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Elder Abuse: When a Golddigger Stole $150,000 From My Uncle
My uncle Roger has issues.
He got off to a bad start. He was born on a farm outside Dunlap, Iowa, a small town about 60 miles NE of Omaha. My grandma had him at home, and the doctor used forceps to pull him out. I'm assuming that because they weren't in a hospital, the brain damage was either missed or just couldn't be treated quickly enough to prevent the disabilities he suffered with for the rest of his life.
I think he was a very handsome man. He was always a little strange, but never in a mean or creepy way. But he smelled and was always kinda dirty. He said that when he was growing up, he was badly bullied by fellow students and teachers alike; one teacher at the country school locked him in a closet for "misbehaving." He never quite got along with the other kids because his motor skills - both small and gross - were underdeveloped. It made him clumsy and bad at sports. By high school, my grandparents were sending him and my mom into town to go to school (K-12).
The bullying got worse.
His depth perception was so bad that he couldn't walk down stairs; he had to scoot down on his butt, which didn't add to his already weak popularity. Kids can be cruel, but I think that some of the perceived offense was him being hypersensitive about his condition. I say this because of a notebook his classmates prepared when he broke his leg playing basketball. All the well-wishes seemed sincere.
His disabilities were mostly physical. He had some learning disabilities that made it difficult to express himself and understand situations. He is an amazing writer, although his penmanship isn't good and is hard to read. He has a tendency to distrust people who are telling him what he doesn't want to hear and implicitly trust flatterers that know how to make him trust them.
He was very good at raising animals and often had prize-winning hogs at the sale barn in town. Animas adore him, and he had many pets on the farm.
My early memories of him are when he was nearing 40. He had a big, bushy beard that scratched my face when he kissed me. He was always hanging around but I didn't really know him.
He met a girl up in Denison (I guess her folks owned a bar) and he quickly fell desperately in love with her. I remember she had long, jet black hair and loved Elvis. I mean: LOVED ELVIS. I was a flower girl in their wedding; I forget to sprinkle the rose petals in the aisle on the way to the altar, so was sure to toss them around on the way back after the ceremony. I was a huge hit.
Marriages That Were Never Meant to Last
Debbie wasn't particularly well-liked by my family (they thought she was trash), but she was a nice enough girl. How she ever agreed to marry my uncle, I don't know. It had to be for the money. This isn't so much a reflection on her as on him and our family.
Garrison Keillor talks about "bachelor farmers," and that describes my uncle perfectly. Not very clean, not really socially acceptable; basically the kind of guy that isn't any women's first choice for a husband.
Unfortunately, Debbie married Roger at a time when everyone suspected there was something terribly wrong with my grandfather, my grandmother was losing her grip on sobriety and our family was spiraling out of control in a way in which demise seemed imminent. My grandma was also unbelievably controlling of Roger, which would be tough on any new wife.
And then the poor girl was forced to live not in the big farmhouse in the grove, but in a trailer next to the cow barn. I remember going in there to help my grandma clean it up (BACHELOR FARMER) and thinking it was kinda cool but mostly kinda gross. It was a lot like Bud and Sissy's trailer in Urban Cowboy.
It was up on a high hill, and downwind from the barn. And that barn wasn't empty. I can just imagine what that poor gold digger was thinking, stuck in a convection oven that smelled like manure.
So that fell apart even before they had to put my grandpa in the home and my grandma moved into town.
My Uncle, the Bachelor Farmer
My uncle wasn't even allowed to work as a roughneck. A person with my uncle's disabilities, born in the last 20 years, into a family with the money that my family had, would have been given the education and tools needed to succeed in the real world. But in the 1940s, they pretty much decided that the only thing to do was to keep him alive and safe. This was actually a huge, huge mistake because even though my uncle had some pretty serious physical and mental disabilities, he could have eventually taken over the farm, with the help of a partner or trustee. But my grandpa and great-grandpa never thought Roger would ever amount to anything, so basically had no expectations of him; that meant that they never taught him anything but also never let him loose enough to learn things on his own.
After they sold the farm, my uncle had to live in the basement of the house my grandma had built in town. Looking back, even though it was a nice set-up, it must have been really oppressive to live down there. I imagine my uncle was upset when his dad died, but it was the death of my great aunt, Evelyn, not long after that was really hard on him.
She never had any kids of her own, and she loved Roger dearly. She took him bowling and was, I think, his best friend. Certainly, she would have felt sympathy for him because of my grandma's alcoholism and her trying to control his every move.
