For those interested in the Edwards fortune, this article is worth reading.Personally I am skeptical of the whole Edwards fortune thing, but I suppose anything is possible.
11/1/1995 - Archive
November/December 1995 Vol. 13 No. 6
The Hall-Edwards Estate: Fact or Fiction?
– Delbert Hahn
Are you an heir of Robert Edwards? Do you believe there is a Hall-Edwards estate consisting of property in downtown Manhattan plus a substantial trust account—some say as much as $24 billion—in which you are entitled to share?
Perhaps part of the interest which those of us who are passionate about genealogy share with the general public is the possibility of receiving distinction, notoriety, or — probably most alluring of all—wealth through our ancestors. The legend of the Hall-Edwards estate has appealed to this interest, attracting the unscrupulous and the unwary for decades. If you believe such an estate exists, read further before you invest money in pursuit of a claim.
The story of the Hall—Edwards estate has been circulating for so many years that it has become an "urban legend." The property comprising the estate is generally claimed to consist of some 77 acres of prime Manhattan real estate. Situated on the property are such New York City landmarks as Trinity Church, the Woolworth Building, the World Trade Center, New York University, and Washington Square Park. Ownership is alleged to attach to land once owned by Thomas Hall, Thomas Edwards, or Robert Edwards, depending on which version of the story one hears. The property is said to have originally been leased for a period of 99 years. The supposed lease, which would have expired in 1877, provided that the property was to be divided among heirs, this division never having taken place because Trinity Church stole the land from the legitimate heirs—so the story goes.
Illustrative of the durability and pervasiveness of the Hall-Edwards estate legend is the existence of a group calling itself the Pennsylvania Association of Edwards Heirs. This group was the topic of an article by Michael deCoury Hinds which appeared in the January 1, 1994 edition of The New York Times. The association was formed in 1983 by the "heirs" of the estate of Robert Edwards for the purpose of investigating an allegedly unsettled estate consisting of valuable property in New York City and possibly cash holdings in financial institutions, also in New York City. The membership consists of 3,260 people in 32 states, each of whom paid a $450 membership fee. The group is steadfastly pursuing and investigating claims of "ownership by birthright" to 77 acres of property in lower Manhattan. The president of the association is a retired leather worker named Cleoma R. Foore, who believes that they "can band together to force history to be changed." The claim being pursued by the association arises from the fabled Hall-Edwards estate—essentially the same story that has circulated for many years.
Six former officers of the Pennsylvania Association of Edwards Heirs, together with the association’s former CPA firm and a bank, have become embroiled in a civil lawsuit filed in December 1993 by Greensburg, Pennsylvania, attorney John P. Smarto, who represents Mrs. Foore and the association members. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania under the provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute of the United States Code. The RICO law seeks to punish "a pattern of racketeering activity." (RICO allows an injured party to bring a civil suit to recover treble damages from the guilty party.)
The suit contends that the defendants schemed to defraud the association’s membership by promising to use the membership fees to "research and develop information, hire genealogical experts, attorneys, and others in an attempt to uncover evidence and make eventual claims against certain unsettled estate in the State of New York, on behalf of the individual members who all claim to be descendants of Robert Edwards." The petition alleges that defendants David Paul Rightenour, Douglas Wayne Edwards, and Dudley Carol Edwards "represented to current and prospective members or heirs, that Robert Edwards, who died in 1762, owned approximately 77 acres of property in lower Manhattan, which was left to his heirs at law and that there existed a trust fund in the Chase Manhattan Bank worth over $24 billion dollars, which members of the Association could claim." The RICO suit claims that between 1984 and 1988, $1,467,000.00 was raised from individual members. Of this amount, "massive amounts" are alleged to have been "misappropriated" and hundreds of thousands of dollars embezzled.
Is there a Hall-Edwards estate? From the viewpoint of Trinity Church officials, there is not now and never has been such an estate. If you were to communicate a claim of being a Hall-Edwards heir to officials of Trinity Church, chances are you would receive in response a three-page letter explaining the history of the claim and refuting it. The letter explains that the claim of heirship attaches to property in lower Manhattan once owned by Thomas Hall, who was a settler in what was then New Amsterdam and who achieved some success as a real estate speculator and as a brewer. Hall’s property, according to heirs, was said to be within the boundaries of the farm land given to Trinity Church "outright and in fee" in 1705 by England’s Queen Anne. This farm land was known as the Church Farm. Many alleged heirs claim that Hall died intestate in 1669 (some say 1670) and that his property passed to his daughter, who married Thomas Edwards. At the death of the daughter, the property passed to her husband and at his death to their son, Robert Edwards.
