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No rest in peace for Anna Nicole Smith

After her death and burial, custody battle continues for her 5-month-old child

Here lies the spot where Anna Nicole Smith is buried next to her son, Daniel, at Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum in Nassau, Bahamas. (Michelle Solomon)

Finally, Anna Nicole Smith is buried in Nassau, Bahamas, next to her son, Daniel. She has the ashes of dearly beloved billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall with her.

But there's still no rest in peace. Activity in the Smith saga continues in Nassau. Just 20 minutes from Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum, and since her burial on March 2, 2007, the Supreme Court of the Bahamas is hearing from all sides fighting over Dannielynn, Smith's 5-month-old daughter.

It's about two weeks after Smith's burial. Larry Birkhead, one of the men claiming to be Dannielynn's father, comes out of the Supreme Court building in Nassau looking upbeat. He doesn't have any news he can share but tells the media that the legal battle should soon be over. 

"I've been putting a nursery together, so I'm smiling," he says. 

Someone who isn't smiling is Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur. She wants custody of Dannielynn, saying she could provide a more stable home than Howard K. Stern.

DNA from the baby was obtained on March 21, 2007. A judge could have ordered a DNA test from Stern, but it was determined that he did not have to submit to the test because, under Bahamian law, it is already presumed he is the father of the baby because his name is listed on the birth certificate.

But Bahamian attorney Godfrey Pinder says that the birth certificate is far from proof.

"The birth certificate is defective," he says. "The area where 'informant' is, well, there is an attorney's name and it should be his name. According to section 12, the Registration Births and Deaths, Chapter 188, only certain people can give that kind of information -- the father, the mother, a person who was present or the nanny. The lawyer cannot sign it. You can do it California, but you can't do it in the Bahamas. It makes it defective. It makes it voidable. Right now, it makes (the birth certificate) not good."

Pinder is the lawyer representing developer G. Ben Thompson, who is battling, too, in Nassau Supreme Court to take control of the Horizons estate on Eastern Road where Stern and Dannielynn are living. Pinder says Thompson bought the house and Thompson's lawyers had drawn up papers for it in Smith's name because, although he was in possession of the house, he wanted her to purchase the house eventually. Now Thompson's lawyers are claiming that since Smith has died, Stern is trespassing on the plaintiff's property. And he needs to go.

When the press asks what will happen to Dannielynn, he says, "Dannielynn is basically a ward of the Bahamas, so to speak.

But nothing is going to happen to her," he promises. "We love our babies." 

DNA from Smith's body was obtained when she was at the Broward County medical examiner's office. Birkhead has submitted his DNA, as has another man who claims he could be the father -- Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, who says that he had a decade-long affair with Smith.

Back in Broward County

The Smith saga hasn't exactly left Broward County either. Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper has yet to announce, officially, what exactly caused Smith's death. Seminole police continue to investigate.

In Perper's comprehensive 84-page report from March 2007, he states that forensic examination of two of Smith's computers "confirmed intense grieving over Daniel's death but showed that her mood had improved, she was generally enjoying life, and that she was planning on having another child." These conclusions were dated the weeks of March 10-23.

On this same page, it says the investigation and final reports are complete.

On Monday, March 26, 2007, Perper and the Seminole Police Department hold a press conference to officially announce the findings. Outside of the ME's office, Perper speaks, saying the former Playboy Playmate didn't "suffer. She went to sleep." He said that all of the drugs in Smith's system were prescribed to her, including three different drugs for anxiety and three for depression. Only one of the drugs was found at toxic levels, chloral hydrate, a sedative used to treat insomnia. Perper said that alone would not have killed her, but it was the effect of the drugs combined.

"Therefore, the cause of death is combined drug intoxication, with chloral hydrate being the major component and the other drugs being contributing," Perper tells the media. "Basically, what happens is that those drugs act on the respiration and the circulation centers in the brain and it shuts them off."

The announcement came seven weeks after her death at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

Seminole Police Chief Charlie Tiger put to rest theories of anything other than a drug overdose.

"We are convinced, based on the extensive review of the evidence, that this case is an accidental overdose with no other criminal elements present," Tiger says. "Today's release by Dr. Perper of the cause of death effectively closes the case. We found nothing to indicate any foul play."

Judge Seidlin writes a book

In 2010, Judge Larry Seidlin, the Broward County judge who presided over the battle to bury Smith, writes and publishes a book. Its title: "The Killing of Anna Nicole Smith."

"Being so deeply troubled by the outcome of these matters in my case, we decided, my wife and I decided, that I would write a book," Seidlin tells me. "She was very helpful, and we spent the next few years investigating and researching all of these issues. When we finished, we looked at each other and we said we could write another because there are many issues that are unanswered. There are red flags flying." 

