This Tuesday a 104-year-old woman, Hugette Clark, died at Beth Israel Hospital, in New York City, with a fortune of over $500,000 million. She had lived in hospitals for over 20 years, refusing to see family or friends, surrounded only by her collection of dolls.

So far there has been no explanation for her eccentric behavior.

She was registered under the fake name Harriet Chase in the hospital, had a guard on her third-floor room and was cared for by full-time private nurses. She even had a fake number on her hospital room door.

It seems that over the years she had developed a distrust of outsiders, including her own family. She seemed to believe that they were after her money.

During her life she only ever had a small group of friends, her closest being Suzanne Pierre, her former secretary. Pierre died last February. Clark conducted all of her conversations with Pierre in French in the hope that others would not understand.

Because of her love of ornate French dolls Clark would summon an antiques dealer to her Fifth Avenue apartment and bargain with him through a closed door. 

Reclusive heiress dies in New York leaving $500 million fortune

Her mother died in 1963 and after that she seldom left her Fifth Avenue apartment, which was one of the biggest on the avenue with 42-rooms. The massive apartment over looks Central Park. She also owned a castle in Connecticut on 52-acres and a house in California built on 23-acres over looking the Pacific Ocean. For the past 22 years she has lived in various hospital facilities.

She was born in Paris, on June 9, 1906, the daughter of William A Clark, according to reports in the Telegraph. Of Irish and Scottish descent he made his fortune building railways, mined copper in Montana and became a US senator. He was one of the richest men in the United States on a parallel with perhaps Rockefeller.

Clark was educated in New York at Miss Spence’s School for Girls. At the age of 22, in 1928, she married an impoverished law student, William MacDonald Gower. They divorced in 1930. She then developed a love for music and art and in 1929 exhibited seven of her paintings in a gallery in Washington DC.

In 1952 she bought her castle in Connecticut called “Le Beau Chateau”. One relative told that she had bought the mansion as a “bomb shelter” at the height of the Cold War so she could escape in the event of nuclear war.

The next decades of this millionairesses life are a blank.

It was only in February 2010 that caretakers at her three properties announced that they had not seen her in decades. It was then that investigators discovered she was living at a New York City hospital and some of her personal belongs had been sold. These included a rare 1709 Stradivarius called La Pucelle (or The Virgin) and an 1882 painting by Renoir, “In the Roses”, both priceless.

By August of 2010 the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had launched an investigations into her affairs. In September a judge rejected a request from her grand-half-nephew and two grand-half-nieces to appoint an independent guardian to manage her affairs.

Her nephew and nieces are accusing Clark’s lawyer and accountant of exercising improper influence over Clark and limiting the family’s contact with her. They claim that her advisers are lying about Clark not wanting to see her family.

As of yet no criminal charges have been filed.