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How did Veronica Hearst (excuse us, Veronica DeGruyter Beracasa de Uribe Hearst, aka Fabiola's mom), get through three rich husbands and still wind up $45 million in debt? As Vanity Fair's Vicky Ward discovers, the talents that enable one to ensnare wealthy old dudes don't necessarily include financial acumen. In 2000, Veronica persuaded her husband Randolph Hearst—whom she'd married in 1987 when he was 72 and she was a once-divorced, once-widowed, forty-something mother of two—to pay $30 million for Villa Venezia, a 52-room, 28,000-square-foot Florida mansion.

Just months later, however, he was dead from prostate cancer. (Sadly, Veronica's efforts to cure him by enlisting the healing hands of tele-evangelist Benny Hinn proved unsuccessful.) And it was soon clear that her inheritance was not going to keep her in the manner to which she'd become accustomed. Although Randy left Veronica with, by most people's standards, plenty to get by on—around $4 million in cash and $60 million in real estate—it just wasn't enough for her to hold on to Villa Venezia, which was saddled with a $25 million mortgage.

But Veronica, who has a past straight out of a soap opera—itinerant Russian multiply-married mother, birthplace of either Paris or Monte Carlo, father uncertain, past connection to a shady Mafioso—wasn't willing to let go of the house, which, one friend says, she viewed as a useful attribute for attracting new wealthy suitors. But with debts mounting and borrowers foreclosing, she eventually lost control of the house in March of this year, followed by her Fifth Avenue apartment shortly thereafter.

By the sounds of it, the offspring of New York's richest geriatrics should probably take extra steps to safeguard the family fortune in anticipation of a certain raven-haired socialite's inevitable fourth marriage. Fabiola might take exception to such a suggestion: "My mother is very moral in most ways," she says. "I've never seen any man in my house, sleeping over, my whole life."

The Mansion Trap [VF]