In her interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday night, Whitney Houston‘s sister in law Pat said she didn’t care who took the picture of her best friend lying in an open coffin and sold it to the National Enquirer. But the photo has upset a lot of people. Who took it? Who sold it to the Enquirer? Forget that the Enquirer did something grievously of no taste. We know what they are. But who could have done this?
Sources at the Whigham Funeral Home in New Jersey say they know, and they have an employee who saw the person take the picture. The person they’re pointing the finger at is Raffles van Exel, the hanger on I told you about in this column a couple of weeks ago. Van Exel, who has aliases of Raffles Benson and Raffles Dawson, was at the two private viewings of Whitney’s casket held at the Whigham Funeral Home. The first viewing was on the Friday night before the memorial service. The second one was on Sunday morning before the burial.
The people at Whigham noticed van Exel right away. Even though he’s not a member of the Houston family, he traveled with them on the private plane from Los Angeles to New Jersey. He was the only non family member who accompanied Whitney’s sister in law/manager and newly appointed executor Pat Houston in her car to Whitney’s memorial and funeral and to the viewings. According to one source, he even had his own bodyguard with him, which was more than a little unusual. A source from Whigham’s says when the picture appeared on the cover of the Enquirer, they told the Houstons of their suspicions. “They didn’t do anything ab0ut it,” says a source. “They’re protecting him. How come they haven’t gotten him out of their circle?”
The Whighams people are not happy about the Raffles connection. While conducting another funeral in another part of town, of the funeral directors says she was spat upon by a stranger. The funeral home is concerned that fans think they allowed the National Enquirer picture to be taken. They did not. “The Houston family invited everyone into that room. We had no role in that. We were told their security would handle everything. They didn’t give us responsibility for that.” About 35 people came to the first viewing. The Wighams didn’t know everyone. But they know none of their people were involved. Only one of their employees says they witnessed Raffles van Exel take the picture of Whitney in her coffin.
The burial, by the way, did not include $500,000 worth of jewelry. “It was costume jewelry,” says the funeral director. “Please…”
Calls and emails to van Exel have gone unreturned. His voice mail box is full. He answered one of my emails, asking what I wanted, and then didn’t respond again. A second email was replied to, with a blank message. But it’s not the first time van Exel has gone underground.
The famous R&B singer George Benson (“Give Me the Night,” “Turn Your Love Around”) has his own story about Raffles. Around 2005, he says, his lawyer had to send van Exel a cease and desist letter warning him not use the name Benson or describe himself as Benson’s son. George Benson has four living sons, and three deceased. Benson says that around 2004-2005 van Exel had ingratiated himself into Benson’s mansion in Engelwood, New Jersey.
“He was there for a year on or off,” Benson told me. One day, Benson says, van Exel called him and told him to come home; he thought there’d been a robbery. When Benson returned to the house, he discovered $25,000 in cash was missing. He’d taken out of the bank to pay for home repairs. By the time he made the discovery, van Exel had vanished. “We never saw him or heard from him again,” Benson recalls. Without tangible proof, he couldn’t press charges with the local police. van Exel, as I reported in my original story, has sometimes been sued under the name Raffles Benson.
van Exel recently recorded a video explaining the way he gets around Hollywood,which was posted on YouTube. Here it is, in all its glory:
Edited by Lisa, 14 March 2012 - 10:43 AM.
Fixed font, video link.