Burying Anna Nicole Smith in Bahamas ... finally
Legal battle continues even as body arrives at church for funeral
It's the evening of Thursday, March 1, 2007. At the Broward County medical examiner's office in Dania Beach, Florida, six miles south of Fort Lauderdale, Anna Nicole Smith is being readied for her funeral and burial in the Bahamas.
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She's been at the ME's office for three weeks, laying in cold storage for two of those weeks before being embalmed -- her body caught up in a legal battle over who has the right to bury her and where. Two of many memorable days in Judge Larry Seidlin's courtroom was during the trial when, on a Tuesday and Wednesday, Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper called in to say the corpse was decomposing quickly and would soon be unsuitable for family viewing.
The former Playboy Playmate, reality television star and billionaire widow died six days before Valentine's Day on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007, while on a trip to South Florida to pick up a small yacht she'd purchased. She was with her companion and lawyer, Howard K. Stern. She passed away suddenly in suite 607 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.
Since that day, all of South Florida has been saturated with all things Anna Nicole Smith. The eyes of the world are watching. There are legal wranglings playing out in court like a soap opera, a made-for-TV drama of Shakespearean proportions with a whirlwind of battles, media frenzy and what Larry Birkhead told me were days that now just seem surreal.
Finally going to the Bahamas?
Stern is determined. He says Smith's wishes are to be laid to rest next to her son, Daniel, in the Bahamas. At this point, he has won the court battle. Daniel died only six months before in a room at Doctors Hospital in Nassau while visiting his newborn baby half-sister for the first time there, where his mother had just given birth in September 2006. Smith's estranged mother was fighting, too, claiming as the rightful next-of-kin she should be able to bury her daughter in Texas. The judge agreed with the Bahamas decision and then told the court-appointed attorney representing Dannielynn to finalize the Bahamas decision.
And he did.
Virgie Arthur continued to contest the Bahamas burial, appealing the decision as quickly as it was rendered. But an appeals court rejects her bid.
There is also a paternity battle looming. Larry Birkhead is determined to prove that he is the father of 5-month-old Dannielynn. He is the third person front and center in the battle to bury Smith. He was in Florida and the Broward County courtroom daily. His presence there, along with his lawyers, was to fight for DNA from the child. Seidlin also called him as a witness.
Paying for the elaborate funeral
Richard Milstein, guardian ad litem who was appointed by Seidlin to represent Smith's daughter, continues to make arrangements. He tells me that he was even brokering a deal right up to the last minute.
"The day before the funeral, we were still negotiating a contract to be able to sell the rights to cover the funeral and that contract didn't get signed until about 1 a.m., and then I had to be up and out at 4 a.m. to go back and get the body and get to Miami International Airport to get to the Bahamas," Milstein says.
The contract was with "Entertainment Tonight" to have exclusive coverage of the funeral.
"I didn't know that people sell the rights to funerals," Milstein recalls. "I had no clue. There was very little or no money to pay the expenses for the funeral and it was brought to my attention by Howard Stern, (who) came to me as counsel, that, in fact, there was a way to negotiating and selling the rights. We made some money to be able to pay for the funeral itself. I set some parameters with that. That's why there was a closed casket … with the still photography and the videography. No one who came inside could bring in cell phones. We did sell the rights for exclusivity. The funeral was a bit elaborate. Not that it shouldn't have been. It needed to be paid and this was the way to do it."
At this point, everyone but Smith is in the Bahamas, where Stern said she wanted to make her home with her baby and him, ready and waiting for her funeral. In front of the Mount Horeb Baptist Church in Nassau, throngs of tourists and fans began to gather early. An invited guest list of friends and family are preparing to say one last goodbye to the starlet who some say died of a broken heart after her son passed away.
Leaving Broward County
It's early in the morning, Friday, March 2, 6:03 a.m. and the end of the three-week saga is a beginning for Smith's final wishes. Her body is removed from the medical examiner's office to be transported to Miami on the way to its final destination.
A motorcade gets into place. Broward Sheriff's Office motorcycles and car will accompany the body, which is now in a hearse.
BSO deputies lead a motorcade of more than a dozen vehicles on the Broward to Miami-Dade County trek. The scene looks as if the president is in town. The motorcade is the same treatment given to visitors of heads of state. At the Golden Glades interchange, BSO exits and the Miami-Dade Police Department picks up escorting the procession, which follows it to Miami International Airport. The motorcade is stopped at a security check and a K9 unit sweeps around the cars, apparently checking for any explosives. After all, this is an international flight.
Given the go-ahead, the line of cars continues west on the tarmac, directly pulling up to a private Lear jet.
Sky 10 is above the scene.
"The starlet's casket has been hoisted in the jet," Sky 10's pilot reports. "There was a little difficulty with the casket, but has been maneuvered into position."
Moments later, the plane is in the air for a quick 45-minute flight to Nassau and Smith's final resting place.
