Longform

Death of an Heiress

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(Kemper Marley--a pivotal but never-indicted figure in the 1976 car-bomb slaying of Arizona Republic reporter Donald Bolles--spoke with police about Jeanne Tovrea in 1990. He promised a detective he would discuss what he'd heard about Jeanne's murder after he returned from a trip to California. But Marley died before that interview.)

In July 1981, Ed Sr. wrote the letter that would one day be central to courtroom battles between his children and the people or institutions they say pillaged their father's estate.

One of those people was Glenn Kearney, Ed Sr.'s close friend and longtime employee. Now 83, Kearney says Ed Sr. asked him to deliver the letter to his three children after his death.

It said in part:
". . . You three get a KNOWN amount to begin with. Jeannie gets certain assets outright and all the income of the balance of the estate. The balance is an unknown quantity as who knows what it will be, what are the taxes, legal fees, etc.

". . . As it stands right now, Jeannie will be amply cared for which in my opinion she is most certainly entitled to as we have had a wonderful life together and love each other very much.

". . . I know that you are not fond of Jeannie, especially you girls, which I guess is normal between stepmother and stepchild. She tried very hard to be your friend, but you declined to accept her, which made it difficult for me.

". . . I want you to know that at one time you were not going to be considered in my will as I was extremely disappointed in the way you were conducting your lives. Jeannie intervened and persuaded me to not pursue that line of thinking, telling me to give you all more time and maturity.

". . . [Hap] has gone through so much money it is hard to believe; he owes everybody and refuses to work and stated he would never work.

". . . Remember, none of you have earned any of your inheritance, so be thankful for whatever you get."

Ed Sr. signed a new will a year later, in July 1982. In it, he named confidants Kearney and Harold Christopherson as his estate's co-executors.

As envisioned in the letter, Ed Sr.'s will left his children $60,000 each from two life insurance policies, and $200,000 plus interest each in a fund to be disbursed at $1,500 a month.

Most would consider $260,000-plus a tidy sum, but it's a pittance in comparison with Ed Sr.'s total holdings. His probate listed assets worth $8.7 million, of which he left Jeanne $3.7 million in property, stocks and bonds.

Ed Sr. also created a trust fund worth another $4 million. In the will, he promised his children they could split the fund--but, tellingly, only after Jeanne Tovrea's death.

On top of that, the will stipulated that Jeanne, not the kids, could live off the income generated by the trust--about $400,000 a year. Perhaps more vexing to the children, she could avoid paying any estate taxes on that asset during her lifetime. Instead, they would have to pay the taxes--about 50 percent--before they saw a cent of what remained.

In February 1983, attorney Ken Reeves was called to St. Joseph's Hospital, where Ed Sr. lay in the intensive-care unit. There, Reeves assisted his client in an important revision of the will: Jeanne Tovrea became co-executor of his estate with Glenn Kearney. (Jeanne would assume sole control of the $4 million trust fund.)

Reeves' notes about the meeting at St. Joe's included a chilling synopsis: "Conversation regarding [Ed Sr.'s] children, his wife, their relationship and his wish that I protect her from them."

Ed Sr. died at home in July 1983. Hap held one of his hands and Jeanne the other as he drew his last breath.

Caring for Ed Sr. had been Jeanne Tovrea's top priority for a decade. After an appropriate period of mourning, the widow--who'd just turned 50--resolved to live life to the fullest.

Within a few years, Jeanne became a regular on the social calendar, donating her time to charity balls, attending galas, collecting art, traveling, making the scene. She lost weight, underwent cosmetic surgery, and, after a while, started dating.

But she never forgot her roots: A few months before she died, for instance, Jeanne briefly visited an old rodeo pal at his dilapidated line shack in northern California. Upon her return, she sent the cowpoke a check for $5,000, with instructions to buy himself a pickup truck or new teeth.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin