Then in 1987, the prestigious America's Cup race was hauled out of the Northern Hemisphere and held off Perth, in southern waters for the first time in the regatta's 136-year history.
But what event completed the trifecta of Perth's excitement scale in 1985-2003? None other than the internecine, legal, bitch-fest squabbling over one of the world's greatest mining fortunes – with a very colorful inday (Visayan lass) an integral part of that saga.
The very colorful Filipina in question was none other than Rose Lacson. Rose is originally from Bacolod, Negros Occidental, the daughter of Nicolas and Amparo Lacson. That also made her the niece of Manila's iconic mayor of the '50s, Arsenio Lacson. Rose earned a B.A. in English literature from Maryknoll College in Quezon City around 1970. She then married a Julian Teodoro (who would later come back to trouble her) in 1971. Rose then led a “jet-set” lifestyle with a somewhat checkered background including supposedly selling contraband goods in Ermita, and moving to Europe where her experiences ranged from washing laundry in Madrid to strutting down the fashion runway in Milan – all to eke out some sort of a living. Somewhere in there was a second marriage to a Patrick Kuan, with whom she had a daughter, Jhoanna. Then in 1985, Rose ended up on the shores of Australia with a three-month working visa. And oh boy, did she put that limited-time visa to work!
As luck would have it, Rose immediately landed a job as housekeeper to one of Perth's richest men, a mining tycoon named Langley George Hancock, aged 76, who had recently become a widower. By 1987, barely two years after she started working for Hancock, Rose worked her way up from hired help to Mrs. Hancock. Of course, the speed of her advancement, together with the glaring 39-year age difference, set tongues wagging, making Rose the obvious target of the most unsavory and unkind remarks, even though Hancock's friends saw the marriage make a happier, rejuvenated person of Lang.
Like all controversial celebrities, especially those who came upon their good fortune quite effortlessly, Rose will have her fair share of detractors and supporters. The Australian press has called her “flamboyant,” “fiery,” “colorful,” “volatile,” with “socialite” probably the kindest description thrown her way. However, the unkindest cut was delivered by none other than her own daughter, Jhoanna, who, when she was interviewed on Australian national television, said that her mother "... deserved to be called a mail-order bride, a Filipina floozy, and gold-digger,” among other things. Ouch. The chip off the old block was 21 years old when this interview took place and she earned Aus$30,000 for it. It was Australia's version of "60 Minutes" after all. (Unless otherwise specified, dollar amounts in this article are in Australian dollars.)
In March 1992, after seven controversial years of marriage, Jhoanna's stepfather, Lang Hancock, died in a guesthouse of the fabled, 16-block Prix d'Amour estate he had built for his young wife. This was a mansion modeled after Scarlett O'Hara's Tara Plantation in Gone with the Wind.
Immediately, Gina Rinehart, Hancock's own daughter by his previous marriage, launched into legal machinations to discredit her much-younger Filipina stepmother, to cut her off from sharing in the bulk of Hancock's estate. An inquest was initiated by Rinehart in 1999-2000 into the circumstances surrounding her father's death and Rose's seeming hand in it. To make matters worse, Rose didn't wear her widow's weeds very long. Less than three months after Hancock's passing, she got hitched again to a man closer to her age, William Porteous, a prestigious real estate figure and also friend of her just-deceased husband.
During the inquest, starting in 2001 and lasting until 2003, 63 witnesses were initially lined up to testify. While that number eventually dwindled to 24, the objective was the same: to paint the picture that the widow Rose had a hand in hastening Hancock's death. Some of the witnesses claimed that Rose and the circle of caregivers “stressed” Hancock to death primarily with her tantrums over money; or hastening his death by feeding him only oily foods.
