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to be set aside by the Northern Trust Company out of the trust estate. This settlement was confirmed by decree of the Circuit Court of Cook County, in a suit filed by the Northern Trust Company as trustee, asking authority to make the settlement, to which suit Mrs. King was a defendant. Thereupon Mrs. King was paid $600,000, and her trust fund of $400,000 was set aside. Administration of Mr. King's estate was duly closed, the residuary estate delivered over to the Northern Trust Company and the administrator discharged.
The Northern Trust Company thereupon proceeded to carry out and administer its trust. In 1909 it purchased land for the James C. King Home for Old Men, and paid over to the charitable corporation, organized under the directions of the will with Byron L. Smith as its first president, about $400,000, with which a building was constructed. In 1911 the home was opened.
Apparently, the matter of the Estate of James C. King, deceased, was closed, undramatically, and no more unusual than the ordinary estate of any wealthy decedent. The will containing the last wishes of James C. King for the disposal of his estate, having been fully executed, gathered dust with the files of thousands of other estates which had passed through the Probate Court of this county. The James C. King Home for Old Men, by means of the income received by it from the trust estate, offered a haven where indigent gentlemen might spend their remaining days in comfort and security, freed from the anxieties of an uncertain future. Mrs. King, with her sister, Mrs. Melvin, started in to spend the $20,000 annuity and the $600,000 which she received under the settlement, living the life of a wealthy, attractive widow. In Europe she acquired another husband, whom she soon divorced. Later she became the victim of a notorious English swindler and blackmailer.
And so a decade passed. And with it the lives of two participants in the preceding events, through whose purported signatures it was later sought to give credence to a fantastic tale, and whose sealed lips could no longer belie the execution of an instrument which their names appeared to attest. Byron L. Smith, president of the Northern Trust Company, died in 1914, an honored member of the community. Dr. Addison S. Melvin, husband of Mrs. King's sister, and for many years a respected resident of Oak Park, died in 1909.
So it was that the probated will of James C. King was almost forgotten, when for the first time did the Northern Trust Company, or anyone connected with it, hear from any source whatsoever any intimation, suggestion or claim that James C. King had left a will bearing later date than his probated will. Early in July, 1917, one William D. Gubbins, King's former secretary and confidential employee, informed the Northern Trust Company that he had just been shown a document by one Gaston B. Means, which was represented to be a will of James C. King later than the one which had been probated, and which purported to leave the bulk of his estate to Mrs. King. A few days later, Gaston B. Means communicated with the Northern Trust Company, and the next day produced a paper represented to be a will of James C. King, dated October 9, 1905.
That instrument purported to bear the signatures of Mary C. Melvin, Addison S. Melvin and Byron L. Smith, as attesting witnesses. It provided the same specific bequests as King's probated will, except in two particulars. By the probated will, Gubbins received $50,000, and Mr. Smith's secretary, who served Mr. King in that capacity during his later years in Chicago, was bequeathed $2,000. The instrument produced by Means increased these bequests to $100,000 and $10,000, respectively. The significance of these differences will later appear. Furthermore, that purported will made no provision for the creation of any charity, but made Mrs. King the residuary beneficiary, and named her as executrix, "with the suggestion that she request to act with her the Union Trust Company of Chicago, Illinois, or the Merchants Loan & Trust Company of Chicago, Illinois, or both."
The instrument was immediately repudiated as a forgery. Thereupon, Means departed, taking the paper with him. Nothing more was heard of the matter until a few weeks later, when the newspapers of August 30, 1917, brought news of the death of Mrs. King at Concord, N. C., from a revolver shot. Subsequently Means was indicted for the murder of Mrs. King, was tried and acquitted.
Immediately after Mrs. King's death, the district attorney of New York instituted a grand jury investigation to ascertain whether the crime of conspiracy had been committed in that jurisdiction. During that investigation he obtained possession of Means's files and papers located in his apartment in New York City. Later these documents were brought to Chicago and furnished many exhibits which were used upon the trials of the will case, showing the astonishing activities of this man.
The instrument which Means had produced at the Northern Trust Company was discovered in the hands of his New York attorney, Carl Schurz, and after the trial of Means for murder in North Carolina, was sent to Chicago by the district attorney of New York and filed with the clerk of the Probate Court of Cook County on December 27, 1917.
Under the terms of the will left by Mrs. King, her sister, Mary C. Melvin, was named as residuary legatee and executrix. In the will contest that followed, Mrs. Melvin was the proponent of the alleged will of James C. King, dated October 9, 1905, by reason of this testamentary succession to Mrs. King's estate.
On February 5, 1918, the attorney general of Illinois filed a petition in the Probate Court of Cook County, representing that the alleged will of October 9, 1905, then on file in the Probate Court, was a forgery, but nevertheless threatened and impaired the administration of the charity which had been created by King's probated will, and asked that its validity be determined. After the hearing on that petition had actually commenced, and only then did the sponsor of the alleged will of 1905 become its active proponent. Then, on March 26, 1918, Mrs. Melvin filed her petition as the residuary beneficiary under Mrs. King's will, asking that the prior probate of the 1901 will and codicil be set aside, and that the alleged will of 1905 be admitted to probate. All of the sub
. sequent proceedings were upon Mrs. Melvin's petition, that of the attorney general of Illinois becoming functus officio. The Northern Trust Company, as trustee under the will of 1901, and the James C. King Home for Old Men appeared as respondents, opposing admission to probate of the disputed will.
