Family of former ‘Wizard of Oz’ Munchkin battles his former caretaker in court over estate (MO)

CLAYTON – The family of the late “Wizard of Oz” movie actor Mickey Carroll appeared in court Monday to claim he was bilked out of nearly $500,000 by a caretaker in his last years.

Carroll, a hypopituitary dwarf, played one of the Munchkins in the famous movie. He died in May 2009 at age 89. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Carroll was his stage name; his given name was Michael Finocchiaro. He had lived in Bel-Nor.

Carroll’s nieces and nephews sued the caretaker, Linda Dodge, in 2011 upon learning that much of his estate had been depleted. This week, a St. Louis County Circuit Court jury is hearing the civil suit, which asks for the money to be restored.

“Linda Dodge wormed her way into the life of Mickey Carroll and started to isolate him from other family members,” said the family’s attorney, Patrick McCarthy, in opening statements.

He said Dodge “and perhaps others” slowly drained Carroll’s assets, once totaling $500,000.

Lawyers for Dodge disputed the characterization, painting her as someone who was there for Carroll when his family was not. They said she took him to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store, later helped with hygiene, and brought him and a disabled nephew into her home.

“Ms. Dodge genuinely cared for the decedent,” said one of her attorneys, Christopher Blaesing. “She treated him like family.”

Blaesing offered an explanation for what happened with Carroll’s money: “He was a small man but he was larger than life when it came to his spending.”

He said Carroll went out to eat almost every day, tipping generously, and gave lavish gifts to family and charities.

McCarthy began calling witnesses on Monday, including Carroll’s niece, Josephine Romeiser, the personal representative for his estate.

Romeiser talked about how her uncle turned his dwarfism into a positive, making a career out of it in show business. After the stage lights faded, he helped run the family monument business. Carroll would joke, however, that it only took opening the refrigerator door and being bathed in lights to get him going again.

“If you look up the word entertainer, that was my Uncle Mickey,” she said.

Romeiser said she didn’t know then how much her uncle had saved, although she assumed it was significant because he was frugal. She said almost everyone in the family had lost contact with him in his later years. When it came time to manage his estate, Romeiser said, they learned his Bel-Nor house had been emptied and records were scarce.

That’s when they hired an attorney and an investigator. In the process, she said, they learned of Dodge and various drained accounts, including a $100,000 equity loan that had been taken out for structural changes on Carroll’s home.

Dodge’s attorneys plan to argue that Carroll was competent and in control of his financial decisions. They also plan to call Dodge to testify to the friendship she had with Carroll.

The trial will resume today.

Attribution:

Family of former ‘Wizard of Oz’ Munchkin battles his former caretaker in court over estate
Jennifer S. Mann
May 12, 2014
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/family-of-former-wizard-of-oz-munchkin-battles-his-former/article_cddab1f4-d9b8-5327-a492-6f37ffc3b622.html

Additional coverage:

Lawsuit Over Estate of Deceased Munchkin, Mickey Carroll, Slated for Trial Next Week
Chad Garrison
May 9 2014
Riverfront Times
http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2014/05/lawsuit_over_estate_of_decease.php

Five years ago this week, Wizard of Oz actor Mickey Carroll passed away in his sleep at the age of 89. Yet the fight over his estate had already begun with Carroll’s niece, Janet Finocchiaro, alleging before his death that the ex-Munchkin’s caretaker, Linda Dodge, physically abused Carroll and duped him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the wake of Carroll’s passing, a photo of a purportedly abused Carroll — sporting a bruise to his forehead — even ran in the National Enquirer.

Next week the lawsuit Finocchiaro and other family members brought against Dodge is finally slated for trial in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

See also:Munchkin’s Former Caretaker Sued for Theft

Among the allegations in the lawsuitare claims that Dodge and others took advantage of Carroll’s late-in-life dementia to have him sign over to them as much as $500,000 in assets. Dodge moved Carroll and a disabled nephew whom he had cared for — Frank Parenti — from his home in Bel-Nor to her Crestwood home just months before Carroll’s death.

Dodge’s relationship with Carroll dates back to at least 2007 when she launched a public campaign to get the former Munchkin a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. But the effort failed when several claims in Carroll’s bio could not be confirmed — among them that he starred in the Spanky and Our Gang series. No one doubts, however, that the four-foot-seven actor (born Michael Finocchiaro) appeared as a Munchkin in the 1939 film Wizard of Oz. Which Munchkin, however, is a somewhat up for debate.

See also: Munchkin Mickey Carroll’s Caretaker Sues National Enquirer for Defamation

In an ’07 interview with Riverfront Times, Carroll said he was the Munchkin who sang Dorthy’s praises after her house crushed the Wicked Witch of the East: “We thank you very sweetly, for doing it so neatly.” And he said it was his voiceover that famously told Dorthy to “follow the yellow brick road.”

Janet Finocchiaro’s attorney tells Daily RFT that the trial will likely last three days. Check back with Daily RFT next week for results from the courtroom.

 

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