Another bid by Virgie
While Smith is in flight and the church and cemetery are ready to receive the body, Arthur is preparing something of her own. In a last-minute bid to halt the burial, Arthur is filing a motion in the Nassau Supreme Court, where she is hoping Justice Anita Adams will be the one to grant her custody of Smith's body. It's a final bid to halt the burial and take her daughter back to Texas to be buried in the family plot. But the Bahamian judge denies it.
The hearse with Smith's casket has been sitting outside for almost two hours. It arrived early to the church from Miami and is now held up due to Arthur. She is 45 minutes late while waiting on the court decision.
Former Local 10 News reporter Susan Candiotti, reporting for CNN, is outside the church at the Bahamas.
"In death, Anna Nicole Smith is getting the same kind of attention that in life brought her fame and fortune," Candiotti reports. "The remains of the former Playboy Playmate arrived in the Bahamas. On the plane, she was escorted by the Broward County medical examiner, as well as lawyer Richard Milstein, appointed by the court. The battle over her baby and what the cause the reality star's death has yet to be answered."
Only "Entertainment Tonight" is allowed to capture the funeral for TV inside the church in that deal brokered by Milstein. The rest of the media remains outside. In fact, Bahamian police officers are lined up, keeping TV cameras from getting too close to the church. Onlookers are lined up behind barricades.
When Arthur finally arrives at 10:55 a.m. in a white stretched limousine, there are some cheers, but mostly jeers. To those who cheer her, she looks their way and mouths the words, "Thank you."
She has 10 people enter the church with her. One is tabloid publication Splash News Miami bureau chief David Lee. Also seated with Arthur is news anchor and book author Rita Cosby. Cosby would later write a book about Smith called "Blonde Ambition" that included several stories in which she had sources who told her about alleged tawdry, sexual escapades of Stern and fake stories about deals he was supposedly brokering with Birkhead over the baby and about Smith's will. He filed a $60 million lawsuit against Cosby for the book she wrote. The case was later settled.
The hearse then pulls up and the casket is finally taken inside.
But before anything can begin inside, Milstein speaks on behalf of Dannielynn for the first time to media outside.
His speech: "Good morning. I am making this announcement today to let you know that this is my only statement. I will not take questions and I will not have any more statements until after the service. I thank you for your indulgence. All over the world, families are laying their loved ones to rest in many different ways and in many different lands, in many different languages, but with one specific goal in mind -- to provide respect, solemnity and a final resting place for their loved ones. Today, we share our grief with all of you. Ladies and gentleman here at the church, at the gravesite and worldwide audience, today we come to you to carry out the final and most sacred solemn act in the life of any individual. To provide a final resting place. We come to Nassau in the Bahamas, a beautiful lush setting that was chosen by Vickie Lynn Marshall, known as Anna Nicole Smith. This she chose as her final resting place. During her lifetime, Anna Nicole Smith became a larger than life persona. Her stars shown in the highest of Zenith, her pictures flashed and her face was seen throughout the world. She luxuriated in that press and that media and that publicity. Unfortunately, in a time when life should have been reaching her highest peak for her, she both received a blessing and a curse. She joyously gave birth to her only daughter, Dannielynn, and devastatingly three days later she lost her only son, Danny. If one were to write a Greek tragedy, one could not write a script as sorrowful and hurtful as this. How horrific is it for a mother to bury a son under 21 years. With all the publicity and all of the press of the past, Ms. Smith sought seclusion solace here in the Bahamas and decided to bury her son in private in a quiet area of the world and from the public and away from the media so that she could have time and solitude. How much more tragic is that today, just five months later, we are coming to bury Anna Nicole Smith. I'm asking all of you the public, the media, to write a final chapter to this great tragedy with me. I'm asking you to leave a legacy of decorum, dignity and peace for her only daughter Dannielynn. Please respect the rights of privacy of all of us and give us peaceful decorum so when Dannielynn can finally read the last chapter of her mother, she will know that the world gave her mother dignity and respect. She's too young to remember today and what she will rely upon are what all of you write and publish. Give us the kindness and consideration that you would give to a beloved family member of your own. Thank you. I want to ask that you all to take one moment for a silent prayer for Vickie Lynn Marshall, also known as Anna Nicole Smith. I have my own prayer to say."
The funeral begins
Inside the church, the pews are decorated with pink flowers. Smith's closed mahogany casket is placed in front of an altar. On one side of the coffin is a portrait of Anna Nicole dressed and made up to look like her idol, Marilyn Monroe. On the other side is a large black-and-white photo of her smiling, with her arms outstretched as her son welcomes his mother's embrace.
Arthur arrives last to the church but is the first to the pulpit, speaking at the funeral that only moments before she had tried to stop.
"I was there when God gave you to me," she says through tears. "You were a beautiful baby. You were so loved."
Then Larry Birkhead: "Anna Nicole could often be misunderstood. Misunderstood from what she wanted from life and needed."
