The Poorest Rich Kids in the World

Why did the heirs to one of the largest fortunes in America grow up horribly neglected and abused?

Patterson and Georgia Inman.
Danielle Levitt
August 12, 2013 5:25 PM ET

The black Chevy Tahoe picked up speed as it careened down the curving Wyoming mountain road, the two frightened children inside clutching their seats, certain that they wouldn't make it alive to the school bus at the bottom of the hill. It was only 7:30 in the morning, but their stepmother at the wheel already had liquor on her breath. The kids had seen her this way before; two years earlier they'd been in the car when she was pulled over for a DUI. This morning, she seemed even more wasted.

"Slow down! Please! Please!" 12-year-old Georgia begged from the passenger seat. In the back, her twin brother, Patterson, sat frozen in horror.

"Shut the fuck up!" their stepmother, Daralee Inman, snarled. Her right hand shot out to smack Georgia's face, while her left clutched a glass filled with Trix cereal, leaving no hands on the steering wheel. Pine trees whizzed by to their right, a cliff to their left. "Did I ever get you into a motherfucking wreck?" Daralee demanded, as faster and faster they descended the steep road that served as the family's half-mile-long driveway. "Did I ever get you into a motherfucking wreck?"

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The kids reached for their seat belts, too late, as the Tahoe hit a bump, tipped toward the cliff – "God take my soul! Forgive me all my sins!" Georgia cried out – and then veered left and slammed into a tree. The exploding air bags felt like a punch, the windshield like cement. The twins struggled free of the car. Dazed, they began limping back up the mountainside, their stepmother staggering close behind.

As they crested the hill, their house finally came into view: a 10,000-square-foot log-and-stone cabin of preposterous proportions, filled with expensive antiques, valuable artwork and, stashed behind the steel door of a walk-in vault, sacks of gold Krugerrands, bars of silver and gold, jewelry, and millions of dollars' worth of collectible firearms. This wasn't some no-name clan of backwoods hillbillies, Georgia and Patterson Inman were among the wealthiest kids in America: When they turn 21, the family claims, the twins will inherit a trust fund worth $1 billion. They and their father were the last living heirs to the vast Industrial Age fortune of the Duke family, tobacco tycoons who once controlled the American cigarette market, established Duke University and, through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, continue to give away hundreds of millions of dollars.

The twins' father, Walker Inman, 57, lumbered from the mansion, his tattooed sleeves visible under a black T-shirt, drinking his morning rum, bellowing, "What the fuck did you do to my children?" Morbidly obese after a lifetime of debauchery and heroin addiction, he looked past his keening kids to glare at his fifth wife. "Honey," Walker rumbled, "we're going for a ride." He grabbed Daralee, hopped into his red Dodge truck and took off in a spray of gravel toward the wreckage down the mountain – then promptly lost control of the vehicle, which rolled onto the driver's side and skidded to a stop.

Inside the house, the twins called 911. The dispatcher at the police station couldn't make out what the hysterical children were saying, but local troopers knew exactly where they were needed, and quickly left for the remote Inman property, which Walker had dubbed "Outlaw Acres." Later on, in the presence of the Inmans' high-priced attorney, an officer would confront Daralee with the fact that she'd been driving with a blood-alcohol content of .05 – violating her probation – with her stepkids in the car, and Walker would admit he'd been drinking and driving too. And yet no charges would be levied that November 2009 morning; the Lincoln County Sheriff's department would simply close the case. As ambulances and police cars came screaming up the hill, past the demolition derby of wrecked cars to where Georgia and Patterson sobbed in the grand arched entryway to their palace, it was just another day at the Inmans', home to the poorest rich kids in the world.

Raised by two drug addicts with virtually unlimited wealth, Georgia and Patterson survived a gilded childhood that was also a horror story of Dickensian neglect and abuse. They were globe-trotting trust-fund babies who snorkeled in Fiji, owned a pet lion cub and considered it normal to bring loose diamonds to elementary school for show and tell. And yet they also spent their childhoods inhaling freebase fumes, locked in cellars and deadbolted into their bedrooms at night in the secluded Wyoming mountains and on their ancestral South Carolina plantation. While their father spent millions on drug binges and extravagances, the children lived like terrified prisoners, kept at bay by a revolving door of some four dozen nannies and caregivers, underfed, undereducated, scarcely noticed except as objects of wrath.

"We were so fearful. I would hide in cupboards smaller than that," says Georgia in her Southern-tinged lilt, pointing to a two-foot-tall cabinet in the kitchen of their spacious Park City, Utah, home where the twins, now 15, are reassembling their lives and residing with their mother, a woman who has seen her own share of trouble and who has only recently become a presence in her children's lives. Patterson anxiously paces across the house's open floor plan with its panoramic view of snowcapped mountains while he and his sister take turns narrating their harrowing history. Unfailingly polite, earnest and occasionally skittish, the twins radiate a sheltered naiveté that can make them seem far younger, or like visitors from another culture. For instance, Georgia confesses she's never heard of the children's party game musical chairs.

"What is it?" she asks, her eyes wide and curious. "No, really, tell me!"

