Fraud found in latest of 2 last wills Arundel woman's estate contested

December 23, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

For 17 years, Edna Offer helped care for Martha Ann Satterfield, a retired school administrator from Churchton.

When Mrs. Satterfield died of cancer in 1991, it would have surprised no one if the administrator left something in her will for her longtime housekeeper.

But an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury last week found that Ms. Satterfield did not -- and that the will drawn up naming Mrs. Offer as chief beneficiary of her $400,000 estate was a fraud.

Jurors, after four days of testimony, decided in 20 minutes against the validity of a will leaving most of the estate to Mrs. Offer, of the 5300 block of Deale Churchton Road, Churchton. Jurors instead believed in the validity of a will written two years before, which named as sole beneficiary Ms. Satterfield's niece, Linda Ruth Arbuckle, of Lilburn, Ga.

Attorneys for Mrs. Arbuckle said testimony from a handwriting expert about document signatures, conflicting stories about meetings with lawyers and spelling errors in the second will that the former teacher never would have made raised sufficient questions to convince jurors it was a fake.

"There's just a trail of highly suspicious documents all over the place," said David Barclay, Mrs. Arbuckle's attorney.

Mrs. Offer was unavailable yesterday and her attorney, William J. Boehm, declined comment after the case. But in closing arguments, Mr. Boehm said he was convinced of the authenticity of the second will. Ms. Satterfield was motivated out of the love and affection she felt for her housekeeper, he argued.

"This woman worked 17 years for this lady and there's been no question about it, she worked out of the kindness of her heart and love," he said. "I'm convinced in my mind that the lady is telling the truth and this will is genuine because of the affinity between these two people."

According to court records, Ms. Satterfield, a Montgomery County school teacher, principal and administrator, died of cancer April 2, 1991, at the age of 82. She never married and had no children.

In a June 4, 1985, will, she named Mrs. Arbuckle, a homemaker and part-time college counselor, as personal representative and sole beneficiary of her estate. It included her house on the 1000 block of Back Bay Beach Road in Churchton, its furnishings and silverware, an electric organ, 16 quilts, a 1987 Ford Tempo and bank certificates and savings accounts worth $86,000.

But two months after the death, a second will was filed in Circuit Court.

Dated Aug. 25, 1987, the second will left to Mrs. Offer and her husband, John Offer, 60 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Mrs. Satterfield's house. It also left Mrs. Arbuckle $40,000 and instructed her to change the locks on the house, take inventory of the furnishings and make sure that if anything is missing, "find out who took it and why, and then make them pay dearly for doing so."

But there were several problems with the second will, among them testimony from the Salisbury attorney who supposedly drew it up, Hamilton Fox, that he had never met Mrs. Satterfield.

"He wasn't there, he didn't know Ms. Satterfield, he didn't draft the documents, and it wasn't his signature on any of the documents," Mr. Barclay said.

Documents accompanying the will misspelled words like instruct, niece and receive.

Lyndal Shaneyfelt, a former FBI handwriting expert from Alexandria, Va., testified that the signatures on the second will were forged.

"It was a fascinating case, but the evidence was overwhelming that this will was a fake, and a bad fake at that,' Mr. Barclay said.

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