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Eyewitness sheds new light on ‘unfortunate accident’ involving Newport billionaire

Cold Cases

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ For decades, the death of billionaire Doris Duke’s close friend was considered an “unfortunate accident” by investigators.

But new eyewitness testimony has Newport detectives reexamining the case.

That witness, 68-year-old Bob Walker, has come forward after all these years to share his version of events.

​”I am an unknown witness coming forward. I was there, and there’s a sequence of events that you should be well aware of,” he said.

In October 1966, Walker was 13 years old and riding down Bellevue Avenue on his bicycle as part of his paper route when he heard something strange.

“The roar of a motor, the scream of a man,” Walker recalled. “The crash of steel, the de-acceleration of a motor … the screaming of the man stops. The screaming resumed, the motor re-accelerated and the screamed turned to a horror of ‘Nooo!’ and then the secondary crash occurred.”

Walker said he watched as Duke got out of the driver’s side of the vehicle at the front gates of Rough Point, her famed mansion.

“She just spun on a dime on me, and I said, ‘Can I help you ma’am?’ and she said, ‘You better get the hell out of here!’ and I wasn’t prepared for that,” he said.

It wasn’t until the news hit the papers the next day that Walker realized the full gravity of what he’d heard.

“At that moment, I realized there was a guy under the car,” Walker recalled.

The man was Eduardo Tirella, an interior designer and a good friend of Duke’s.

Tirella’s niece, Donna Lohmeyer, tells 12 News her uncle had planned on resigning from his position with Duke as her chief designer and art curator. He ultimately decided to travel to Newport to tell her in person.

“Everybody tried to talk him out of it, but he wasn’t built that way,” Lohmeyer said. “He felt he owed her a face-to-face [conversation].”

That meeting would be the last time Tirella was seen alive.

“He was a wonderful person,” Lohmeyer added. “Incredibly loving and generous.”

Walker said his father told him to never speak of what he saw or heard at Rough Point. But it wasn’t until earlier this year, when he picked up Peter Lance’s new book “Homicide at Rough Point,” that he realized his memory matched a theory proposed by an investigator.

In a statement to 12 News, Newport Police Lt. Detective Corey Huck said they’re now taking another look at the case.

“As with any case, the Newport Police Department will vet all information that becomes available in an effort to ascertain the facts of each case,” Huck wrote. “This case is currently assigned as a ‘follow-up’ and has not been re-opened at this time.”

When asked what it would mean for defectives to uncover that Tirella’s death wasn’t an accident, Lohmeyer said it would be “the literal definition of justice.”

“It’s something I would embrace,” she said.

While Walker provides key testimony as to the circumstances behind Tirella’s demise, he believes most locals have already come to their own conclusions.

“My story is the solution to an equation,” he said. “I’m the equation part, everybody already knew the solution. I’ve never met anybody in this [city] that didn’t say that she did it.”

Duke, who died in 1993, was never criminally charged with Tirella’s death, but she was found negligent in a civil suit.

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