Trouble in Paradise: Duke heir death ignites family flames

  • Wednesday, August 22, 2012

By Glenn Smith
Post and Courier

With a 10,000-square-foot mansion, 300 acres of manicured grounds and a pair of camels for good measure, Greenfield Plantation is marketed as a picture-perfect locale for love-struck couples to tie the knot.
But it’s the specter of two past unions that haunts this sun-dappled spread, where an heir to one of America’s great fortunes is buried beneath a lush canopy of moss-covered oaks.
When Walker Patterson Inman Jr. died from a methadone overdose in 2010, he left behind a set of young twins and his share of the massive Duke family fortune. But he also passed on a lingering feud that has reverberated from here to Wyoming, where Inman lived on a mountaintop estate.
Inman, nephew of billionaire heiress Doris Duke, was a colorful character who hobnobbed with superstars, collected elaborate steam engines and ornate swords and married five times in his nearly 58 years.
Since his death, his last two wives have locked horns over the custody and treatment of his 14-year-old children, a boy and a girl, who are expected to be worth an estimated $500 million each by the time they turn 21.
In one corner is ex-wife Daisha Inman, the twins’ mother. In the other is the patriarch’s widow, Daralee Inman, the children’s stepmother.
Daisha Inman, who now has custody of the children, has accused her late ex-husband and his widow of child abuse and neglect, alleging that they held the twins as prisoners in a “drug impacted dysfunctional lifestyle.”
She has faulted the legal system for failing to protect the children and has accused one former child welfare official of misconduct in the case, according to court documents.
Daralee Inman has contested those allegations and, at one point, sued Daisha Inman for slander over her actions. That suit was withdrawn before it could go to trial.
Both women have ardent supporters who are quick to defend their actions, and to suggest that the other is simply out to get her hands on the children’s inheritance, which is reportedly tied up in trusts.
The state Department of Social Services has been pursuing a case against Daralee Inman in Charleston County’s Family Court. DSS officials would not discuss the case, and court officials barred a reporter from attending a recent hearing and viewing the case file.
Daisha Inman, who has her own legal issues following a May public-drunkenness arrest in Mount Pleasant, declined to comment on the matter for this article. She said she was too concerned about how the publicity would affect her children.
Daralee Inman and her attorneys also declined to comment, as did the twins’ private attorney, Charlie Condon. All cited Family Court confidentiality rules.
Much of the dispute is chronicled in court records and police reports obtained by The Post and Courier. The records, along with multiple interviews, tell a tale of great wealth and deep discord, of matrimony and acrimony.
The story spans more than a decade, stretches across hundreds of miles and raises questions about how the interests of children are handled when deep pockets are involved.

Old money

Walker Inman Jr., known as Skipper, was born into great wealth. His father came from a family of successful Atlanta cotton merchants, and his grandfather, James “Buck” Duke, was the president and founder of the American Tobacco Co., maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Duke was one of the richest tycoons of his time, and Duke University, Duke Power and the multimillion-dollar Duke Endowment bear the family’s name.
Legend has it that his dying words to his daughter were, “Trust no one.”
Orphaned as a child, Inman inherited Greenfield Plantation from his father in 1955. Over time, he came into other large bequests from his Duke relatives, including his aunt, Doris, once known as “the richest girl in the world.”
Inman went on to become a gourmet chef, an avid gun, knife and sword collector, an expert on steam engines, a world traveler and a licensed pyrotechnic who would put on grand fireworks display at his Wyoming ranch.
He sailed the South Pacific on his yacht, “Devine Decadence,” and friends tell stories of Inman hanging out with the likes of ex-Beatle George Harrison and Jimmy Buffett on his tropical sojourns. One story has it that he once arranged to have 5,000 roses dropped from a helicopter to surprise his wife on her birthday as she sunbathed on the yacht.
In 1996 Inman married his fourth wife, Daisha, in Georgetown, and the following year his two children were born. The marriage didn’t last, and the couple split up in 2000, with Inman winning primary custody of the twins, according to Wyoming court records.
A court-appointed guardian in Platte County, Wyo., concluded that the children would be better off with Inman despite his history of “multiple marriages for short durations; his drug, alcohol and cigarette use; limited parenting experience and prior parenting mistakes; and his unusual, perhaps dysfunctional, upbringing,” court records show.
The guardian noted, among other things, that Daisha Inman had worked as a topless dancer and had psychological problems that included paranoid symptoms and post traumatic stress disorder, court papers stated.
The year after their divorced was finalized, Walker Inman married one last time, to Daralee.