"This body belongs to me now," Broward County Judge Larry Seidlin says during a hearing regarding who should have control of Anna Nicole Smith's body, Feb. 14, 2007, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

His job presiding over the battle to bury Smith, he says, became about two things: "Where Anna Nicole should be buried, that was my primary job, and secondly, I made sure that this DNA was done. That we need to find the father for this little girl who has no mother. And that was done. And the foul play? That had to be proven by law enforcement. I could only take the horse to certain water. I couldn't do everything. I was done with the case after six days. You wanna be chasing windmills? I did the best I could do in researching this and investigating this and I still feel it doesn't add up. But I have nothing that puts A equaling B. I have nothing that directly brings it all together. I have my feelings based upon what evidence there was. There are questions that still need to be answered."

Most everyone I've spoken with both on and off the record, besides Seidlin, is satisfied with the conclusion that both Smith's and Daniel's deaths were caused by accidental overdoses -- that Daniel had a drug problem and that, after his death, Smith had lost her will to live and had a history of prescription drug use and overuse.

Will Seidlin continue on his quest to prove what he believes is an unsolved case?

"If you're asking me if I'm going to get back on my white horse and start to ride again, I don't have the power and the influence to get anything going more than what I did," Seidlin says. "I quote the great poet who says, 'You go to your grave with a story still be told.' I've told my story. I'm not going to be frustrated. I told my story the way I see it."

Birkhead says that what he remembers during the trial was a snowball effect -- that the story began unfolding as if the players were characters in a Shakespearean drama. All the world was a stage.

"You have to have a hero and a villain and sometimes the media wants to switch it up and make someone else the villain," Birkhead recalls. "The people that have become friends out of this whole thing, oddly enough, are the people I was sitting on the opposite sides of the table from (in that courtroom). That speaks volumes. It goes to show that these were the people that were out for things that they believed in. At the end of the day, no matter what their beliefs were, right or wrong, that the big picture was Dannielynn. They are still around in my circle."

Who's the father?

It's April 10, 2007, and the final piece of the puzzle is about to be put into place. The DNA test results are in. Birkhead is declared the father of Dannielynn, and Stern, whose name is on the birth certificate, says he will not fight for custody.

Birkhead walks out of the Nassau Supreme Court all smiles.

"I didn't want to tell you I told you so, but I told you so," he says. 

Stern steps up to the microphone and says, "We're going to do what we can to make sure that the best interests of Dannielynn are carried out. And I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure he gets sole custody." 

But Arthur's attorney, John O'Quinn, says that she will not seek any guardianship and will work with Birkhead solely as the girl's grandmother.

The DNA test declares that Birkhead is the father. 

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent," he says.

On April 29, 2007, her name is officially changed on her birth certificate. She's Dannielynn Hope Birkhead.

12 Years Later

Twelve years later, he tells me Dannielynn is a well-adjusted kid. They live outside of Louisville, Kentucky, and away from prying eyes and paparazzi. He picks her up at school every day and makes a living flipping houses with his own real estate business, he tells me.

Larry Birkhead and his daughter, Dannielynn, arrive on the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby, May 2, 2015, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

In November 2018, Arthur died at the age of 66 at her home in Montgomery, Texas. 

Stern practices law in Santa Monica, California. In 2011, a judge ruled in his favor that there was no evidence that he intended fraud or deception when he picked up drugs for Smith under a slew of fake names. All charges against him were dropped.

Room 607 at the Hard Rock

When I contact the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's public relations representative, Gary Bitner, he tells me that several months after Smith's passing in February 2007, all of the rooms on the floor were renumbered. 

A four-post canopy bed is part of a two-bedroom suite at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Anna Nicole Smith spent her final hours in room 607.

There was an urban legend that the room numbers skip over on that floor, but Bitner says not at all. The whole floor was renumbered, starting from a different point, he explains. The suite in room 607 was not closed off, but it was gutted and refurbished and has since been renovated.

I stand at the gravesite in Nassau, Bahamas. The wind is warm. Things are quiet. I ponder the months of mayhem Smith's death brought to South Florida and then stretched to this small, friendly island. 

I ask Birkhead about what he thinks Smith would say today about things: how the paternity turned out and about the daughter she didn't get to watch grow up. 

"I think Anna would have been proud," Birkhead says of Dannielynn, who will soon be a teenager. "Dannielynn does really great with the situation at hand, her not having a mom, and I think that's one of the things she'd be proud of. I always say positive things and nice things about her mom, despite the fact that things weren't that great with our relationship at the end. I feel like it's my duty to keep her mom's image and memory alive in a positive way. She's always been told about her mom."