TELLURIDE, Colorado--There are stories so rich in converging dramatic angles that few readers are willing to spend the time to trace them to their conclusion.
That had been my first reaction to the long fratricidal war waged by the children of L.S. Shoen, 74, for control of the $1.2 billion U-Haul corporation.
The Shoen family saga is Shakespeare's King Lear in modern dress. It is television's Dallas and Twin Peaks combined.
For years, the anger and hatred dividing the family have fed on acts of treachery, deceit and brutality. This colorful melange came to a climax here in this ski resort town August 6 with the murder-for-hire of Eva Berg Shoen, 43. She was shot to death while sleeping in her bed.
It was the town's only murder in the last dozen years.
This is a tiny community set in a mountain hollow that derives its income from visitors who ski in winter and film buffs who come each Labor Day weekend to gawk at film personalities like actor Clint Eastwood, the French director Bertrand Tavernier and critic Roger Ebert. The hit of last year's festival was a two-hour premiere of Twin Peaks. The local paper has editorially compared the Shoen case with the murder of Laura Palmer in the television series.
One of the most popular films at this year's festival was Reversal of Fortune, starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons. It tells the story of the murder defense of slippery Claus von Bulow by attorney Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor.
The Shoen family battles would also clearly make a fascinating film.
It would center on L.S. Shoen, the eccentric family patriarch. It would demonstrate clearly how the woes of the family stem from the battle for wealth and power by Shoen's sons.
And it would not excuse the elder Shoen for setting the example as a monomaniacal hard driver who worked harder at creating his nationwide business than at being a father.
Shoen sired twelve children during three marriages. He insists now that his dream was only to create a personal monument by leaving the vast U-Haul holdings, first to his children and then to his grandchildren.
But that dream is now over for the elder Shoen.
"The company has been destroyed," he says in a phone conversation from his Las Vegas home. "It went from $4 billion to the point where I don't know what we could get for it now.
"But let me tell you one thing. We are far from having an unsolved murder. I have just discovered a new development so powerful that it explains everything to me." Shoen's life has been dedicated solely to accumulating large sums of money. It's easy to understand why he now believes money can buy a solution to this problem, too. The wonder is that he never could understand until too late that it would create his family tragedy.
Just who is the patriarch L.S. Shoen?
The old man was raised in the state of Oregon where his family had been farmers.
Kicked out of medical school in his third year for giving the answers to a test to a fellow student, he joined the armed services. His friends always called him "Slick." Shoen pioneered the self-trucking idea after World War II and developed it into the country's largest family-run business. His idea of using rental trailers to move families was a tremendous hit with returning veterans, who created a mass migration after being discharged from the service.
Shoen worked backbreaking hours to develop the company, traveling the country for weeks at a time and putting in sixteen-hour days.
slept in the cheapest motels and ate his meals at McDonald's.
Once, he was arrested in Houston at 2 a.m. for climbing over a fence to repair a damaged U-Haul truck.
In 1968, he moved the business from Ridgefield, Washington, to Phoenix. The company's headquarters are at 2727 North Central, a block south of Thomas Road.
Shoen was always a zealot about keeping down expenses.
On June 3, 1970, he called his top employees into his Central Avenue office. He placed an armed guard at the door to prevent anyone from leaving.
When he had everyone's attention, Shoen tossed $1,000 in mixed denominations of bills out the window. They fluttered down to Central Avenue where pedestrians began a mad scramble to recover the money.
"I wanted to make a point," he said. "I wanted them to realize that when an executive spends money on something that only makes him feel good, he might as well be throwing it into the street." He moved his family into a home on Tatum Boulevard that had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and gave each of his sons sports cars on their sixteenth birthdays.