What is actually known about Thomas Hall? He was an Englishman by birth who had been taken prisoner by the Dutch. After being released he became a permanent resident of New York City and the proprietor of a farm and a brewery near present—day Beekman Street. After his death in 1670, his property was purchased by William Beekman.1 A copy of Thomas Hall’s will is among the William Beekman family papers contained in the Manuscript Collection of the New York Historical Society in New York City. In his will, dated August 9, 1669, Hall left "all his remaining goods, moveable and immovable . . . nothing accepted" to his widow, Anna Medford Hall, "his sole and universal heir."
Records of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in the City of New York record the marriage of Thomas Hall to Anna Medford, widow of Willem Cuyck, on November 14, 1641. Baptismal records of the church from the time of marriage until his death contain no record of a Hall offspring being baptized and no identifiable marriage records for any children of Thomas and Anna Hall. The farm became Anna Hall’s property after the death of her husband and was sold the following year to William Beekman. A transcript of the deed conveying the Hall brewery and farm from Anna Medford Hall to William Beekman is on record.2
The letter from Trinity Church officials would point out that Trinity Church was not in existence in 1669 or 1670, the time of Thomas Hall’s death. The church did not receive a charter until May 6, 1697. Therefore, if Thomas Edwards or Robert Edwards or any of their heirs existed, the time for them to claim their inheritance would have been on or after May 6, 1697.
In 1933, a number of British subjects residing in England, Canada, and New Zealand, claiming to be the heirs of Thomas Hall, filed suit in Federal Court for the Southern District of New York against Trinity Church and the rector, wardens, and vestrymen.3They attempted to establish title to the land on the theory that the church had had possession of the land for more than 100 years but had no title and was therefore a constructive trustee for the plaintiffs—who had title as heirs and descendants of Thomas Hall. They sought a decree that they were owners of the land and that the church was a mere trustee for them, and that there be an accounting of rents and profits.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs could get no relief in equity because they were guilty of laches. (The doctrine of laches says that a court of equity will not act when there is delay and idleness on the part of a complainant in enforcing a right against an adversary. The doctrine of laches was adopted largely because after great lapse of time, death of witnesses, loss of papers, or other causes there can no longer be a certain and infallible determination of the issues of a controversy.) The court took note of the enormous increase in value of the property in the face of the fact that neither the plaintiffs nor their predecessors had taken any action to assert any rights against the church for more than a century, during which time it had been in open possession of Trinity Church under claim of title.
The decision was appealed in the district court, but in 1935 the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.4
Over the years, Trinity Church has successfully defended all claims of ownership made against its premises. In at least five cases, suits brought by Hall-Edwards heirs against Trinity Church were dismissed as not being permitted by the statute of limitations or by the doctrine of laches. Interestingly, the Pennsylvania Association of Edwards Heirs’ lawyer, Mr. Smarto, has found that the New York Legislature concluded in 185 that Trinity Church did not own the lands that it occupied and could not prove it had title to the property. In 1950, Representative Van Duzer introduced legislation that would carry out the 1785 findings of the legislature. This bill was to mandate a committee to examine the title to lands in New York City claimed by Trinity Church. The legislation never made it out of the Ways and Means Committee, however. The Trinity Church letter to prospective heirs concludes by noting that purported facts, events, and documents developed by alleged heirs and offered to support their claims have proved to be concoctions and forgeries.
Hinds’ New York Times article quotes Kenneth Mills, a spokesman for Chase Manhattan Bank. Mills denies the existence of any account established for the benefit of Edwards heirs. He points out that Edwards’ death would have been approximately 19 years before the Chase Manhattan Bank was founded. Mills called it "preposterous on its face" that the Edwards family had $27 billion in the bank, which has $40 billion in American deposits.
From time to time over the years, federal authorities have prosecuted individuals for activities they engaged in while attempting to establish the existence of the Hall-Edwards estate. Mail fraud and wire fraud statutes have been the usual basis of prosecution. A mail fraud or wire fraud offense is marked by the existence of a scheme or artifice to defraud or to obtain money by means of false or fraudulent representations, promises, or pretenses. In most instances where federal prosecutions have been brought, at the core of the scheme have been false representations that a substantial bank account is in existence for the benefit of the heirs or that Trinity Church or the Queen of England has agreed to settle estate claims. Perpetrators of the fraud also usually have permitted non-heirs to participate in the estate by putting up a portion of the necessary "legal expenses" in return for a share of the estate or by paying the expenses for a purported heir who can’t afford them.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, during 1966 and 1967, Velma Josephine Wilson and William Chester Carr were investigated by the FBI and indicted by a federal grand jury for mail fraud and wire fraud as a result of their activities with the Hall-Edwards estate. They subsequently pled guilty and were jailed for five years. Wilson had claimed to be a genealogist who was working as an agent for Edwards’ heirs. The pair claimed there were millions of dollars on deposit in a Federal Reserve Bank for the benefit of the heirs, put there in part by Trinity Church officials. Wilson went so far as to travel to England, claiming she had met with Queen Elizabeth and had settled the estate. Wilson and Carr permitted non-heirs to share in the estate by allowing them to invest cash for legal expenses in exchange for a share in the estate (see "False Heirs: The Hall-Edwards Estate Fraud," Ancestry, Vol. 12 No. 1).