He had odd jobs here and there, but when they moved into town, he started mowing lawns. He did this until just a few years ago, to make some extra money. Otherwise, he was entirely supported for several years by my grandmother. And then he met Bonnie.
Bonnie never had a chance. She probably had even less of a chance than Debbie ever had. As was typical with Roger, he decided to go out with a woman who didn't have nearly as much money or "breeding." Grandma hated her right away, and so did my mom. I was pretty young when she and Roger met and decided to get married, so I'm not sure why they hated her so much, except that they thought she was yet another gold digger out to get Roger's money.
Bonnie's face was badly deformed, and I heard two stories about it. The first was that she was born that way, and the second was that she had been badly beaten on that side of her face with the butt of a gun by an abusive husband. Either way, unfortunately, Roger didn't have the excuse of marrying her because she was a great beauty. To my grandma, she was trash and ugly.
In the summer of 1985, Roger and Bonnie planned to marry. My mom and I were going to England that summer, so planned on going out to Iowa for the wedding, then leaving for England the week after. We drove all the way out there and then Bonnie, for whatever reason, never showed up. She was in another state and "couldn't make it" for her own wedding!
My mother was livid. Any chance Bonnie had of ever making a good impression on my mom was gone. We went back home, and then left for Great Britain for about a month. Roger and Bonnie got married sometime while we were gone, under the scathing disapproval of my grandmother.
Their marriage wasn't perfect, but they stayed married for a really long time: More than 20 years. She would often leave town and stay with her parents for days on end, but spending too much time with my uncle can be a challenge. And it wasn't just my uncle, but my grandmother, too. Roger made a paltry amount of money mowing lawns, which wasn't enough to support them. He had to ask for money from my grandmother at least every week, and I'm pretty sure that she made sure to tell him how much she hated Bonnie every time he asked. That went on until they had to put my grandma in a home and soon after she died, in 1993.
He inherited a good amount of money when she died, but because of his disabilities and because he didn't have a lot of income, it was understood that a trust would have to be set up that would have to last him the rest of his life. Maybe there were times when he and Bonnie overspent, but when she was killed in a terrible head-on collision about 15 years later, there was still a good amount of it left. My uncle also received a big cash settlement from the accident, because the other driver was entirely at fault.
No One Ever Advocated for My Uncle
Bonnie's death greatly upset my uncle. Most of her kids loved him deeply (he never had kids of his own), so were a great support system.
But then there's my mom.
There's something wrong with her. She has managed to avoid having anyone diagnose it, but I would guess it's either Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. Maybe it's a combination of the two disorders, with a smattering of some other mental illness mixed in for fun, that makes everyone's lives miserable. Regardless, she is not a mean person, but her fears often cause her to be mean and make choices that would be considered mean, selfish and even heartless in other people.
She never volunteers for anything. She also doesn't like to help her friends and family too much, and by "too much," I mean "at all." She'll help you if it's her idea or someone is in such dire straits that utter and complete catastrophe will befall them if she's doesn't step in. Then she heroically appears, as if plucked from the ether, usually at the absolute last second before all hope is lost. Don't think I don't know that this is for dramatic effect.
And again, it's not that she doesn't feel sympathy or takes joy in watching others suffer or fail. It's her overwhelming fear that someone is taking advantage of her.
No matter how much evidence to the contrary, no matter how valid the emergency, no matter how "Act of God" the situation may be; no matter that the victim could not possibly have predicted or prevented whatever tragedy they are suffering through, her main concern is her not being a sucker. It is, needless to say, very frustrating having to rely on her for pretty much anything. It has taken quite a few decades for me to get used to it; I finally accept it for what it is, although I don't have to like it and I don't have to let her run ragged over people in need.
This behavior sets off chains of events that are usually entirely preventable; events which she absolutely refuses to step in and prevent.
When he "reunited" with Marilyn, my uncle had been single for several years. He had lost his mobile home to flooding and had been forced into low-income senior housing, which was much, much nicer than any place he had lived for a long time. It was a modest, one-bedroom apartment in Dunlap. He lost his driver's license because of his increasingly poor eyesight and depth perception, but my mom finally bought him a riding mower that he could use not only to make some extra money mowing lawns but also to get around town.
At the time, he had a big-time crush on a lady that ran a local diner, Donna. He's never been good with money, so my mom was in charge of paying all his bills, using money from the trust. Because he grew up in town, everybody knew him and gave him reasonable lines of credit, knowing my mom would have the bills paid within the month.
