Rupert Murdoch’s fiancee: Death of rich Modesto husband led to nasty court fight
The news that 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch is engaged to be married for the fifth time hasn’t just sparked the predictable jokes, it has raised questions about his future bride, a 66-year-old former dental hygienist-turned San Francisco socialite and model and radio personality from California’s Central Valley.
Up until Murdoch’s announcement, Ann Lesley Smith was relatively unknown outside of Modesto or of Christian and conservative broadcasting circles. Her claim to fame in those circles was as the widow of Chester Smith, a wealthy Modesto-based TV mogul and former country singer who died in 2008.
“We’re both looking forward to spending the second half of our lives together,” says the 92 year old…..clearly planning to live to 184. 😳 https://t.co/Sva7oBln0G
— Jon Sopel (@jonsopel) March 20, 2023
In interviews, Smith liked to say that her life was a “rags to riches” story. “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, rich and then poor,” Smith said in a 2017 interview with the Modesto Bee.
While certain details about Smith’s “rags to riches” life remain sketchy — including her birth name and where she grew up — one pattern that’s emerged is that she marries much older men who happen to be much wealthier than she is. Her engagement to the 26-years-older Murdoch, the billionaire founder of Fox News and NewsCorp, upholds that pattern.
Another thread in Smith’s narrative: Her first two marriages ended in nasty court fights over money. That was the case following her divorce from her first husband, John B. Huntington, the San Francisco scion of the wealthy California-based Huntington railroad family.
A new report from the Daily Mail shows that a nasty court right also followed the death of Smith’s second husband, Chester Smith.
The former Mrs. Huntington appears to have married Chester Smith around 2004, just a year after he divorced his first wife, Naomi, whom he had been married to for 42 years, the Daily Mail said. At the time of his second marriage, Chester Smith was 74 and Ann Lesley Smith was 27 years his junior.
Early in their marriage, the couple cut a country music album together, titled “Captured in Love.” The album cover shows Ann Lesley Smith dressed in a police uniform; she told the Modesto Bee that she met her very devoutly Christian husband when she was working as a prison chaplain.
But four years later, Chester Smith was dead and Ann Lesley Smith soon became embroiled in a legal fight in San Joaquin County Superior Court with her three stepdaughters, according to the Daily Mail.
Marriage made in …
Rupert Murdoch engaged to Ann Lesley Smith.
I’m not joking. pic.twitter.com/DBi5pfaNa0
— Joline Gutierrez Krueger 🤦🏾♀️🖋🗒👩🏽💻📰🇺🇦 (@jolinegkg) March 20, 2023
One daughter, Roxanne Storey, alleged that Smith committed “financial elder abuse” and acted to seize control of his fortune when when her father was “physically feeble and emotionally vulnerable and unable to care for his own needs,” according to San Joaquin County court records.
The Daily Mail reported that Smith became the beneficiary of a trust set up in 2008 by herself and her late husband to handle his $14 million fortunate. Under the terms of the trust, she received everything in the trust when her husband died, including all his vehicles, artworks and other property.
Chester Smith’s three daughters were supposed to each receive $1 million, but were otherwise cut out of his will, which said, “I have intentionally failed to provide for my heirs in this will.”
Storey sought to have her stepmother removed as the executor of the will and demanded compensation for the losses that she claimed she and her siblings had suffered, the Daily Mail reported. Court documents also show that on three occasions Smith failed to carry out court orders to pay each of her stepdaughters a $250,000 share of their inheritance.
This failure earned a stinging rebuke from the San Joaquin County judge hearing the case, who said: “The court has lost all confidence in Ann Lesley Smith’s intent other than to frustrate Chester Smith’s bequests to his three daughters.” At one point, Smith also was removed as the executor of the estate, the Daily Mail said.
Smith denied the financial elder abuse allegations and argued that she was competent to handle the affairs of her late husband because she had helped him run his business, which included TV stations in California and Oregon.
She eventually settled the case with the three daughters. The opposing parties agreed to drop a number of legal actions and allegations, and Ann Lesley Smith was restored as trustee.
Smith’s lawyer told the Daily Mail: “After a lengthy period of litigation in which Ms. Smith contested the accusations, she and Chester’s daughters settled the matter amicably in July 2010, nearly 13 years ago.”
The lawyer also said his client chose to settle with Smith’s daughters rather than prolong the litigation by appealing against the decision.
The Daily Mail’s report comes after it emerged that Ann Lesley Smith endured a tumultuous first marriage to the much-older Huntington, a prominent San Francisco lawyer and philanthropist who had a net worth of around $15 million before his death in 1996.
Smith told the Christian Broadcasting Network that her marriage to Huntington was bedeviled by pain, abuse and her husband’s drinking. According to a 1992 California Court of Appeal ruling that is available online, the marriage lasted from 1985 until the couple’s separation in 1989.
The divorce involved a bitter court fight over spousal support and Smith’s claims that she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the “painful” relationship. In the aftermath of the marriage, Smith told CBN she was suicidal and in need of spiritual redemption, which she said came when Jesus and prayer brought “new meaning” into her life.
Smith was a 28-year-old dental hygienist when she married the 47-year-old Huntington. After they married, she stopped working as a dental hygienist and joined their “extremely high” standard of living, which included a home in Tiburon, an estate in Lake Tahoe and Smith spending thousands of dollars a month on clothes.
“The world just opened up to me. Almost like royalty…” Smith told the CBN. But after their separation, Smith said that a prenuptial agreement left her with no place to live. With no immediate career prospects, she also said she also was forced to go on welfare, though court records show that she received temporary spousal support of $5,000-$7,500 per month for more than two years following her separation from Huntington.
To press her case for ongoing spousal support, Smith had three mental health experts testify on her behalf, saying that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder that had left her unable to work. But an expert who testified for Huntington was Smith’s own psychiatrist, who had treated her from 1986 to 1989. The psychiatrist disagreed with the PTSD diagnosis and instead said he believed Smith had “a mixed personality disorder with narcissistic, major hysterical and occasional borderline dimensions.”
The trial court denied her request for support to be continued and for her husband to pay her attorneys’ fees. The appellate court affirmed that decision in 1992. Huntington died a few years later of cancer at age 59.