Bitter battles

Over the next decade, Inman and ex-wife Daisha waged a contentious legal battle over the custody arrangements for the children and their mother’s visitation rights. In 2009 their dispute made it to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
That same year, Daralee filed a defamation lawsuit against Daisha in federal court, alleging that a campaign of slander had been waged against her.
The lawsuit alleged that Daisha Inman and her new husband hung “most wanted” posters with Daralee’s picture in post offices around South Carolina and Wyoming, and that they told multiple authorities in both states that Daralee was “a very bad person and a drug addict.”
Daralee, 43, has at least two past convictions on drug charges. One incident involved a June 2007 traffic stop in Wyoming in which a state trooper saw her driving erratically in a pickup with the twins on board, according to a police report.
Daralee told the trooper she had just smoked marijuana, and officers found pot, crystal meth and hash in the vehicle, the report stated.
She received probation after pleading guilty to drug-possession charges and pledging to get substance-abuse treatment, court records indicate. She later reported to the court that she completed the program and was drug-free, records show.
Walker Inman had also struggled with drug issues, said longtime friend Mike Todd, a former caretaker of Greenfield Plantation.
When his children were first born, Inman was an attentive father, Todd said, but he later slid into heavy drug use, partaking in heroin, methadone and strong narcotic prescription pills, he said.
The drugs contributed to his declining health, and Inman developed serious respiratory and heart problems in his final years, Todd and others said.
“He was fighting these demons,” Todd said. “Even with all his money and all his wealth they had him completely in their control.”

Calls for help

Todd said he called South Carolina’s Department of Social Services in the summer of 2008 because he was worried about the children. They were often left to wander around the plantation unsupervised.
He finally decided to take action after seeing the children playing alone in an area near a 12-foot alligator, he said.
Todd said that as far as he could tell, DSS did nothing to investigate the case. DSS would not comment on the children or their care.
The same summer, Georgetown police were called to a local restaurant after a woman reported seeing Walker Inman scream at his daughter and swat her on the head. Inman told police he got frustrated and lightly cuffed his daughter.
Inman was allowed to leave, and there is no record of any official action taken against him.
Ron Altman, who knew Inman for years and took over as plantation caretaker about five years ago, said he saw no signs of abuse or neglect during his time with the family.
On the contrary, Altman said he saw Walker and Daralee as very loving, attentive parents. The family seemed to grow stronger with each passing month, right up until Walker Inman’s death, he said.
“I watched that family grow, and this was as good a family as any family could be on this planet,” Altman said. “Walker and Daralee loved those children. This stuff other people are saying, it never, ever happened.”
On the other hand, Altman said, Inman kept video cameras around the house to watch for Daisha and any inappropriate behavior on her part. “Walker told me the cameras were there because he didn’t trust Daisha to be alone with the children,” he said.
Altman said Inman also told him that he never wanted Daisha to get the kids if anything happened to him.

