Harold Vogel settles into a soft armchair in the den of an early 19th-century farmhouse in Bedminster, N.J. In his Ralph Lauren tweed jacket and hand-tailored Russell plaid pants, Vogel, 66, looks perfectly at home among the stuffed pheasant, quail and other trophies lining the bookshelves. Outside, spread across the 60-acre estate are snowy gardens, tennis courts, a swimming pool and stables. "Yes, it's beautiful," says Vogel. "But I am master of none that I survey."

Vogel's status as lord of the manor is indeed hanging by a golden thread, and he may soon have to vacate these sybaritic surroundings. The estate belongs to his soon-to-be ex-wife Jacqueline Mars, 54, who as an heir to the Mars Inc. candy fortune is one of the world's richest women—as well as one of its least known. Since 1973, Mars and her two brothers have controlled an American family empire that is second in value only to the late Sam Walton's; last year Mars Inc. had sales of some $12 billion worldwide, $5 billion more than McDonald's. Jackie Mars's own sweet piece of the action is said to be worth more than $3 billion, but no one really knows, for the Mars siblings are secretive—some say obsessively secretive. And that's how Hank Vogel hopes to come out a winner in the divorce. He is claiming that the prenuptial agreement he signed before marrying Jackie in 1986 should be overturned because his wife hid the true extent of her wealth from him. "There wasn't full disclosure on the prenuptial agreement," Vogel explains. "In order to give up your rights, you have to know what you're giving up."

If Jackie Mars is to prevail in court she may have to produce financial documents that have been so closely guarded that until recently even the company's bankers had not seen them. But that won't happen without a fight. Mars refuses to comment publicly on the divorce from Vogel, her second husband, but the Mars camp has countered in court that the prenup provided an accurate estimate of her assets, and that Vogel—the former co-owner of a family custom riding-boot company—is hardly destitute. "He has millions of dollars in his own right," says Joel Kobert, Mars's lawyer. "Collects guns. Collects wine. Collects furniture. And now he says, 'I don't care what I signed.' It's ridiculous."

Like the mailed milk chocolate and nougat in a Mars Milky Way bar, Hank Vogel and Jackie Mars at first seemed a match made in heaven. Vogel, a soon-to-be-divorced father of two, and Mars, who had three children but was estranged from David Badger, her husband of nearly 20 years, met in the fall of 1980 at the Washington International Horse Show. Mars, a passionate equestrian and fox hunter, slopped by the booth where Vogel was selling riding boots. Though his company catered to a roster of rich and famous customers, including the late Charles Lindbergh, the sultan of Brunei and Sigourney Weaver, Vogel claims he had no idea who Jacqueline Badger was when he fitted her for a pair of $350 black calfskin boots. A few months later they had dinner and soon were seeing each other regularly and traveling together frequently. After Jackie's divorce in 1984, she and Vogel began discussing marriage.

At this point, Vogel says, he had no reason to believe that his future wife was wealthy beyond his—or anyone's—wildest dreams. He was simply marrying, he says, a woman involved in the family candy business with her two older brothers Forrest Mars Jr., 62, and John, 57. "The name Mars just didn't mean much to me," he explains. "I'm not a big candy eater, so it just didn't sink in." Mars's lawyer scoffs at this: "You'd have to be in Kathmandu or on a spaceship not to know [about the Mars fortune]," Kobert says.

This lack of knowledge may not be quite as implausible as it seems, however, given the Mars company's eccentric corporate culture, which stresses secrecy above almost all else. None of the company's thousands of employees around the world are permitted to speak with the press, and only a tiny sign marks the entrance to the company's McLean, Va., headquarters—which has encouraged obvious comparisons between Mars Inc. and its close neighbor, the CIA. The family patriarch, Forrest Sr., now 89, who invented the Milky Way bar in 1923, turned the company over to his children in 1973, then moved to Las Vegas to start a new company, Ethel M Chocolates, which makes liqueur-filled chocolates. Until recently, he lived in an apartment above the factory, and many of his employees did not even know he was there.

Yet despite the Marses' privacy, the family name is associated with a galaxy of the most popular and famous products in the world: Milky Way, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, M&M's, DoveBars, Uncle Ben's rice and Pedigree and Whiskas pet food. Mars is four times the size of its candy company rival, Hershey.

