The Tragic 1972 Death Of Barbara Hutton's Son

The pilot of the small single-engine plane, a Cessna 206, lifted off from the Aspen, Colorado airport on July 24, 1972, a little before 6 p.m. One of the three passengers, Lance Reventlow, wanted to look at a piece of property he was interested in buying near his Aspen home. He could afford it. He could afford anything. When he was born on February 24, 1936, the newspapers proclaimed him "the world's richest baby."

His full name was Lance Graf von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow, and he was the son of Barbara Hutton — one of the richest women in the world — and Danish nobleman Count Kurt Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow. That evening, as the group flew over the Rockies, a thunderstorm was brewing. The 27-year-old pilot, Gifford Hooker, was a novice. The student pilot and former Aspen liquor store owner hadn't logged that many flight hours when he and Reventlow, Robert Wulf, a ski instructor, and Barbara Baker soared above the Rockies.

'Poor little rich girl'

Lance Reventlow's mother, Barbara Hutton, was the heir to the Woolworth five-and-dime store fortune. Her grandfather, Frank Winfield Woolworth, started his business in 1879 and by the 1920s had amassed a vast fortune from his endeavors. Barbara's father, Frank Hutton, was a stockbroker who turned the prodigious inheritance of his wife Edna Woolworth into an even bigger sum and pulled out of the stock market before the 1929 crash. Barbara, born in 1912, gained the title "poor little rich girl" by the press. First, for the backlash of the excessively lavish coming-out party she had during the dark days of the Great Depression and then for her troubled life that included the suicide of her mother as a child, a contentious relationship with her father, and seven failed marriages.

It was her second marriage to Count Reventlow that produced her only child, Lance. And he, too, had an unhappy early childhood being shuttled between various boarding schools before becoming a pawn between his parents during an acrimonious divorce, all played out in the bright spotlight of media attention.

Fast cars and movie stars 

By his teens, Lance Reventlow had become obsessed with racing. He became friends with another sports car aficionado, the actor James Dean, and was one of the last people to see Dean alive. They'd spoken just minutes before the car crash that killed the iconic actor. Reventlow also hired racing experts to help build an American race car. The result was the Scarab, which beat out some of Europe's best, including Ferraris and Masaratis. Reventlow won the International Grand Prix in Nassau in 1958, the first American to do so in 30 years. "I guess you might say I'm a playboy," he told Life magazine that year.

Reventlow's first marriage — to the actress Jill St. John — ended in divorce. In 1964, he married Cheryl Holdridge, who had been a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club TV program. Reventlow stepped away from racing, instead focusing on polo and skiing. On July 24, 1972, as Reventlow and his friends were returning to the airport, their plane crashed into a heavily wooded area 8 miles from the nearest road. All four of them died. Cary Grant, Reventlow's step-father in the 1940s — Hutton's third husband — who had remained close to him, attended his memorial. Barbara Hutton, by then a recluse, didn't show. Only 10 people attended her funeral seven years later, in 1979, after she died of a heart attack.