America's Fourth-Richest Woman? Only Her Accountant Knows For Sure

4th Richest woman Elaine Marshal
4th Richest woman Elaine Marshal

Bloomberg thinks it has found the fourth-richest woman in the United States, someone who has heretofore "avoided the spotlight that ordinarily accompanies great wealth": Anna Nicole Smith's 70-year-old daughter-in-law, Elaine Tettemer Marshall.

Marshall, who lives in Dallas, is said to hold a nearly 15% stake in Koch Industries, the country's second-largest privately held company (principally owned by the Koch Brothers, Charles and David, famous for their support of conservative politics and think tanks). Her shares are valued at more than $12.7 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She was married to E. Pierce Marshall, son of oilman J. Howard Marshall, who went into business with Koch Industries founder Fred Koch and thereby gained a slice of the company, which he bequeathed to his son.

In 1994, when he was 89, Howard Marshall wedded Anna Nicole Smith, then a 26-year-old stripper-turned-Playboy model. They were married for a little over a year when Marshall died, setting off a long legal battle over his will and trust.

Elaine and Pierce Marshall
Elaine and Pierce Marshall

As Bloomberg reports, the wrangling between Smith and Pierce Marshall actually began four months before Howard Marshall's death, when the future reality TV star sued her stepson, "accusing him of interfering with his father's ability to provide her spousal support." It would take 16 years for the courts to resolve the cases spawned by their dispute; by then, both were dead, he of an infection at 67 and she of an overdose at 39.

The upshot -- after a series of decisions and appeals that included two trips to the Supreme Court -- was that Smith and her estate received nothing. When Pierce Marshall died in 2006, Elaine gained control of her husband's Koch Industries shares -- which Howard Marshall had called "the Crown Jewels" -- and got a seat on the company's nine-member board.

But Marshall rejects Bloomberg's characterization of her as among the country's wealthiest citizens. Her spokesman told The Dallas News the nearly $13 billion valuation was "ridiculous."

That's consistent with what her late husband always said on the subject: "Forbes' calculation of my father's wealth is a wildly inflated fantasy," Pierce Marshall told The Dallas News.