Still, Jackie and her brothers live modestly—by billionaire standards. Though they're philanthropic, giving away money both in the U.S. and abroad—to the National Symphony Orchestra and doctors in the Australian Outback, for example—they don't drive flashy cars, and they stay out of the gossip pages. They work at metal desks on an open floor with the other Mars "associates" and punch a time clock. Most of the company profits are plowed back into Mars, while each sibling reportedly collects a salary estimated at around $1 million a year—humble by CEO standards. As Mars Inc. general counsel and longtime family friend Edward Stegemann once said, "Deep down, they believe they are poor. They want to be normal, middle-class Americans."

While that may be an eccentricity, given the family's wealth, Jackie seems to have embraced it, and many members of Washington society have no idea who she is. In 1961 she graduated from Bryn Mawr with a degree in anthropology and married Badger, her college sweetheart, who went to work for the company. (After what has been described as an amicable divorce, he still does.)

Jackie's greatest indulgence is horses; Vogel estimates that she owns 15 to 20. Several years ago, according to The Washington Post, a personal shopper finally persuaded Jackie to use her services but was galled when she learned that the billionaire "wanted me to shop at Sears, not Saks."

Indeed, says Vogel, Jackie sometimes seemed strapped for cash. In 1985 she agreed to move to New Jersey to be with Hank, but Vogel says that when she decided to buy the $1.8 million Bedminster estate she borrowed the $200,000 down payment from him. At the time he was taking home about $100,000 a year from the boot company. (She later paid the money back, with interest.)

That may explain why, on March 14, 1986, Vogel readily signed a nine-page prenuptial agreement in which he waived all claims to Jackie's money in the event of divorce. The document, according to Vogel's attorney, Richard Singer, "doesn't give a number," but seems to make Jackie Mars out to be worth around $25 million. The next day in Washington the couple were wed.

For a while the marriage went well. "They seemed very compatible," says R.T. Whitman, a New jersey friend. "Hank was a gregarious, easygoing guy—a good counterpoint to Jackie, who is more serious." Some of Mars's friends worried that Vogel was a gold digger, but they could see she had fallen hard. "Jackie said to me, 'This man is a real man. He'll take care of me,' " recalls one longtime friend. Says another: "It was a love match, but Jackie could have done better."

Vogel, for his part, felt he had done quite well. "She was very loving. She was just wonderful," he says. "I expected that we would share a full and happy life together." In addition his wife paid for virtually everything.

But not long after they married, Vogel claims, his wife suddenly became consumed by the family business and began to travel extensively on her own. "She seemed to get disenchanted with me," he says wistfully. "I really don't know why."

They began to argue and, he adds, Jackie no longer wanted to have sex. In papers Mars has filed with the courts, she claims their arguments grew violent. "I have been physically abused by the defendant, emotionally and physically abandoned by him," she states. Vogel lays the blame on his wife. "She had a violent temper," he says. "She liked to throw things. She liked to slap."

In 1991, Vogel was found to have colon cancer and a year later prostate cancer was diagnosed. Though Mars paid all Vogel's medical bills, by his second illness, he says, "word came back that she was hoping I wouldn't make it." Finally, rather than coming to bring him home from the hospital herself, she sent a car and driver to do it. (His health is now good.)

In 1992, Vogel retired, passing his share of the family business to his son Dean, now 36, and gave his farm in Vermont to his daughter Elizabeth, 32. The Mars legal team claims Vogel was merely divesting himself of his assets in order to get more of his wife's. Vogel denies this and says that in spite of their troubles he clung to "the idea that my life was going to go on with her." Mars, it turned out, had other plans, and in January 1993 she filed for divorce.

Many friends of the couple's—who routinely refer to Vogel as "a nice guy"—do not quite know what to make of their split, so ordinary in many of its sad details, but so remarkable in terms of the sums of money involved. One friend suggests that Vogel may be well within his rights to stake a claim. "If Jackie were the lesser of the two parties, this would be much less of a flap," he says. "The gender reversal gets people a little off balance."

Just so, agrees Vogel. "I'm not trying to gel half her fortune or anything like that," he insists. "All I want to do is live in the style I've become accustomed to."

ELIZABETH GLEICK
PETER MEYER in Bedminster, SANDRA McELWAINE in Virginia and JOYCE WAGNER in Las Vagas

  • Contributors:
  • Peter Meyer,
  • Sandra McElwaine,
  • Joyce Wagner.