EoD archives: Veatch sisters had family after all

Heirs of 2 sisters found
Oklahoma cousin to contest will that named caretakers beneficiaries
Brandon Formby
December 28, 2006
The Dallas Morning News
When the Christmastime letters stopped coming from Denton, LaJoyce Ice figured her cousins had gotten sick. In her 80s and on an oxygen tank, the Oklahoma woman didn’t have a lot of ways to track down Mildred Erle and Helen Veatch, who were in their 90s and lived hundreds of miles away.

But she figured if something were terribly wrong or the women died, someone would let her know.

So when a genealogy guru from Denton called last month, Ms. Ice was surprised to learn that Helen Veatch died in 2001 and Erle Veatch died in July. She said she was more surprised to learn that some of the officials appointed by the court to look after the women and their estate were named beneficiaries in Erle Veatch’s will and apparently had no knowledge that the women had living relatives.

“I was actually very, very shocked,” Ms. Ice said this week from her home in Broken Arrow, Okla.

Ms. Ice, her sister, her niece and nephew filed court papers in Denton County last week contesting Erle Veatch’s will.

The Dallas Morning News reported last month that among the 10 beneficiaries in the will were Denton County Probate Judge Don Windle, who presided over the Veatchs’ probate case; Beverly McClure, Ms. Veatch’s court-appointed guardian and Judge Windle’s ex-wife; Duane Coker, a court-appointed attorney who represented Ms. Veatch’s interests; and Roy Anderson, court-appointed guardian of the Veatch estate and Judge Windle’s personal accountant.

Ms. McClure and Mr. Anderson said this week they were surprised when they learned that relatives had come forward. In 2001, a court-appointed attorney searched for living heirs but found none.

Mr. Anderson said he had no idea Ms. Veatch had written him into her will and gave up all claims to the $50,000 he was to receive. Ms. McClure said she has not decided whether she will disclaim the $100,000 left to her in the will.

“It seemed to me too early in the process to make that decision,” she said. “I didn’t have enough information.”

Judge Windle also gave up all claims to the $50,000 he was to receive and recused himself from the case. He could not be reached for comment this week.

Mr. Coker also could not be reached for comment this week.

Ms. Ice doesn’t understand how no one ever knew she existed. Especially because an 82-year-old man who never knew her cousins was able to track her down.

When Bill Lynch of Denton read in The News last month that the Veatch sisters had no known living relatives, he was skeptical. Genealogy has been a hobby for years, so he started looking for information about the women. He found their mother’s obituary and started tracking relatives.

“I knew everybody has some relatives somewhere, so I started digging,” he said.

With a little help from librarians and a search of the Social Security death database and newspaper obituaries, he tracked down Ms. Ice and her sister Maxyne Yell.

“If an old farm boy can find it, why couldn’t they have found it?” he said.

Ms. McClure and Mr. Anderson said that because the court-appointed attorney hadn’t found anyone, they assumed there were no living heirs. Ms. McClure also said that she talked to the Veatch sisters’ neighbors and doctor and searched their documents but found no evidence of any relatives. She said Erle Veatch, a former University of North Texas business professor, never mentioned cousins in Oklahoma.

“One time, she said she thought she had relatives in Kentucky, and one time, she said in Alabama, but she never could give us records,” Ms. McClure said.

Ms. Ice said she was much closer to Helen Veatch than she was to Erle Veatch. But Erle Veatch knew she was alive, and Ms. Ice doesn’t understand why she would never mention her.

“It’s absolutely so unreal that all of this has come about in this town and published in the paper,” she said.

She said she, her sister, niece and nephew aren’t contesting the will as part of a grab at the Veatch estate but because they feel Erle Veatch was taken advantage of.

“As smart as Erle was, it just seems strange that she would fall into this kind of a trap,” she said.