The Curse Of The Rockefeller Family

As one of the wealthiest families in existence, the Rockefellers have always been a fixture in the news. But one of the things that landed the family in the tabloids had nothing to do with their wealth. Many tragedies hit its later generations, and many even say the family is cursed.

The Rockefeller empire began in the 19th century when brothers John D. and William founded Standard Oil, Exxon Mobil's precursor. (According to Forbes, the Rockefellers still have a net worth of $8.4 billion.) John and William grew the business to a multi-million empire, buying up other oil companies in the process and setting up railroad assets to control the supply chain. When John took over the whole firm, he became the country's first billionaire and is now considered the richest American ever to live.

Not everyone celebrated Rockefeller's business savvy, however. Smithsonian Magazine describes Standard Oil's history as "brutal." His name was even involved in the Ludlow Massacre, a deadly attack against striking workers at a mine John owned that killed two women and 11 children (per The New Yorker). The US government decided to break apart Rockefeller's monopoly in the first anti-trust case.

Despite embodying the very spirit of a robber baron, John gave charities a lot of money, helping establish schools in the US and Asia. All of his philanthropic efforts, though, did not stave off the tragedy that befell many family members in later years.

Michael Clark Rockefeller was the son of Nelson Rockefeller, who later would become vice-president of the US.

Michael Clark Rockefeller drowned, or maybe was eaten by cannibals

Michael had taken a keen interest in anthropology and worked on a documentary on civilizations that have no contact with the modern world, explained Smithsonian Magazine in 2014. After finishing the film, Michael decided he wanted to continue studying the Asmat tribe of New Guinea.

In 1961, Michael and anthropologist Rene Wassing took off on a dugout canoe with two local guides along the New Guinea coast, reported The Rake. The boat began taking on water and overturned. The guides swam to get help, but were taking too long. Michael turned to Wassing and said, "I think I can make it," and began swimming towards the shore. That was the last time anyone saw him alive.

His disappearance shocked people back in the US. Here was the privileged son of the current New York governor and a member of a prominent, wealthy family, vanishing in the middle of nowhere. Speculation grew. Did sharks eat him? Did he drown? Or, did he manage to make it ashore, only to be eaten by cannibals that still roamed the islands? Did he decide to eschew the Rockefeller name and live like a native?

The official and accepted cause of death for Michael is drowning, but many amateur adventurers still believe otherwise. In 2014, Carl Hoffman published a book titled Savage Harvest, based on detailed testimonies from Asmat tribesmen and positing that an American tourist believed to be Michael was killed in revenge for a Dutch raid four years before.

The most recent tragedy was in 2014

But Michael's mysterious disappearance was not the first time tragedy to befall the Rockefeller family. In 1951, John's great-niece Winifred Rockefeller Emeny was found dead in her garage, said In one of the cars sat two of her daughters, dead from asphyxiation. In 1978, John D. Rockefeller III died in a car crash, and a year later, his brother Nelson, the former vice-president, suffered a heart attack. Nelson's death was ruled natural, but he was in the presence of a young staff member alone in one of his homes, and it fueled all kinds of speculation.

Family tragedy did not end in the 1970s. Richard Rockefeller, a doctor and philanthropist, died in a plane crash in 2014. Richard, the son of David Rockefeller, who was chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank before it merged with JP Morgan, took off near the family home in upstate New York. He was an experienced pilot and was on his way back to Maine, where he lived, after attending his father's 99th birthday. CNN said fog had rolled in, disorienting Richard and causing him to crash his private plane in Harrison, New York. He missed hitting a house by 200 feet.

The Rockefellers may have had all the privilege in the world. They've been donating to many causes over the years. But all that wealth can't seem to stop what many think is a curse.