If Carr and Wilson had elected to stand trial, federal prosecutors would have produced a representative from Trinity Church to testify that it had never and would never agree to settle any claims made by alleged Edwards heirs. There would also have been testimony from British authorities that the Queen of England had never met with Wilson and had not and never would recognize any Edwards estate claims.
Despite the truly illusory nature of the estate and its assets, FBI investigative activities are viewed with suspicion by many who believe themselves heirs to the Halls-Edwards estate. Velma Wilson was reported to be warning prospective heirs not to talk to the FBI because the agency was attempting to thwart a settlement. During the Wilson investigation, an Independence, Missouri, "heir" expressed the opinion to FBI agents that the FBI investigation had been instigated by someone seeking to delay or impede settlement of the estate.
The Halls-Edwards Estate is a myth that has enabled all manner of charlatans to bilk thousands of would-be heirs out of substantial sums of money. The gullibility of some people has contributed to much of the con artists’ success. Others have allowed themselves to be blinded by greed and the prospects of getting a great return on a small investment. The evidence is that Thomas Hall died childless. This fact invalidates claims of heirship through despondance from that gentleman. Documentation to prove this fact is available, and it is a waste of money for supposed heirs to hire genealogists, private investigators, and lawyers to search for genealogical information.
Still believe that the Hall-Edwards estate exists? Consider this: During the more than 250 years that Trinity Church has been in possession of its Manhattan real estate, there has never been a successful attack on the church’s right and title to the property. During this time, no group or individual claiming to be an Edwards heir has obtained the first dollar in settlement or been able to prove the existence of any trust fund for the benefit of Hall-Edwards heirs in Chase Manhattan Bank, a federal reserve bank, or any other banking institution.
Genealogists and Unclaimed Legacies
A little-known aspect of genealogy is the search for the inheritors of "unclaimed legacies." Banks, courts, law firms, and heir tracers hire genealogists to track individuals and families through old city directories and newspapers, census, court, and religious records, and through modern sources, such as the Social Security Index and motor vehicle license registrations.
Unclaimed legacies—legitimate yet unclaimed treasures estimated to be worth more than $50 billion—lie in major U.S. bank accounts opened by people who have died or vanished. Unclaimed legacies include savings and checking accounts, insurance benefits, stocks, government bonds, real estate, uncashed dividends, and safe deposit box contents, among other assets. (Financial assets which have had no activity for seven years, such as deposits, withdrawals, or interest posted, are considered unclaimed.)
Banks, probate courts, savings and loan associations, credit unions, currency exchanges, insurance companies, utilities, business associations, and public bodies that hold these assets must, by law, make every effort to locate the heirs to these legacies. Most heirs do not know that they are due an inheritance. Often, it is impossible to find the asset owners or heirs. In those cases, the name and last known address of the owner are reported to the state’s department of financial institutions. The unclaimed assets are published in newspapers throughout the state, and owners seeing their names are referred to the institution(s) holding their property. Assets not claimed within 85 days (in most states) after publication revert to the state—a lucrative source of state income. Unclaimed probates revert to the state when heirs are not found, but most states have laws demanding that every heir to an estate be found.
While this article highlights a myth which at times assumes the proportions of an outrageously fraudulent scheme peopled by con artists and unfortunate victims, most inheritance finders (companies) are completely honest and aboveboard. Many professional genealogists make most of their income working on a per-hour basis for inheritance companies.
1. David T. Valentine, Manual of the Common Council of the City of New York for 1865, 444-47.
2. Isaac Newton Feels Stokes, Iconography of Manhattan Island, vol. 1, p. 78.
3. Edwin W. Edwards et al. verses Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity Church in the City of New York. 5 Fed. Supp. 335 (1933).
4. Edwards et al. verses Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity Church in the City of New York. 77 Fed. 2nd 884 (1935).
Delbert W. Hahn retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a twenty-two year career as a special agent. He is currently self-employed as a private investigator. His genealogical activities have focused on a great-great-grandfather Hahn's arrival in the United States from Germany and his subsequent service in the Union Army with the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry.