There is something about the phrase ‘summer bride’ that conjures up a sunshine-dappled day of romantic promise. Even so, for willowy divorcee and widow Ann Lesley Smith, the day she becomes the fifth Mrs Rupert Murdoch will inevitably come with additional pressures.
And for all the accomplishments of the one-time police chaplain from California – who likes to talk of her ‘humble beginnings’ and how she ‘defeated the odds’ – the chances are that by the time the invitations go out, she will be a bundle of nerves like so many brides-to-be.
Dress, hair, weight, stumbling over the vows and fussing over a placement for guests at the wedding breakfast: Often, the worries only multiply as the big day draws near.
Imagine, then, what Ann Lesley must be going through as her marriage into the great Murdoch media dynasty approaches.
There is something about the phrase ‘Summer bride’ that conjures up a sunshine-dappled day of romantic promise. Even so, for willowy divorcee and widow Ann Lesley Smith, the day she becomes the fifth Mrs Rupert Murdoch will inevitably come with additional pressures. Pictured: Rupert Murdoch and Ann Lesley Smith
Imagine, then, what Mrs Smith (pictured) must be going through as her marriage into the great Murdoch media dynasty approaches.
Not that the redoubtable Mrs Smith, a youthful and striking 66, has put so much as an elegant foot wrong since she and the 92-year-old billionaire TV and newspaper magnate began dating last autumn.
Indeed, her description of her upcoming nuptials – ‘it’s not my first rodeo’ – was delivered with none of the brashness such an earthy expression might have suggested coming from someone more gauche.
All the same, as the days tick by and the excitement grows, she must be hoping she won’t be trawled into the kind of controversy she faced in the aftermath of her second marriage.
The Daily Mail can reveal that after the death of her country music star husband Chester Smith in 2008, Ann Lesley was accused of ‘financial elder abuse’ and of withholding inheritance money from her three stepdaughters. For two years the widow, who shares a deep Christian faith with Murdoch and who has spoken of experiencing a spiritual awakening, was embroiled in an ugly legal battle with Smith’s grown-up daughters by his first marriage.
The Daily Mail can reveal that after the death of her country music star husband Chester Smith in 2008, Ann Lesley was accused of ‘financial elder abuse’ and of withholding inheritance money from her three stepdaughters. Pictured: Chester and Ann Lesley Smith
One, Roxanne Storey, sued her former stepmother, claiming that Ann Lesley had unduly influenced the elderly and infirm Smith to put a valuable property in trust.
Ann Lesley denied the allegations, arguing that adding the property to the trust meant Mr Smith’s daughters were ‘far better off’ financially because it reduced her own interest in it.
Ann Lesley further insisted that the claims about ‘financial elder abuse’ were ‘not proved with sufficient evidence’ and were ‘simply an allegation’.
Ms Storey sought to have her stepmother removed as an executor of the will and demanded compensation for the losses that she claimed she and her siblings had suffered.
Roxanne and her sisters Laura and Lorna also sought payment of $1million (£813,000) each in inheritance, as their father had set out in a trust he established before his death from heart failure.
During the dispute, Ann Lesley sued some of the businesses held by the trust.
However, documents show that on three occasions she failed to carry out court instructions to pay each of the women a $250,000 (£203,000) share of their inheritance.
This earned her a stinging rebuke from a 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.’
She then agreed to pay $3million (£2.4million) into court, and a settlement was reached which saw the daughters ultimately compensated with stakes worth that amount in some of their late father’s business. Mrs Smith made no admission of liability as part of the settlement agreement.
At this point – in July 2010 – all legal actions including one over ‘elder abuse’ were dropped with prejudice, meaning that they cannot be revived.
Chester and Ann Lesley Smith (pictured together) recorded an album together, Captured By Love, in 2005 and appeared to enjoy a blissfully happy life until Smith’s sudden death at the age of 78
Ann Lesley’s lawyer told us: ‘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 pointed out that his client chose to settle with Smith’s daughters rather than prolong the litigation by appealing against the decision.
So what was it all about – and what does it tell us about the woman who will become the latest wife of the man whose portfolio of titles includes The Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the States, The Times and The Sun in the UK, plus the book publisher Harper Collins and the Fox News television channel?
The story begins with Chester Smith, a multi-millionaire businessman, devout Christian and successful country and western singer, who was married for over 40 years to wife Naomi, mother of his three daughters.
A year after their divorce, at the age of 74, he married the glamorous Ann Lesley, 27 years his junior and who herself was divorced from her first husband.
Her marriage to John B Huntingdon, a wealthy scion of one of California’s pioneering railroad families, had ended badly. She had, however, found God – and it was her newly discovered faith that led her to crossing paths with Chester. The couple recorded an album together, Captured By Love, in 2005 and appeared to enjoy a blissfully happy life until Smith’s sudden death at the age of 78.
Within months, Ann Lesley was in conflict with his daughters.
Initially Roxanne Storey brought a legal action which stated that Ann Lesley had committed ‘financial elder abuse’ and acted when her father was ‘physically feeble and emotionally vulnerable and unable to care for his own needs’.
Ms Storey also sought damages due to Ann Lesley’s actions, which she characterised as ‘intentional, reckless, fraudulent and malicious’. In filings, she said that her father suffered ‘substantial physical, emotional and economic damage’ and had been vulnerable due to ‘age, poor health, infirmity, impaired understanding and restricted mobility’.
Thanks to his global media empire, Rupert Murdoch (pictured) is one of the best-known businessmen on the planet
She said that as his wife, Ann Lesley should have well understood that he was an ‘elder’ who needed protection.
For her part, Ann Lesley said she was competent to manage the affairs of her late husband because he had named her his executor and she helped to run his business, with television stations in California and Oregon.
Court papers show that Ann Lesley was the beneficiary of a trust set up by herself and Mr Smith in 2008 which existed to handle her husband’s fortune.
This amounted to around $14million (£11.4million) in trust, plus other liquid assets of about $5million (£4.1million). The trust comprised unspecified properties, business interests and securities.
When Mr Smith died, under the terms of the trust Ann Lesley received everything and also was explicitly given all artworks, vehicles and possessions belonging to her husband, should he die before her.
Mr Smith’s three daughters were given $3million (£2.4million) to share between them but were otherwise cut out of his will, which said: ‘I have intentionally failed to provide for my heirs in this will.’
Ann Lesley and the daughters attempted mediation to settle the dispute, but this failed.
During March, April and May 2010 she was ordered by the California Superior Court in San Joaquin to make an initial payment to each daughter of $250,000 (£203,000) but she failed to do so.
As a result, she was briefly stripped of her position as a trustee of the trust she and her late husband set up to look after his fortune.
In a ruling in 2010, Superior Court judge Duane Martin described the situation as a ‘continuing major violation by the trustee of her fiduciary duty to Chester Smith’s three daughters’. He noted: The trustee (Ann Lesley Smith) has been doing all she can to satisfy the $3million bequest to the daughters with assets connected to Chester Smith’s surviving ex-wife and to preserve the liquid trust assets for herself.’
The judge continued: ‘The court is satisfied that Ann Lesley Smith as trustee has ignored or violated several sections of the probate code.
‘The court has lost all confidence in Ann Lesley Smith’s intent other than to frustrate Chester Smith’s bequests to his three daughters.
‘And the court has lost all confidence in her ability to administer the trust other than for her own benefit, in conflict with her fiduciary duty to Chester Smith’s three daughters. The court has lost confidence in her willingness to comply with the court’s orders.’
Yet just five days after Judge Martin’s damning ruling, all parties signed a settlement agreement in which a number of legal actions and allegations were dropped and Ann Lesley was restored as a trustee. Each party paid their own legal fees.
According to friends, the experience ‘left her devastated’ – and the memory remains painful.
What happened to Ann Lesley all those years ago is a fascinating addition to an already colourful life for the soon-to-be Mrs Murdoch, who has worked variously as a dental hygienist, model, singer, pastor and radio host.
In a talk she gave to the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills in 2020, she described her life as ‘Rags to Riches to Redemption’. But that barely does it justice.
Of her first marriage to John B Huntingdon, she once told the Christian Broadcasting Network, CBN: ‘Money was not an object. I had everything in the world.
‘John was into cars and we had a stable full of every kind – exotic Ferraris and everything. I spent $65,000 a month on clothes, easily.’
The sad aftermath of her second marriage may have remained just that – the kind of domestic contretemps that many families endure – but for her choice of husband number three.
Thanks to his global media empire, Rupert Murdoch is one of the best-known businessmen on the planet.
Quite what he makes of these revelations is unknown. But he will surely have noted the telling observation of Jennifer Ogden, one of Ann Lesley’s oldest friends.
‘Ann was so broken-hearted when she lost Chester,’ Jennifer told us. She never admitted as much but I felt that she was lonely. She is an independently wealthy and beautiful woman and it’s not easy to find a relationship in those circumstances – you have to find someone who loves you for you.
‘She has got so much in common with Rupert. It’s not just political common ground: They have their spirituality and Christian faith in common.’
And that, one suspects, may be enough to make Ann Lesley the fifth and final Mrs Rupert Murdoch.