The Many Lives of Rielle Hunter

From equestrian to party girl immortalized in fiction, her life story is unique.

August 11, 2008, 6:25 PM

August 12, 2008 — -- A prize-winning equestrian whose father was implicated in an ugly plot to electrocute horses for insurance money.

A party girl named Lisa Druck whose exploits in New York's cocaine-fueled nightlife during the 1980s inspired "Bright Lights, Big City" author Jay McInerny to model a character after her in his fiction.

An aspiring actress and screenwriter living in Beverly Hills who says she got off drugs with the help of a New Age healer and started a foundation to promote higher consciousness.

They may seem like wildly different people, but they represent the multiple lives of Rielle Hunter, the woman at the center of the John Edwards adultery scandal, which the former presidential candidate acknowledged last week to ABC News' Bob Woodruff.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard the story," Chip Hudson, a veteran horse trainer in Ocala, Fla., who worked with Hunter when she went by her birth name Lisa Druck, told "She was a regular kid with a family with a lot of money. Her father commuted back and forth in his own airplane and bought her some very nice horses. She won some prizes for her riding."

But there was another side to the life of luxury lived out by Druck and her two sisters, Roxanne and Melissa.

"She and Roxanne were a handful, always getting into trouble around the farm," said a former groomer at Eagle's Nest, the horse farm in Ocala. "Lisa was drop-dead gorgeous -- the pictures now don't do her justice. Very pretty, with blue eyes and blonde hair. And she knew how to drive the men crazy. But she seemed sad and troubled, desperately looking for something."

Her father, the late James Druck, once paid a hit man to kill her prize horse, Henry the Hawk, by rigging wires to electrocute the animal by attaching electrical wires to its ear and rectum, according to an account told to Sports Illustrated in 1992 by horse killer Tommy Burns.

Druck had taken out a $150,000 insurance policy on the animal and was hoping to reap the benefits, Burns told the magazine.

"James Druck was in the business of setting fires and collecting insurance and then he got the idea to kill the horses," says Lester Munson, who co-wrote the piece with William Nack for SI. "He invented the extension cord as a killer of horses. He taught Tommy how to do it and the first victim was Henry the Hawk."

Burns, who served jail terms for insurance fraud and animal torture, could not be located for comment. James Druck, who was never charged, died before federal prosecutors indicted 23 people in the scandal in 1994.

Chicago FBI spokesman Ron Rice explained that the reason Druck was never charged for his role in arranging the electrocution of his daughter's prize horse was "because he was dead and because the statute of limitations had expired on that charge."

Druck's mother, Gwendolyn Ferrazzano, who divorced James Druck in 1982, declined comment.

By the late 1980s, Druck had moved to New York, where she hung out with a fast crowd, partying at the city's nightclubs.

"Things were crazy back then," friend Pigeon O'Brien told ABC News' Brian Ross. "There were crazy events that happened; there was drug taking, there was dancing, there were affairs, so it was a very crazy and some people lived, very, very much in the fast lane at that time."

At the legendary celebrity-filled nightclub Nell's, Druck met McInerny, who was so "intrigued and appalled" by the force of her hard-partying personality that his third novel, "Story of My Life," was based on the time he spent in nightclubs with Druck and her circle of friends. He even named a character, Alison Poole, after her, which he described as "ostensibly jaded, cocaine-addled, sexually voracious."

"For me you're a little bit frozen in time, a little bit Alison Poole, the 21-year-old party girl in that book who runs around New York going to nightclubs, doing drugs and abusing credit cards," McInerny told her in a discussion transcribed for Breathe magazine in 2005. "And I'm sure that your life wasn't that simple or that extreme or that wasteable."

Hunter told him that she did a lot of drugs but that she was struck by the character's "need for truth," adding that it was a theme in her life.

To get away from the scene in New York, she told McInerny that she moved to California to become an actress.

According to Newsweek writer Jonathan Darman, Hunter told him in 2007 that she and McInerny were plotting an idea for a TV show about women who have affairs with men to rescue them from their failing marriages, saying that she hoped to pitch it to "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star. McInerny and Star's agents did not return calls for comment.

In 1991, she married Alexander M. Hunter III, the son of Alex Hunter, the Boulder, Colo., district attorney who prosecuted the Jon Benet Ramsey murder. Hunter and her former husband could not be reached for comment. Rielle Hunter's current attorney, Robert Gordon, declined to answer questions or to verify accounts of her life.

Writing scripts for TV and movie projects, with titles ranging from "So Very Virgo" to "It's All About Uranus," Hunter legally changed her name to Rielle Hunter in 1994. But she didn't seem to have much success in love or in Hollywood, divorcing Hunter in 1999 and is credited with acting, producing and writing a 20-minute comedy short, "Billy Bob and Them," in 2000.

Hunter told McInerny that she fell into despair and spent a lot of money on spiritual retreats before starting a foundation, Being Is Free, dedicated to "higher consciousness."

On the Web site, she writes:

"And, for as long as I can remember, I had a relentless desire for truth. This turned out to be a helpful combo. I was never comfortable, never felt enough love, never satisfied, never fulfilled and I would not stop until that ended. Point being, if I can wake up anyone can, what it takes is the desire and the commitment to do so."

Less than a month after meeting Edwards at a restaurant in New York City in 2006, Hunter set up her own video production company, Midline Groove Productions, to create a series of video "Webisodes" of the candidate on the campaign trail, for which she was paid $100,000 in a six-month contract.

The Webisodes were never used by the campaign but they have found a second life on YouTube and some of their messages seem ironic in hindsight.

In the first video, titled "Plane Truths," Edwards says, "I've come to the conclusion that I want the country to see who I am, who I really am. But I don't know what the result of that will be."