But it was Stern who made the most impassioned speech, directing some of his words over all that had gone on in the battle over the body and the three weeks of what he had just endured.
"The truth, there's only one truth, and it's not what people say in court, even if those people are your blood relatives," Stern says.
He tells the mourners that, up to the day Smith passed away, she had nightmares that "Daniel was lost and that he needed help and that he didn't know what to do."
Choking up, he then said, "Anna, today you are going home to Daniel."
Later at the gravesite, only 35 guests are invited to watch the casket be lowered into the ground. Under a green tent, Howard begins the ceremonial shoveling of dirt into the gravesite, then Smith's friend and attorney, Ron Rale, and then her bodyguard, Moe Brighthaupt. Arthur steps up and takes the shovel. She forcefully shovels 50 scoops of dirt for almost two whole minutes in the sweltering heat. Is she making a statement? Proving a point?
With night falling, Local 10 News reports from a quiet scene in the now-empty Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum, where Smith is buried next to her beloved Daniel and with the ashes of J. Howard Marshall, her second husband, with her.
Anna Nicole's Nassau, 12 years later
I go to Nassau for the day, curious to see what everything looks like 12 years later. It's a quick jaunt. I take a JetBlue flight. It's less than an hour from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Lynden Pindling International Airport.
The first stop: Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum, on the road connecting the Nassau airport to downtown Nassau, John F. Kennedy Drive. The driver I have knows where to find Anna Nicole Smith and Daniel Smith's large memorial made of polished black granite, measuring 6 feet long and 5 feet wide. Birkhead had a Louisville, Kentucky firm, Evans Monument, make the 2 1/2 ton tribute.
The cemetery where Smith is buried has specific requirements that only permit flat markers, but an exception was made for Smith's stone. More than a year after her death, the memorial was installed to tribute what would have been her 41st birthday on Nov. 28, 2008. It marks the graves of both Smith and her son.
The design includes intricate etchings of Smith and Daniel, as well as a large center etching of that photo that was on the altar at her funeral. Under Daniel Wayne Smith's name is a quote: "I love you more than all the raindrops in the sky." Under Anna Nicole's? "I love you more than all the fishies in the sea." J. Howard Marshall's name is at the bottom. A portion of Marshall's ashes are buried with her.
"It's really an incredible stone," Birkhead tells me. "We flew it in from Kentucky. To be honest, I was shopping for her tombstone around my daughter's first birthday party, and it was really a wild ride of emotions for me and this whole thing."
After she was first buried in March 2007, security guards were on a 24-hour watch over the grave after nearly 300 visits in less than a week destroyed some of the cemetery's landscaping. The day I'm there in February 2019, there are only landscapers and the sound of a crane nearby doing work on a behemoth, modern IMAX theater going up across the street.
Then it's on to Doctors Hospital, where Dannielynn was born on Sept. 7, 2006, where Stern was listed as the father on the birth certificate and where Daniel died, bedside of an accidental drug overdose, in the same room three days later.
It's a private, small hospital on a busy main road -- Shirley Street, where bumper-to-bumper traffic sits outside with horns beeping. People come in and out of the hospital. Inside, it looks like something from another time, and definitely a hospital in another country.
After that, it's a stop at the Nassau Supreme Court. This is where media camped out on steps for days, where Arthur filed her petition to stop the funeral and lost, where she wanted to fight for custody of Dannielynn, where the eviction hearing was held to try to oust Stern from the mansion, and where Birkhead's paternity hearings played out. The day I'm there, a vendor is selling fruit. "Pineapples, mangoes, watermelons, cantaloupe, strawberries."
Now we're off on a treasure hunt to find the Horizons estate, where Smith was living to get away from paternity filings in California, and where she wanted peace and quiet. It's where she wanted to raise Dannielynn, on beautiful Eastern Road. We pass large mansions with names like Heaven Sent, Paradise Found and Water's Edge. Finally, I spot it. Rundown after being hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the place is in disrepair. I find out later that's it's been tied up in a legal battle with no end in sight anytime soon. No one has lived in the house since 2007.
And then finally the Mount Horeb Baptist Church, where my driver for the day, who also has a background in theology, has a theory about why the funeral was held at this church. Dietrich Carroll, born in Nassau, with an undergraduate and master's degree in theology from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta -- a historically black college and university -- says there is a more popular Baptist church on the island -- Mount Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church.
I ask why this smaller church that's in the middle of what really looks like a tourist complex, with townhouses and vacationers walking by in shorts, would be selected.
"My educated guess would be the pastor is very much involved with the progressive liberal party," he answers. "That's the former government that was in power at the time of Anna Nicole Smith's death and, you know, she was very good friends with the honorable Shane Gibson. I imagine that the pastor here was friends with Shane Gibson as well. That's how I would put the connection together."
Coming up next on The Florida Files, the Broward County medical examiner reveals his results and Dannielynn finds out who her father is, as does the world.
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