The man who claims to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith's newborn daughter says the blond bombshell ran off to the Bahamas to give birth to keep their child away from him.
Larry Birkhead, a celebrity photographer and journalist who dated the reality-TV ditz on and off for two years, says Smith, 38, tried to cut him out of the baby's life, forcing him to keep his paternal status a secret and running away to the Caribbean.
But the secret sojourn turned tragic when Smith's son, Daniel, 20, died mysteriously in his mother's hospital room last week, three days after his baby sister was born.
Daniel was found last Sunday morning slumped in a chair, covered in blood and vomit. The cause of death has not been determined.
The tragedy, like Smith's flight to the Caribbean, has puzzled Birkhead.
"I've never had a person take off and run away from me, especially to another country," Birkhead told "Entertainment Tonight" in an interview airing tomorrow night and again Tuesday evening on WCBS/Channel 2.
"I found out through friends" that the baby was born, Birkhead said. "I've had to stay glued to the TV."
Smith remained sequestered at her palatial waterfront mansion in the Bahamas yesterday, still reeling from her son's death in Nassau's Doctors Hospital.
The hospital where Smith gave birth is not far from where she recently purchased a home on the island - a purchase Birkhead thinks was calculated.
"The reason why, I was told, she went to the Bahamas was, I guess if a baby is born in the Bahamas and the mother is a resident of the Bahamas, I think it would be harder for a father who wanted to participate in a baby's life to be able to do so," Birkhead said in the interview.
The two met a few years ago at the Kentucky Derby, when Birkhead was assigned to snap photos of the former Playboy Playmate.
"For about 21/2 years, our relationship was personal," Birkhead said. Then Smith broke the news that he was to be a dad - and everything changed, he recalled.
"I've been told that I was the father from Anna. She said, 'We're having a baby,' and ever since then, my life has been totally different," he said.
Birkhead said he spoke to Smith the day before the baby girl, Hannah, was born and was hopeful that at the last minute, she'd change her mind and allow him to witness the birth.
In the early stages of Smith's pregnancy, Birkhead said, he was involved in everything from selecting a name to seeing the ultrasounds to listening to the baby's heartbeat. Then, at some point, Smith decided to cut ties.
"I've had to look on Anna's own Web site and pay $4.99 a month to get updates about the baby," he said.
He was shocked to hear about the death of Daniel, whom he described as a healthy college kid who regularly lifted weights and was in the process of choosing classes at Los Angeles Valley College. He called rumors surrounding his death - such as a drug overdose - "crazy."
Birkhead has no idea what Smith is feeling at this point, given the unimaginable coincidence of Hannah's birth and Daniel's death. "It's like something out of a bad movie," he said.
Smith was just 18 when Daniel was born. His father, Billy Smith, was a fry cook at a Texas restaurant where Smith once waitressed.
Birkhead longs to see both Smith and the baby, saying he wants to be an equal supporter.
"They're thousands of miles away and I don't know who's holding the baby, who's taking care of it. If you're hearing crazy things like Anna's memory loss, that right there signals to me that there is a need for the father more than ever," he said. "Being shut out like that, you just have to hope."
He's even gone as far as attending infant-care classes and taking child CPR classes to prepare.
"I've been shopping for the baby and it's heartbreaking," Birkhead said.
A paternity test may be in the future for Birkhead - it would "sting" if he's proven not to be the father, he said.
But if the infant is his - as he claims Smith told him - he wants to be part of her life.
"If it's proven I'm the father, like I feel in my heart that I am, then I just want to be a part of the baby's life," Birkhead said.