The hearing extended throughout the summer of 1918. On December 27, 1919, Judge Henry Horner entered an order finding that the alleged will of 1905 was a forgery and denying it to probate. From that order, Mrs. Melvin appealed to the Circuit Court, where a trial de novo was had under Sec. 14 of the Wills Act. There the cause was heard by Judge Baldwin without a jury. That trial lasted throughout the summer of 1920, during which fifty-five witnesses were examined, and a number of depositions read, nearly 10,000 typewritten pages of testimony being taken. Judge Baldwin, on December 10, 1920, affirmed the decision of the Probate Court. On writ of error, the cause was taken directly to the Supreme Court, where the judgment of the Circuit Court was recently affirmed.?
1. Trial by jury is not permitted in a statutory appeal from the Probate Court. Moody v. Found 208 Ill. 78.
2. In re Estate of James C. King 310 III. 90.
And now let us hear the remarkable story of the execution and discovery of this “foundling” will, as told by its sponsors. Mrs. Melvin, the only living attesting witness thereto and its proponent, told of its execution. She testified that on October 9, 1905, the typewritten date that it bears, Mr. King called them to his room, read the will, and signed it in the presence of Mrs. King, Mrs. Melvin, and her husband, Dr. Melvin; that Mrs. Melvin and her husband signed it as witnesses, and Mr. King then said Mr. Smith was out of the city, but that on his return he was going to have him sign it as an additional witness, saying, “This will be a big surprise for Byron." Later, at Mrs. Melvin's telephoned request, Mr. Smith came to the house, when Mr. King again read the will to Mrs. King, Mrs. Melvin and her husband, and to Mr. Smith. At Mr. King's request, Mr. Smith "went right over and signed it immediately," without comment or hesitation.
Mrs. Melvin never saw the will again until its production by Means, ten years later. No search was made for it after Mr. King's death, either by Mrs. King or herself, either before the funeral or after, according to Mrs. Melvin's story. Furthermore, she would have it believed that in spite of the fact that both she and Mrs. King knew of the execution of the will leaving a three million dollar estate to the widow, nothing was said about it by either of them at the time the 1901 will was read in the vaults of the Northern Trust Company. Mrs. King's attorney testified that such later will, likewise, was not mentioned to him, although he asked Mrs. King and Mrs. Melvin specifically whether they were satisfied that the will they had just heard read was Mr. King's last will, to which they replied in the affirmative. Furthermore, during the protracted negotiations with the Northern Trust Company for a settlement of the controversy over the ante-nuptial contract, in which Dr. Melvin also participated, nothing was said by any of them concerning any other will than the one which had been filed for probate.
Mrs. Melvin and Means knew, of course, that this silence stood as a conclusive circumstance to discredit their story. Anticipating
. the query of an explanation for such incredible silence, Mrs. Melvin testified that Mr. Smith had told Mrs. King on the day of the funeral that he had seen Mr. King destroy the will the night before he died. Mrs. Melvin had heard no such statement from Mr. Smith, but testified that Mrs. King had repeated it to her. Although it was conclusively shown, and not denied by Mrs. Melvin, that Mr. King during the last three days of his illness was in a state of coma, and although Mrs. Melvin testified that at this time Mrs. King was distrustful of Mr. Smith, nevertheless this purely hearsay statement was later argued in the Supreme Court as proof of the fraud, deceit or mistake, the establishment of which was necessary to secure the revocation of the probate of the will of 1901.
Gaston B. Means testified to the discovery of the disputed will. He was not only a major witness, but throughout the proceedings appeared as the dominant, active supporter of the will, rounding up witnesses and interviewing them at length, to such an extent that hardly a witness appeared on behalf of the will but who testified that he appeared at Means's instigation, and came to the witness stand hot from his hands.
In July, 1914, Means left his work in Chicago as salesman for a southern cotton mill, and became employed by Captain Boy-Ed and other Germans in New York in activities on behalf of the German government. In the fall of that year he became connected with the Burns Detective Agency, continuing his work as a German agent.
Shortly thereafter, while acting as a Burns operative, he was employed by Mrs. King's mother and sister to break up the asso ciation between Mrs. King and an English adventurer. According to his testimony, Means came into Mrs. King's confidence to such an extent that she advised with him concerning her divorce from her then husband, Dr. Chance, and upon financial matters.
Next he appears to have made settlements of controversies instituted by him in her behalf against a Joliet trust company, which had been handling her affairs. These settlements were made on the basis of an equal division between himself and Mrs. King, when at the same time she was paying the Burns Detective Agency $100 a day for his services.
Means testified that in August, 1915, Mrs. Melvin turned over to him, in New York, a tin box belonging to Mrs. King, containing papers connected with her business affairs which Means desired to examine. On opening the box, he claimed to have found, among other papers, the alleged will of October 9, 1905. He said nothing about it until a few weeks later, when, after bringing it to Chicago, he showed it to Mrs. King and Mrs. Melvin at the La Salle Hotel. Thereupon, they both became tremendously excited, but finally cooled down and related to him the circumstances of its execution. He told them to say nothing about it, and that it would be necessary for him to proceed with an "investigation" to verify the instrument.
Accordingly, Means testified that for the next two years he was occupied in such "investigation"-admittedly under an "expense