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Monday October 26th 2020

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Bartered Health Care Fails in court

George Strebel died from heart disease on October 21, 1916. His body was held in the cemetery’s vault for eight months, then buried, only to be exhumed shortly after for identification by sisters from whom he had severed all ties decades earlier. He is buried to the left of the small obelisk.

by Sue Hunter Weir

A word of warning—don’t write your last will and testament on wallpaper and expect it to stand up in court. That’s especially true if you don’t want your relatives to inherit your money. George Strebel may (or may not) have done just that, and it led to what the Minneapolis Tribune called “one of the most unusual inheritance cases ever brought into the Hennepin County Courts.”

George Strebel died from heart disease on October 21, 1916. For the next eight months, his body was held in the cemetery’s vault while county officials attempted to locate his relatives. After eight months of fruitless searching, he was finally buried in Layman’s Cemetery. Shortly afterward, two women, who claimed to be Strebel’s sisters, came forward. His body was exhumed and the two sisters identified Strebel’s remains by a malformation of one of his hands. Neither of the women had seen their brother in over 30 years. Ironically, he had severed all ties with his family over what he believed to be an unfair division of his family’s property.

For the last six years of his life, Strebel had lived at the Pacific Hotel, which was located at 226 Washington Avenue North. He was in poor health much of that time and was cared for by the hotel’s staff who he regarded as being his real family. He developed his own unique method of getting the health care that he needed–he promised those who cared for him that they would be his heirs. Unfortunately, he did it in a series of wills, naming first one person, then another. A handful of those wills survived and became evidence in probate court. If there was one thing that those who worked in the hotel agreed on, however, it was that Strebel didn’t want his family to inherit his $6,000.

Randi Thorshaug, a domestic at the hotel, had a will indicating that Strebel had left his money to her because she cared for him during one of his illnesses; her will was declared invalid because only one witness had signed it. Nora Wilson, known as “Dolly,” claimed that there had been a will naming her as Strebel’s heir but that one of the hotel’s other staff had accidentally destroyed it. A third will, written on wallpaper, also named Dolly as Strebel’s beneficiary. The family claimed that the wallpaper will, called the “Dolly Will” by the press, was a forgery.

The case went to the probate court to be resolved. F. E. Utecht, a teller at Strebel’s bank, was called as a handwriting expert. Nora “Dolly” Wilson was required to write out a copy of the will in court and Utecht compared her handwriting with Strebel’s signature on various bank documents. He testified that the handwriting on the will found at the hotel and the copy produced by Dolly were virtually identical. Strebel’s signature on the will that Dolly produced was written in a steady hand, similar to a six-year-old signature in Strebel’s Bible that was in Dolly’s possession. In later years, Strebel’s signature had become shakey, and none of that shakiness was evident on Dolly’s copy of the will. Dolly’s attorney challenged the idea that“shakiness” should be the deciding factor in the case. What was clear is that there wasn’t any will that named Strebel’s family as heirs. The judge stopped short of declaring the wallpaper will a forgery but decided to treat the case as though Strebel had died intestate. Strebel’s small fortune was to be divided among 18 blood relatives. Dolly and her attorneys appealed the case to the District Court, but they upheld the Probate Court’s decision.

George Strebel is buried in Lot 44, Block B at Layman’s Cemetery. Despite the fact that he left behind a substantial amount of money, his grave was never marked.

Fence Update: If you’ve driven down Lake Street in the past few weeks, you’ll see that the Lake Street gates and four sections of fence have been reinstalled. It’s not hard to spot them—they’re green, not rust colored. The Cedar Avenue gates will be reinstalled shortly (they may already be back by the time that you read this). Thanks to all of you who have made this restoration possible. There are still plenty of pickets that need to be adopted. The cost of a picket is $30.00 (tax deductible). Donations may be sent to Friends of the Cemetery, P. O. Box 7345, Minneapolis, MN 55407 or made via Paypal at www.friendsofthecemetery.org. Again, thanks to all of you who have helped make this happen.

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