The reader may have noticed by now that one person seemed to be keeping close tabs (and tight control) on the family’s inheritance. That person was Maisie Demler . . .
Over the last three or four decades I had noticed patterns emerging while unravelling the many twists and turns of this sorry saga.
Although it took some time to sink in I slowly came to the conclusion that Maisie was becoming the common denominator and that she seemed to have a finger in every pie.
There were of course other key players and to give credit where it was due, she had expert and invaluable advice from Tuakau solicitor, Colin Rankin Sturrock, who did his best to cover all the loopholes and to keep her ahead of the play.
During my long and frustrating research, several other names apart from Sturrock, were consistently appearing on a lot of the documents dealing with legal matters connected to the families of Chennells and Demler.
These documents followed a similar pattern with presentation and wording that only those ‘in the know’ would understand. I believe that assets were hidden with some trustees being outside the family circle but nevertheless having the valuable inside knowledge. There was a reason for this.
The earliest involvement of Sturrock seems to be with Maisie’s father, Newman Chennells. As a land agent, Newman would have been using him for conveyancing and later on with updating his will. It was on Newman’s will, dated 24 June 1938 remember, that I took notice of the words “English property” along with the similar references on several probates that followed.
His will is the only document that specifically refers to property in England and for some unexplained reason all legal documents that followed never directly mentioned any English assets.
But Maisie knew, and so did a couple of other close members of the family. It was Nellie (Maisie’s mother) who set the pattern of protecting her English assets by not specifically referring to the land like her husband had. Nellie was a business woman and despite being disabled and having 24/7 care, her will made it quite clear that her English estate would go no further than her offspring, Maisie and Howard, or to the survivor.
She was also allowing for the unlikely event of both her children predeceasing her with her intention of giving any grandchildren her legacies. It’s true that Howard was accidentally killed during the process of probates but to sidestep the complications that did arise, Maisie ended up inheriting the lot as the only survivor.
MOTIVE FOR MURDER
The next stage of the journey is where somebody completely lost it and a motive for murder becomes apparent although not as cut and dried as one would hope.
I believe that Maisie, who was faithfully carrying on family tradition where the presence of land in England had to be hidden in legalese, wrote in her will words that didn’t exactly give the game away but were there for those who knew what she meant.
But first some observations about Maisie’s will that caused me some sleepless nights.
The Last Will and Testament of May Constance Demler was handwritten by her solicitor, witnessed and signed on 18 July 1969 (only seven months before her death on 16 March 1970). It was to become disputed, pulled to pieces and claimed by some to be a fake.
My reaction, and I could have many times done a haka on it, was to discover that the thread of doubt was always there if read carefully. For many years, and because this handwritten will with its unclear scrawl hiding its true intent, has led many by the nose around the bull paddock with not an exit in sight.
One has to read between the lines and to make this a little easier I have included the word for word transcribed copy (overleaf) used in the probate document that was placed before the Hamilton High Court by solicitors Sturrock & Monteith on 24 March 1970.
It is important to remember that Maisie appointed her husband Lenard and her daughter Jeannette as executors and trustees (see Clause 2) and notably missing throughout is any mention of her second daughter Heather. The reason for this was her disinheritance.
However, the key words are found in the middle section of this clause where it says “. . . which expression shall include the survivor of them or other trustee of this my will howsoever appointed”.
What does this really mean? Should both trustees be killed in say a motor accident, the estate stands possessed (meaning: owns) then another trustee could be appointed. However, as history will show, only one trustee would survive and would become sole trustee of an estate of multiple properties that had had past disputes plus other undisclosed effects.
TELLING A STORY
To add to the confusion one has to read Clause 4 and sub-clause (c) together as one statement. Then take note of the words my residuary estate; to stand possessed; balance and vested interest–all being of importance and telling a story.
Some may argue the toss with their many and varied opinions of Maisie’s will without really understanding what the hard-to-read “scrawl” was actually saying. These interpretations were in fact trying to contest her written word but for me the penny had fallen and I, for one, knew it had hit the ground.
Let me explain how I see this. It looks like to me that along with her legal advice Maisie was using her skills gained from stringent schooling of how the English language should be used to convey a carefully worded meaning for those ‘in the know’ who would understand.
Maisie’s will was handwritten for a reason as she had expressed her wishes from her hospital bed directly to Colin Sturrock, her solicitor, who in turn wrote it out on her behalf in the legalese language that she probably requested (we now use Plain English). As there were no corrections or additions slotted in Maisie had obviously prepared it and approved it, as it carries her authorised signature.
At least one person was not happy and wasted no time in making serious attempts to change certain parts of her will. Was it Heather’s disinheritance or something else that caused her husband Len’s haggling and begging at her hospital bedside. He was quite desperate as he, and other shareholders, could see an unsatisfactory outcome if not altered. My suspicions remain–it was something other than Heather’s disinheritance–something else that extremely important to Len.
VISUAL DETAILS OF MAISIE’S WILL
It is plain to see that Maisie named two trustees (Upon Trust) whom she, in turn, gave each one a separate part of her estate minus the $400 to her church along with $2000 to her grand daughter Rochelle plus other expenses.
To her husband Len she gave the use, occupation and income of half the total interest Maisie had in Section 2 (the Demler farm) until the day the farm was sold or Len had died. Other than that he was only a trustee but after his death Maisie was instructing Jeannette “to stand possessed” of her “residuary estate” that is, what was left–all assets, farm, bank etc. He had a life interest in all her estate except personal possessions given to Jeannette.
She then details that instruction in sub-clause 3 where she gives Jeannette the balance of her residuary estate “for her own use absolutely” but here’s the crunch “should she predecease me or die before attaining a vested interest” then her issue (Rochelle) would inherit on attaining the age of 21 years. There is no mention of any other beneficiary, which would have been a standard substitution for children.
Although the “balance of her residuary estate” is not specifically mentioned, it would include the investments made on her behalf by her trustees, Alf Hodgson, Colin Sturrock and others, between 1938 (on her father’s inheritance) and 1970 upon her passing.
These assets would most likely involve Company Shares, Mortgages, Investments, Property plus her father’s estate in UK also her mother’s UK estate (under the name of Nellie Chennells) that Maisie and her brother Howard filed for, on probate, in Somerset House after Nellie died in 1948, and while they technically could have been disposed of since, I’m almost certain they weren’t.
Both daughters, Jeannette and Heather, would not have been aware at this stage of the huge total value of their mother’s assets and estate.
The plot is starting to thicken some more.