The Journal News by Hoa Nguyen - February 6, 2010
CHAPPAQUA, NY — The body of a 78-year-old woman living by herself who appeared to have died in her home six months ago was found Thursday by New Castle police, officials said. Jane Wild died in the second-floor bathroom of her home at 406 Bedford Road around August but her body, which was reduced to a skeleton, was not discovered until her lawyer contacted police and asked them to break down her door, according to a neighbor and an investigator from the Westchester County Medical Examiner's Office. The lawyer had been trying to get in touch with her for the past two months, the medical examiner's investigator said. The utilities to her home had been turned off for months and mail service was discontinued after it began accumulating in her mailbox, according to the medical examiner. Police said the incident remains under investigation. The home sits on an acre, set back from the road and surrounded by trees. Despite the inactivity in the home, the driveway and pathways appeared to have been regularly plowed and landscaping was up to date. Neighbors said Wild was a recluse whom they hardly saw coming and going. Snow plowing and landscaping service was done by a contractor who billed in six-month increments and wasn't particularly demanding when it came to requesting payment, neighbors said. At some point, Wild lived with a sister, but that relative had since died, leaving her by herself. Bedford Road, also known as Route 117, is a main thoroughfare with few walkers and with homes set far apart from one another as to promote privacy, but also isolation, neighbors said. They said the homes sit on large one-acre lots, and they wouldn't have noticed that one home lacked electricity. In general, neighbors said they don't know each other well or socialize much within the community. "It's 117 and hard to do that," said Sarah Dearmont, a Bedford Road resident who had never met or seen Wild. New Castle Supervisor Barbara Gerrard said the town is home to many older residents who live alone, and offers them services designed to help them. "I'm sorry to hear about that," she said of Wild's death. "We do try to provide assistance to those who live by themselves." One such program is called "R-U-O-K," which telephones residents who sign up for the service once a day to check on them. It was unclear whether Wild was enrolled or knew about the program, though Gerrard said the services are well-publicized throughout the town. "She was of that age, she must have known about it," Gerrard said. firstname.lastname@example.org
Berta’s Dead: Enter The Vultures
A cursory review of Berta Murray’s estate file appears that it is largely normal, according to legal experts engaged to analyze the Murray estate transactions, and who are familiar with New York estate law, ethical obligations and the specific practices of the Westchester County Surrogate’s Court. However, they noted, the complete absence of any estate file “accounting” is quite unusual. And though not required, the name of Surrogate’s Court attorney-referee Jody B. Keltz, is nowhere to be found in the estate file. However, a review of the property Deed on file in the Westchester County Clerk’s office memorializes the transfer of ownership of 168 Gaylor Road in Scarsdale from the “Estate of Berta M. Murray…by The Bank of New York…to Carl T. Peluso and Jody B. Keltz, his wife.” In a recent telephone conversation, a court employee confirmed that Ms. Keltz was still employed as an attorney-referee in the Surrogate’s Court’s law department. When asked to comment about the Keltz property transfer, she advised that, “If you want to keep your job around here, you keep your mouth shut.” When asked her name, the telephone connection ended.
Move from Scarsdale to an Astor Estate Would Be Nice
A quick review of Berta’s estate file also shows a relatively standard probate proceeding, and it is quickly observed that The Bank of New York is the fiduciary and that the house was valued at $350,000.00--approximately one half of the total estate value of $742,968.00.
- But an in-depth analysis reveals some eyebrow-raising facts, including that Berta’s last will was substantially different than her stated wishes as expressed to friends and relatives since her husband Elmer died in December of 1982. “In Westchester, everyone gets a crumb,” one estate lawyer noted. But those associated with the “new” wishes of Berta Murray EACH received “crumbs” worth tens of thousands of dollars: Attorney W. Rowland Miller of the Judy, Miller & O’Connor law firm in Scarsdale, and who drafted the Will for Berta (and in which The Bank of New York is named as the new fiduciary), and who was then retained as the attorney for the fiduciary, The Bank of New York;
- Attorney Samuel S. Yasgur, then of the Hall Dickler law firm, and who was appointed by former Hall Dicker lawyer and then-Judge Emanuelli to represent “unknown heirs”; and
- Real estate agent Camille Paradise of Claire D. Leone Real Estate, who lived in Berta’s neighborhood and who was the realtor that handled the sale of the house to court employee Keltz and her husband.
“Judges and attorneys have an obligation to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” observed one White Plains estate attorney who asked that his name be withheld, adding, “But that ethical requirement doesn’t apply here-- every player gets their piece of the pie-- that’s how court business is done in Westchester County.” He conceded that, “On its face, this doesn’t look good-- a state-employed attorney-referee working in the Surrogate’s Court shouldn’t be purchasing a house from any estate her court is overseeing.” Under Westchester County Surrogate Anthony A. Scarpino, court attorney-referee Jody B. Keltz continues her work insuring a high level of integrity in the administration of estate proceedings, also while holding professional fiduciaries, such as banks, to a high set of ethical and performance standards. The biggest “crumb” from the Estate of Berta M. Murray went to Westchester County Surrogate’s Court attorney-referee Jody B. Keltz and her attorney-husband Carl T. Peluzo. That “crumb” -- the house and property located at 168 Gaylor Road in Scarsdale is, according to the village of Scarsdale tax office, now conservatively valued at $950,000.00.