Rinehart reportedly paid witnesses dearly to testify against Rose. A former assistant to Rose says she received $200,000. A most damning witness was Rose’s first husband, Julian Teodoro, whom Rinehart had dug up in the Philippines to tell his story that Rose came back to the islands and tried to enlist his help in knocking off the rich Australian. Teodoro initially refused to attend the inquest unless Rinehart paid him $250,000, claiming he needed this money for security. There were even tales that Rose used voodoo to ensnare her husband-in-waiting, Mr. Porteous. Like a lot of sensational, salacious cases, the public lapped up the circus for the first few years. However, after dragging out for more than a decade, the novelty wore off, and people lost interest.
Gina Rinehart, in the meantime, has continuing legal squabbles with her own children. When the inquest wrapped up in 2003, the coroner found that Lang Hancock died of natural causes, thus exonerating Rose of any criminal activity.
That year, Rinehart and Lacson ended their 11-year long legal battle and settled their dispute; after all, only the lawyers were getting rich. Although the settlement terms were confidential, it is rumored that Rinehart paid off her ex-stepmother with some $30 million, in addition to giving Rose the Prix d'Amour estate worth $7.5 million at that time. So the $35 million+ settlement given to Lacson, surpasses the landmark US$26 million settlement figure of an even more celebrated heiress daughter-vs.-interloper stepmother case -- that of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis' daughter Cristina v. Jacqueline Kennedy, former American first lady. It became public knowledge that the widow accepted her stepdaughter's settlement offer of US$26 million cash in 1977 in exchange for waiving all future claims to the Onassis estate.
But wait, Rose's legal troubles weren't over. In 2005, Slater & Gordon, the Melbourne law firm that represented her though all her travails, hadn't been paid for their services. Slater & Gordon sued their former client for $14 million+ in outstanding legal bills. Lacson settled for $13.25 mil. It is not known, other than to the Australian Department of the Treasury (the IRS down-under) how much Rose is actually worth; but if she was able to settle her legal bills for $13.25 million and bequeath $1 million each to her three poodles later, it would be safe to assume that Mrs. Porteous was worth at least $25-30 million at the time and thus had another $10-15million+ left over after paying off legal bills, etc. In 2006, the fabled Prix d'Amour mansion was demolished and the estate was turned into an exclusive, gated community boasting ten lots with high-priced homes. That turned in a tidy profit for Rose and William Porteous.
It is my belief that given the chance, people can reinvent themselves; and all the more power to them if they lift themselves by their own bootstraps. I believe in carpe diem, seizing the opportunity legally and morally right. Good fortune came Rose's way and she seized the day. Good for her. And this piece is not a hatchet job either. I merely report what's readily available from the Internet. All of what's reported here is a matter of public record; and from what she has posted of herself on Facebook, it seems that Rose herself hasn't done much to alter or correct the fiery and colorful persona presented to the public. Exhibit A is this easily available YouTube link posted on her own Facebook Timeline.
The last word on the colorful Rose is that she went to New York in 2008 and got herself some training as a "beauty therapist." Returning to Oz, she set up a thriving therapeutic beauty practice in her new Nedlands abode, intent on becoming the Helena Rubenstein of western Australia by mixing her own beauty creams and lotions for her clientele. She shares her home with her three-million-dollar poodles, Denis, Lulu and Snoopy (to be provided for in her will). At 65, she also has reconciled with daughter Jhoanna and ex-husband Porteous, the realtor.
So in the end, was Rose Lacson a "gold-digger"? The third man she married was, after all, a mining tycoon -- so if anything, he would understand perfectly where his new wife was coming from, n'cest pas? You be the judge.
Here are the sources of information for this story:
Jackie Kennedy settlement - http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19910228&id=WVpPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CgMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6547,7895061
Myles Garcia is a retired San Francisco Bay Area-based author/writer. His proudest work to date is the book "Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies" which begat the Plaridel Award-winning article (Honorable Mention), "Ten Best Kept-Secrets of Olympic Ceremonies" (this publication, January 15, 2014). Myles is also finishing a play, "Love, Art and Murder," and belatedly teaching himself to play the piano. Better late than never.
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