In 1966, multimillionaire Robert David Lion Gardiner invited Jackie Kennedy to visit him on to his private islet, Gardiners Island, off the coast of Long Island. Gardiners Island had been in Gardiner’s family for four centuries and was one of the largest privately-owned islands in the world.
Gardiner arranged a dinner party for Jackie which was attended by both Gardiner and wife, the former British model Eunice Bailey Oakes, and several others.
After dinner, the guests retired to the lavish wood-paneled den, where coffee and cognac were served. According to Gardiner, he watched as Jackie took out a cigarette and looked around for a light. A gold cigarette lighter belonging to Eunice lay on a nearby table. Jackie picked it up and used it to light her cigarette. Then, inexplicably, she slipped the lighter into her evening bag.
Gardiner was aghast. Jackie Kennedy had deliberately stolen his wife’s lighter.
Gardiner didn’t know what to do. Several uncomfortable minutes later, he went over to his humidor and took out a cigar. Turning to the roomful of guests, he asked:
Have any of you seen my wife’s gold cigarette lighter?”
Getting no response, he addressed his most distinguished guest:
Did you, Mrs. Kennedy? I believe you were the last one to use it.”
Jackie shrugged, replying in her little girl voice:
I have no idea where it went. ”
The lighter was never returned to its owner. Gardiner was furious and retaliated by spreading stories accusing Jackie of kleptomania.
The gossip reached the Greek ears of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie’s husband from 1968-75, who sent Gardiner a check for $5,000, along with a note threatening legal action for slander. Jackie had admitted to Ari that she had accidentally placed the lighter in her purse that evening at Gardiner’s but had, since then, simply lost track of it.
At some point, though, the missing lighter “resurfaced.” After Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s death in 1994, the lighter was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in New York as part of her multi-million-dollar estate.
Source: Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. New York: Atria, 2009.
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