Such frank sweetness, delivered in their mushy drawl, tends to take the edge off some of the harsh and surprising things they will say in the coming days, as when Georgia wistfully recalls her toddler years: "I remember walking to my dad's room and holding a gun to his head. I don't know what stopped me," she says before bursting into giggles. "I'm sorry, that's terrible, I laugh when I'm nervous or upset."

"Pretty crazy," agrees Patterson with a duck of his head.

Having spent their formative years in a struggle for survival, the kids now find themselves trapped in yet another fight: A court battle under way with JP Morgan, the bank that manages the Duke trust, has found its way into the tabloids, as well as a parallel legal battle over their assets, which they claim are being raided by hangers-on. All told, millions of dollars are at stake. But that squabbling is part and parcel of Georgia and Patterson's miserable inheritance, as is their epic tale of pain, isolation and woe. "People can look at this as a blessing all day long, but it's blood money," Georgia says of their fortune and pedigree. Her green eyes – flashing now with anger – and slim, flared nose resemble those of her great-aunt Doris. "I never asked to be born into any of this," she adds. "Sometimes I wish I was never born."

For the twins' father, Walker Patterson Inman Jr., few things in life were as much fun as blowing things up. He never missed an opportunity to squeeze a trigger or light a fuse, cackling away under the brim of his cowboy hat while engaged in the cleansing act of destruction. Each July Fourth he'd put on an elaborate fireworks show at Outlaw Acres, staring at the exploding sky while spectators ran from the falling embers. Though he fancied himself a great outdoorsman, Walker's favored way of communing with nature was chucking dynamite into a body of water, a pursuit he called "DuPont fishing." And when Walker decided to plant some pecan trees, he eschewed a backhoe and instead blasted holes on his land, pushing down the plunger with a maniacal grin like Wile E. Coyote. More than mere amusement, Walker's destructive urges doubled as therapy, as when his first wife left him, in the early Seventies, Walker strode into the empty horse-racing arena he had built in South Carolina – and shot the place to bits with a machine gun.

He'd been full of dangerous mischief since he was a child. As a 13-year-old orphan in 1965 taken in by his aunt Doris Duke, Walker – then called "Skipper" – had romped around her lavish 14,000-square-foot Hawaiian estate without regard for property or propriety, shooting her Christmas ornaments with a dart gun, setting fire to crates of expensive teak and exploding a bomb in her pool. He was hideously spoiled, and stinking rich from three trust funds: one from his father, Walker Inman Sr., heir to an Atlanta cotton fortune and stepson to American Tobacco Company founder "Buck" Duke; one from his mother, Georgia Fagan; the third from his grandmother, Buck's widow Nanaline Duke, who left the bulk of her $45 million estate to her little grandson. Altogether, on Walker's 21st birthday he would inherit a reported $65 million ($500 million in today's dollars), a fortune so vast that Time predicted the boy would rank as "one of the wealthiest men of the late 20th century."

And yet while Walker abounded in riches, he had no stability. His alcoholic father had died when Walker was two; his mother, who swiftly remarried and gave birth to his half sister, Susan, died when Walker was six. Awaiting heart surgery shortly before her death, Walker's mother had written her attorney with her wish that her boy live a secure life with her sister Caroline, imploring, "I have it in my will, but I just want to be sure. In his short life, he's already had too many emotional upheavals." Instead, Walker was shifted from household to household until he wound up with his father's half sister Doris Duke.

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Doris knew nothing about raising children, nor much cared. The witheringly wry, worldly heiress was among the most celebrated women of her day, a six-foot glamour queen hounded by paparazzi, who brushed elbows with every midcentury icon from Jackie Kennedy to Elvis Presley, pronouncing Greta Garbo "boring" and, after dating Errol Flynn, theorizing that bisexual men made the best lovers: "I should know," she declared. "I've done exhausting research on the subject." As a child – and sole inheritor of her father Buck's $100 million fortune – she'd become famous as "the richest little girl in the world." She'd been raised by nannies in a chilly, silent Fifth Avenue mansion, with her parents taking little part in her upbringing; family lore holds that her father, on his deathbed in 1925, told 12-year-old Doris, "Trust no one." Now saddled with her pesky nephew Walker, watching him toss ketchup-covered tampons into her pool, Doris Duke regarded him with pity. He was desperate for love and attention, much like herself as a child. But Doris had her own fabulous life to live, and so she shipped Walker off to boarding school. "We were all too self-centered to be bothered with a problem child," she would later tell her cousin Angier St. George Biddle "Pony" Duke.

With no need to work, no guidance and no self-motivation, Walker set himself adrift, fighting back his melancholy with world travel and fast times. By the end of the Seventies he had become a dedicated gadabout, and at parties he unspooled wild stories of his adventures, claiming he studied meditation in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi alongside George Harrison; getting tattooed in the Galapagos by female artists who worked naked, in pairs; meeting royalty in his wanderings through "Arabia"; learning gourmet cooking in Thailand, where he also developed an abiding love of heroin. Although some of his stories were surely embellished – as when he talked about partying with the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Buffett – and the drunker he got, the likelier he was to reach into a hidden holster and fire off a shot, Walker always had a rapt audience. He was the richest guy in the room.

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