Drugs and death

Walker Inman died in February 2010. Obituaries stated that he passed away quietly in his sleep while staying in Denver. He actually died in nearby Lakewood, where hotel staff found him sprawled on the floor of his room after his wife called several times, unable to reach him, a police report stated.
Police noted a butane torch, a homemade water pipe and a bag of what appeared to be heroin. An autopsy determined that he died from a methadone overdose, according to Carl Blesch, chief deputy coroner for Jefferson County, Colo.
Todd said Inman had nearly died from previous drug overdoses, so his death didn’t come as a shock. “I knew he was going to die,” he said. “All the indications were there.”
Daralee Inman withdrew her defamation lawsuit against Daisha Inman shortly after her husband died, citing his passing as her reason for dropping the matter.
But the widow fought in court to maintain custody and guardianship of the twins, a desire Walker Inman had indicated in his will. She tried to prove, as Walker had argued in the past, that Daisha was an unfit parent, court records show.
But custody went to Daisha, the twins’ mother, and Daralee’s efforts to secure guardianship over the twins in Wyoming so far have failed. Daisha, meanwhile, moved to South Carolina and settled on Sullivan’s Island, court documents stated.

Disturbing allegations

When the twins were first returned to Daisha’s care in August 2010, they were immediately placed in the Wyoming Behavioral Institute for intensive counseling to help them “reunify” with their mother, from whom they had been separated for long stretches of time, court records show.
During the course of therapy, the children made allegations that they were physically abused and neglected under their father and stepmother’s care, records show.
The stepmother and her experts have argued that Daisha planted the seeds of those allegations in the twins’ heads, according to the court papers.
Daisha, 52, initially reported the abuse and neglect allegations to the Lincoln County (Wyo.) Sheriff’s Office, which found no evidence of wrongdoing to support criminal charges, Sheriff’s Lt. Brian Andrews said.
In September of last year, Daisha Inman reported other alleged instances of abuse by the children’s stepmother to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office. She said the stepmother threatened and physically harmed the twins in 2008 and 2009, the report stated.
Investigators looked into the allegations, but prosecutors found insufficient evidence to move forward with charges, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Carrie Cuthbertson said.
Though that probe has ended, the DSS action in Family Court is said to be continuing surrounding similar allegations.
Daisha applauded the DSS action in an affidavit she filed in the case, but she also lashed out at child welfare workers and court officials, who ignored what she called “horrific” abuse suffered by her children over the years.
She also took aim at former South Carolina DSS attorney Frampton Durban, accusing him of corruption for working with Daralee’s legal team after leaving the state agency. She accused him of using insider information from his previous position to benefit a client he had once worked to prosecute, her affidavit stated.
Durban said those allegations are “absolutely inflammatory and false.” He said he had no substantial involvement with the Inman case while working at DSS.
But as soon as a concern was raised in May, he stopped working with Daralee’s team to avoid even an appearance of a conflict.
That same month, Mount Pleasant police arrested Daisha for public drunkenness after an officer found her stumbling, glassy-eyed, confused and slurring her words inside a Kangaroo gas station on Coleman Boulevard, a police report stated.
Daisha has maintained that she was not drunk that night, but suspects that someone had poisoned her water while she went to the restroom at a Sullivan’s Island restaurant.
A municipal judge later deferred sentencing in the case, indicating that the charge likely will be dismissed if she stays out of trouble for the next year, court officials said.
Paradise lost?
Back in Georgetown, caretaker Altman busied himself on a recent afternoon tending to the plantation grounds, showing around a couple interested in having their wedding there and checking on a vet appointment for Sinbad, one of the Inman camels.
Altman has grown to love the place, but he wonders if it will be around for the twins when they are old enough to enjoy it.
Altman said the trust that runs the place has had to sell off some of Walker Inman’s sport cars and guns to pay the bills, and the plantation recently began hosting weddings to help defray the sizable costs of its upkeep. He said he is not sure how long he will have a job with the way things are going.
In addition to the main house, the property has four guest cottages, a carriage house, a 200-foot dock and boathouse on the Black River, horse stables, trails, rice fields and more that need tending.
Time was, Altman said, he and his children played with the twins on the property, and he doted on them. Now, the twins want nothing to do with any of them.
“(Daisha) has the children convinced we are the worst people ever,” he said, shaking his head. “But it wasn’t like that. It was a normal life here.”

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