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Phoenix News – As Helpless As Children

Phoenix New Times
by Paul Rubin

“His response was that he was going to cease practicing law,” Holmes recalls, “because he wanted the SOBs to pay him every dime he could get from them.”
A few months after Legg resigned, he found himself embroiled in a new fight with his old firm. It concerned the estate of Mona Van Volkenburgh, a Legg-Mackey client who had lived at the Contessa House before her death in March 1990 at the age of 94.

In August 1992, Philip Holmes told Wilford Taylor that Legg had taken property belonging to the wards–a fancy barbecue grill, a flagpole and other items–from the Contessa House to Kentucky.

That sounded like theft to Douglas Cook. But Cook didn’t call the police. Instead, he sent a terse letter to Legg demanding the return of the items. Legg soon wrote back, noting that Mona Van Volkenburgh had named Webber Mackey sole heir to her estate in a will approved by Commissioner Yancey. Legg said that meant Mackey now owned the grill.

The startling revelation led Legg’s former law partners to pore over the Van Volkenburgh case, they say, for the first time. What partner Charles Wirkin learned, he says, “made it very clear to us that Wayne had been ripping this person off.”

Back in 1979, Legg had drawn up a will for Van Volkenburgh, a retired railroad-company stenographer from Mississippi. In the will, Van Volkenburgh left much of her estate to a friend from Ohio, Sam Maxwell Sr. She also nominated Maxwell as her estate’s executor.

Years passed, and Van Volkenburgh suffered the ravages of old age. In late 1987, a court-appointed doctor reported that “most of the time, she is confused, is unable to make any decision and unable to take care of her affairs.”

That led the Probate Court to appoint Webber Mackey as her guardian-conservator. In August 1989, Wayne Legg drew up a new will for Van Volkenburgh. In it, she disinherited Maxwell in favor of Mackey, to whom she left her entire, $45,000 estate (minus a few personal items) and nominated him as executor.

The new will ordered Mackey to use “whatever assets I may have remaining at the time of my demise . . . for the benefit and care of my friends living at the [Contessa House].”

What’s especially baffling about the document is that someone cut off the bottom part of the new will’s last page–the place where two witnesses attest that they saw the person sign the document. That should have rendered the will illegal.

But on April 25, 1990–seven weeks after Mona Van Volkenburgh died at the Contessa House–Commissioner Yancey ruled the second will valid. That day, court records show, Webber Mackey wrote two checks to himself on the Van Volkenburgh estate, each in the amount of $17,500.

Legg and Mackey had no intention of using the money for the “benefit and care” of Van Volkenburgh’s peers at the Contessa House.

Someone, most likely Wayne Legg, instead deposited the two checks at a bank in Greensburg, Kentucky. Legg endorsed both checks and, an examination of his calendar shows, was in Kentucky at that time.

The People’s Bank and Trust Company in Kentucky then issued two certificates of deposit in the names of “Webber Mackey (personal representative) or Wayne E. Legg.”

On September 9, 1992, then-presiding Probate Court Judge Morris Rozar appointed Phoenix attorney Michael Strauber to investigate many of the Legg-Mackey probate cases, including the Van Volkenburgh estate.

Five days later, Killian firm attorney Charles Wirkin asked the Probate Court to reject the second Van Volkenburgh will, because it “may have been obtained through fraud. . . .”

On October 23, 1992, Webber Mackey sent a check for $42,350 to the Maricopa County Clerk of the Court. Mackey’s lawyer says the amount covered the amount his client had received from the Van Volkenburgh estate, plus interest.

The work by Strauber, attorneys Jeffrey Miller and Alisa Gray, county Public Fiduciary investigator John Hardy and others has led in recent months to a series of legal petitions against Webber Mackey and the companies that bonded him.

As for Wayne Legg, he hasn’t slipped away quietly into the night, either. Earlier this year, he was involved in yet another remarkable incident involving an elderly woman and a large estate.

@sub:Ellen Davis
@body:Ellen Davis’ life hadn’t been cushy before she hooked up in the early 1970s with Earl Davis. An emigrant from Denmark, she had moved to the northern Montana town of Cut Bank in 1951.

She outlived her first two husbands, both good men who left her little in the way of assets. After her second husband died, she lived for years in a shack without running water or indoor plumbing. She had two stepdaughters from one of her previous marriages.

In 1953, the tall, slender woman met neighbors Joanne and Glenn Lindberg, who lived about a mile down the road, on their own wheat and barley farm. The three became lifelong friends.

“Ellen learned how to pinch a penny out of necessity,” Joanne Lindberg tells New Times. “Even after she met Earl and had some money for the first time, she stayed very, very tight in that way.”
Earl Davis was a wealthy widower who had homes and property in Montana and Arizona. The elderly couple spent their winters in Mesa and their summers in Montana, a practice Ellen Davis continued after Earl died in 1987.

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