But, see, my mom's sense of victimization kicked in, because why should SHE have to pay his bills every month. She came up with the brilliant plan of handing off this monumental responsibility to Donna, a business owner, but someone who had not lived in Dunlap all her life, and certainly someone she had no reason to trust. Unfortunately, Donna and her husband, Greg, stole more than $30,000 from Roger (we found out they took the payout from Bonnie's death).
Roger had long said that Donna and Greg had been stealing from him, but my mom said he was being paranoid. During our last visit to Iowa, before Marilyn destroyed his life, I got copies of all his bank records and looked through them and sure enough! They stole from him.
Marilyn Done Him Dirty
It was Bonnie's family that first sounded the alarm on Marilyn. They said she was manipulating him and they were afraid that she was going to steal all his money.
So we called Roger to see what was going on. He said that it was just amazing!! Out of the blue, he received a call from Marilyn, his long-lost love of many years ago! They met briefly, all the way back in the 1960s, at a carnival. He had messed up back then and wasn't going to let a prize like that get away again.
So, of course, a thousand red flags going up all over the place. Not only did he sound delusional, but the family that was there with him, the family that had put up with and been there for him for so many years were in a panic over this woman.
Oh, wait. Except no red flags for my mom. She said it was his business who he falls in love with, and we needed to leave him alone. She said he was finally happy and he could do what he wants. And then she shut down and wouldn't deal with it. I tried talking to him, but there was no talking to him. He didn't want to hear anyone's concerns. All he wanted was to be happy.
What, we didn't want him to be happy?
And while Donna and Greg were robbing Roger blind? Marilyn listened to every word about that money; she was the only one that took Roger's claims seriously. After all, he was talking about a lot of money. Marilyn was the one who took him to the lawyer in Omaha.
So I'd like to send out a big THANK YOU to Donna and Greg: Your deception touched off a wave of resentment that Roger should never have had. Your deception made it so much easier for Marilyn to swindle him out of every remaining dime. It was your deception that allowed her to secret him away from Dunlap, convincing him that no one there really cared about him, but rather that they were all making fun of him behind his back.
And he never even got his money back, because Marilyn pocketed nearly every dime of that payout.
We had just been sent to Fort Hood, and my mom came along to help out with the move (but mostly as a chance to travel). She started getting calls from Bonnie's kids, worried sick about Roger. They were also worried sick about his settlement money; they were deathly afraid "that woman" was going to steal all his money, money that should go to the family, not some hussy.
So the first order of business on Marilyn's agenda was making my uncle think everyone in town was against him. Not that they were taking care of him or watching out for him, but that they all thought he was stupid and couldn't do anything on his own. They were treating him like a baby and didn't really like him and were only being nice to him because he was a Dunham. Of course, none of that could be further from the truth, but I gotta admit: She was good. She had him believing all that nonsense, hook, line and sinker.
So now that she had him convinced that everyone hated him, she easily moved him out of a town he refused to leave for seven decades before that. Regardless of how much Bonnie begged, she couldn't get Roger to move away. Marilyn had him out of Dunlap in a few short months.
Of course, she wasn't doing this for love, she was doing it to keep herself out of trouble (from writing bad checks) and him destabilized, so she kept moving them from town to town, about every 3 months or so. And this was all while my uncle was sick with diabetes and even after he had a major heart attack. She ended up moving them into a rental trailer in Magnolia, Iowa, that was a downright dump. It wasn't quite as bad as their friends' house next door; she was obviously a hoarder and the walls in the kitchen were so thick with grease you could probably supply KFC for a month. Marilyn kept him drugged, isolated and unwashed. I told my mom we needed to help him, but she still wouldn't admit he needed help!
She did, however, still want to ditch the responsibility of paying his bills, so we went to talk to the lawyer that acted as Trustee on Roger's account. Here is what he told us: There was still a fair amount of money in the account, far too much to qualify for public assistance. He told us that we should pay off all Roger's debts and buy some necessities, like a pre-paid funeral plan, to pay down the account. He made it very clear that this money should not be used to buy things like cars or other luxury items they didn't need.
So we went back over to the trailer and my mom, first thing, told my uncle he should go buy car with the money left in the trust. I was almost too dumbfounded to talk, but overcame my surprise pretty quickly and corrected her. No, Uncle Roger, you can't buy a car with the money. Buy a pre-paid funeral plan and pay off all your bills. I left with a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when we returned to Colorado.
So he and Marilyn went out and bought pre-paid funeral plans. Oh, and a $35,000 truck. And put the title in only her name.
