours emigrated to the United States from France during the French Revolution. His son, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, founded a gunpowder company that eventually became the global chemical giant that brought you nylon, Teflon, Kevlar, and the Lycra for your yoga pants. DuPont heiress Lisa Moseley died at age 87 in April 2016 after a lifetime of scandal. The most serious allegation was involvement with the contract murder of her son’s girlfriend in 1998. Her third husband, Christopher Moseley, admitted to paying three hitmen, one of which was a p*rn star, to kill former exotic dancer and current drug addict Pati Margello, then girlfriend of Lisa’s son Dean. The three beat and strangled the woman to death before crunching her body into an A/C unit. Lisa was also accused of bribing a politician for a building permit, but the case was dropped. Those are just the most egregious of her alleged crimes. John Eleuthère du Pont, one of the family heirs, shot and killed Dave Schultz, an Olympic gold medalist wrestler, in 1996 on his estate. He was convicted of murder and died in prison in 2010. Robert H. Richards IV, another DuPont heir, admitted to raping his three-year-old daughter in 2009 and was charged with fourth-degree rape. The judge, however, did not give him prison time because he thought he would “not fare well” in jail.
3. Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst is the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, founder of the publishing empire that still brings you Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and 17 other popular monthly magazines today. Young Patty led the typical life of a rich kid. She’d gone to private school but showed a rebellious streak early on. At 16, she started dating her 23-year-old math tutor. In fact, she was living with him while going to college in Berkeley, California, by age 18. On February 4, 1974, just shy of her 20th birthday, she heard a knock at the door of their apartment. When she answered the door, a number of people forced themselves inside and kidnapped her, beating her fiance while they tied and gagged her. The kidnappers, a group that went by the name Symbionese Liberation Army, made their ransom demands by dropping off cassette tapes at specific radio stations. The group claimed to be a left-leaning revolutionary organization led by an ex-con by the name of Donald Defreeze, who called himself Field Marshal Cinque. Their demands were extravagant, including that father Randolph Hearst feed the poor people of California before they would even discuss Patty’s own ransom. She later told interviewers of being raped and locked blindfolded in a closet for hours. After several weeks, the SLA released a new tape — and on this one, Patty herself claimed that she had chosen to stay and fight with her new comrades. As if to prove it, she openly participated in an armed robbery with the group and released statements saying that she had willingly participated. After a year in action with the SLA, Patty was captured, arrested and ended up serving a jail sentence for her role in the robbery.
2. Leigh Horowitz, Rehab Poster Child
Leigh Horowitz, daughter of then chief executive of fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger Joel Horowitz, became the poster child of the moment for rich kids gone bad back in 2002 after she ended up in drug rehab, and the story hit the major New York newspapers. Her childhood was characterized by all the stereotypical trappings of a wealth – a huge family home in a rich neighborhood in New Jersey, ski vacations at Lake Tahoe, and education at a high-end prep school where her father’s sizable donations ensured her social status. Even with all that, Leigh was smoking pot at age 8, and by 16, was into everything from coke to LSD and heroin. By her sophomore year of high school, it was so bad, she was flunking out. After rehab and therapy, including a $22,000 wilderness program, it turns out she was sexually abused on two different occasions and had parents who were admittedly in denial and willing to turn a blind eye to her behavior for years. By all accounts, she cleaned up and has remained so ever since.
1. Casey Johnson Tragedy
Casey Johnson’s great-grandfather founded the international Johnson & Johnson company, and her father, Woody Johnson, owns the New York Jets. Despite an upbringing in the lap of luxury, she died alone in a squalid apartment of an overdose at age 30 in January 2009. Casey had her first Chanel handbag at the age of ten, but all the material wealth, according to published reports, couldn’t offset the fact she was neglected by her parents. She started using hard drugs in her early teens and embarked on a party lifestyle that often resulted in public fights and scenes. She partied with Paris and Nicky Hilton and was a pal of Lindsay Lohan, living with Lindsay and another woman in a menage a trois at one point. Shortly before her death, she was also arrested for grand theft larceny. She had stolen clothes, shoes, and other belongings from supermodel Jasmine Lennard, with whom Casey had become obsessed. According to published reports, Jasmine had befriended Casey, but the situation got out of hand. Johnson’s family cut her off the family trust after that incident, but it didn’t help. After no one heard from her for four days, a maid was sent to check on her and found her body. The official cause of death was complications from longstanding diabetes. At the time of her death, she was engaged to reality TV star Tila Tequila.
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