Mother, son and daughter survived as a family for only three short days, but Anna Nicole Smith was determined to reunite them somehow. So for two days in December—just a few weeks after the birth of her daughter Dannielynn and the death of her son Daniel—Smith spent 20 hours at the Tattoo King parlor in the Bahamas having portraits of her children inked onto her shoulders. “She kept saying she wanted to keep Daniel with her forever,” says the parlor’s owner, Byron Austin, whose brother tattooed an image of Smith with Daniel on her left shoulder, and another of her with Dannielynn on her right. “Next she wanted to get the baby’s footprints and Daniel’s gravestone,” says Austin, who scheduled another session for Feb. 6.
Smith missed that appointment, and just two days later she was dead. Now the sad, strange, pop-culture peep show that was her life has given way to a dizzying free-for-all of accusations, investigations and, most of all, questions: What did Anna want? Who did Anna love? Why did Anna die? In the days after Smith was found unconscious in a Florida hotel room and later pronounced dead (of causes yet to be determined), even her body was up for grabs. Last week in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom Smith’s longtime companion, Howard K. Stern, testified that she wished to be buried alongside Daniel in a double plot that she bought in the Bahamas after his death. “‘This is where my son is; this is home,'” Stern said Smith told him.
But giving Stern authority over anything to do with Smith won’t sit well with her mother, Virgie Arthur, who wants the body returned to her native Texas, or with her ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, who claims he, and not Stern, is Dannielynn’s biological father. In court Birkhead’s lawyer Debra Opri even accused Stern of killing Smith. Such claims, which Stern rejects, have been devastating to him, says his sister Bonnie Stern. “He always has to be dealing with the next attack,” she says. “It makes it hard to grieve.”
During the hearing Stern seemed to offer another possible cause of Smith’s death, saying she had never recovered from her son’s death. “In a lot of ways, emotionally, she died when Daniel died,” he said. Smith’s former nanny, Quethlie Alexis, who was fired by Smith, went even further, claiming in a sworn affidavit that Smith attempted suicide twice last year. But King Eric Gibson, Smith’s chauffeur and friend in the Bahamas, says the idea that Smith killed herself is nonsense. “She was not someone who was getting ready to die,” he says. “She had just bought a house and designed a beautiful dance room. All she ever talked about was living.”
Questions about Smith’s death swirled outside the courtroom as well. Toxicology results aren’t due for several days, but many close to Smith believe she overdosed on prescription drugs. The autopsy report concluded she had no partially dissolved pills in her stomach when she died, but it did not rule out drugs as a cause. In the days after Smith’s death, photos surfaced of a bottle of liquid methadone allegedly found in her Bahamas home (her son died of a lethal mix of methadone and other prescription drugs). The highly addictive painkiller had reportedly been prescribed to Smith under an alias by her California doctor, Sandeep Kapoor. “Methadone is approved for use by pregnant patients,” Kapoor insisted in a statement. Still, the California Medical Board is investigating the case.
Rumors also surfaced that Smith had had a congenital heart condition. But Duane Sands, Smith’s primary physician during her hospitalization in the Bahamas, says he’d seen no evidence of that. “She had pneumonia and a collection of fluid around her lungs,” he says. Smith was sick again when she checked into the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Feb. 5 and was put in an ice bath to lower a high fever on Feb. 7.
Smith died one day later, reducing her family to just one. Now little Dannielynn is at the center of a custody battle being debated in courts in California and the Bahamas. At stake is not just who will raise her but who might gain control over the hundreds of millions of dollars Smith hoped to gain in a lawsuit over the $1.6 billion estate of her late husband, Texas oilman J. Howard Marshall II. But even that isn’t simple: A court must still decide how Smith’s will, which gave everything to her late son, should be interpreted (see box).
For now, Dannielynn remains in Smith’s home in the Bahamas, far from the chaos that marked her mother’s life and now, sadly, her death. Dannielynn “is a hardy baby,” says Gibson, whose ex-wife, a close friend of Smith’s, is caring for the child. “No words yet, but she smiles all the time.”
For the latest news and updates on Anna Nicole, go to PEOPLE.COM/ANNA_NICOLE_SMITH