Then she picked up and moved them to Arkansas.
My mom and I got in a big fight over that. I asked how she could allow it. She basically said that was what he wanted and there was no talking to him about it. She made no attempt to tell him how incredibly stupid this whole thing was getting.
And here I am: Roger still thinks of me as a small child, and I hardly know any relatives or people out in Dunlap. And, after all, he is an adult and I was told he could do what he wants. I felt utterly powerless to help him.
Ignoring Problems Doesn't Make Them Go Away
It was about a year later, when my mom called me late at night to say we needed to drive to Arkansas right away to rescue my uncle. She used the word "rescue." She said Marilyn had run off with another guy and Roger had to get out of there immediately. He was in danger.
It was my turn to be livid. I didn't even have to say anything.
"I know, I know. DON'T SAY IT," my mom said on the other end of the line. "We have to leave in the morning."
We got there and things were much worse than we even imagined. She was no longer living at the house, so my uncle was coping the best he could. He was on a lot of prescription painkillers, couldn't remember when he had last taken his other meds for his heart condition or diabetes, was fat as a house and was covered with chew-colored spit. Because he couldn't get in and out of the bathtub on his own, he hadn't had a shower or bathed for about 9 months. He looked pale and downright awful.
There were soaked pet pads all over the house and the kitchen was a disgusting mess. We had to get him out of there right away but unfortunately also had to stay to deal with the disaster Marilyn had wrought around town.
She moved him out there and they immediately bought some of the most worthless land I have ever heard of. Three parcels of worthless land in a small town about 45 minutes outside of Little Rock in which neither land nor houses were in any demand whatsoever. Never mind that there were very strict stipulations of what could be placed on the land (most specifically: no trailers whatsoever at all). They plopped down a whopping $30,000 for three parcels that were appraised at about a third of that price. And that $9,000 was a very generous appraisal. Oh, yeah. And they thought the realtor was joking when she said "no trailers."
Then Marilyn started running out of money. Her social security check wasn't enough, so she started stealing my uncle's social security check. And THEN, when that money ran out, she just threw all caution to the wind and started writing bad checks from their joint account to anyone still dumb enough to take them.
Trying to close that bank account was more fun than I've had in a long time. Forget that I found warrants in the house for her writing bad checks before; how she was not on some sort of "bad check writer person" list in town, I do not know. All I know is that closing an account when businesses keep presenting checks to the bank for approval is a drawn-out and nerve-wracking process that can take several days.
The first day, you go in and try to close the account, or at least remove your name. If the account is empty (or, in my uncle's case, owing, so that my mom had to pay them money just to get the balance to $0) and there are checks waiting in the chute, all you can do is wait for that negative balance to appear. If the balance stays at zero for two days, they'll close the account. So for two days, you pray that Marilyn doesn't write any more bad checks.
Before we left, Marilyn had the audacity to show up at the house. She put on her best victim face, but I wasn't buying it. I yelled and screamed at her. And she knew better than to call the police for ANYTHING.
But there was my uncle. She was living with another man, and here he was, defending her. Like it wasn't her fault she'd been stealing from him these last three years. She drove the truck my uncle bought her and put in her name to the other guy's house, and my uncle still wanted to forgive her! He was horrified that I was yelling at his beloved. How could I not forgive her?
Rationally, he knew he had to leave, but there was still that tiny glimmer of hope that she might come back home and everything would be okay.
But why would she come back? All the money was gone. All told, with the truck and the land and everything, she took about $150,000 from him.
We brought my uncle back to Colorado for a time. He was miserable, living with my mother, but I think that was the best thing. When he couldn't put up with her any more, we took him out to the Assisted Living place in Dunlap. He seems happy there, and they won't let Marilyn anywhere near him.
We've heard rumors that Marilyn was arrested for prostitution. She avoided selling the land (yes, her name was also on the deed) until we made it very clear that if she allowed my uncle to be destitute (he couldn't get public assistance if he owned real estate), we would take swift and serious measures to make sure she understood how much she had messed up.
A couple years ago, she put up the truck as bond for her boyfriend; he skipped bail and she lost it.
Unfortunately, we couldn't charge her with elder abuse unless we stayed in Arkansas. Anyway, my uncle would never have testified against her; it took him a long time to see how badly she had taken advantage of him, not that she was just misunderstood.
He is doing pretty well now, although he does have a lot of health problems. They say that people learn from hardship, but I'm not sure what he was supposed to learn from so awful an experience.
But my mom feels like a real hero, and I guess that's all that matters, right?