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In Re Estate of Morrison

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 30, 1981.

IN RE ESTATE OF E.W. MORRISON, DECEASED. — (GAITHER COLLIER, INDIV. AND AS ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF E.W. MORRISON, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,

v.

EDWARD ROSEWELL, COOK COUNTY TREASURER, ET AL., RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS — (E.W. MORRISON, RESPONDENT).)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRANK R. PETRONE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Edward J. Rosewell, as county treasurer of Cook County, and the County of Cook by Bernard Carey, State's Attorney of Cook County, appeal from an order of the circuit court, probate division, finding E.W. Morrison to be presumed dead as of January 1, 1937, and granting letters of administration to Gaither Collier. The petition for letters of administration upon the presumption of death alleged that E.W. Morrison's last known residence was 145 1/2 East Iowa, Memphis, Tennessee, where he lived in 1929; that attempts were made to locate him there; that diligent inquiry had been made at his last known address and elsewhere without obtaining information indicating that he was alive; that since 1929 Morrison has not communicated with those with whom he would naturally communicate, if alive; and that he has not been seen or heard from since that time. The petition further alleged that E.W. Morrison inherited a share of the estate of one Nettie Stevenson who died on February 19, 1971.

Stevenson left an estate which included a parcel of real estate and some cash. The cash Morrison was entitled to receive was deposited with the treasurer of Cook County "for the use and benefit of E.W. Morrison," where it remains. The title to the real estate vested by operation of law in Morrison.

Appellants Rosewell and the County of Cook contend that the evidence presented to the trial court was insufficient to give rise to a presumption of death. Appellee's evidence in the trial court consisted of the testimony of two witnesses, Gaither Collier and Leo Armstrong. Gaither Collier's testimony follows. E.W. Morrison was the uncle of her deceased husband, Warner Collier, and more specifically, her husband's mother's brother. Warner and Gaither were married on February 29, 1932, and she had known Warner approximately six or seven years before they were married. Warner died on August 2, 1972. To the best of the witness' knowledge, Morrison's only living relatives at the time of the marriage were her husband, a nephew; Adelia Bland, a sister; and Nettie Stevenson, Adelia's daughter.

Gaither Collier only met with Morrison twice, and both meetings occurred in 1929. The first meeting was in the town where she lived, Earle, Arkansas. The second meeting occurred in June or July of 1929 at Morrison's residence at 145 1/2 East Iowa in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis, Tennessee, is approximately 30 miles from Earle, Arkansas. She and Warner parked in front of his home, and Morrison came out and spoke with them. They did not enter the house. Morrison appeared to be ill, and when asked about his health, he said he had been ill. At the end of the day Gaither returned to her home. She never saw Morrison after this meeting.

Morrison never communicated with Gaither Collier subsequent to this last meeting, and she never tried to communicate with him after that time. Furthermore, she never saw or heard her husband communicate with Morrison after the second meeting. After that time, she never saw her husband write a letter to Morrison, and she never saw any letters from Morrison addressed to her husband. According to Gaither's knowledge, Morrison never married and never had any children, natural or adopted.

Furthermore, to the best of Gaither Collier's knowledge, neither Adelia Bland nor Nettie Stevenson heard from Morrison or anything about him after 1929. Gaither and Warner Collier had lived in Chicago in the same apartment as Nettie Stevenson from 1935 or 1936, until Stevenson's death. Adelia Bland had lived in Earle, but she came to Chicago in 1946 or 1947 and resided with the Colliers and her daughter, Nettie. During the time Gaither resided with Bland and Stevenson, she never saw any letters from Morrison addressed to either of them come into the home, and she never heard a telephone conversation between either of them and Morrison. Morrison never came to visit at the apartment in Chicago, and neither Stevenson nor Bland ever spoke of taking a trip to visit Morrison.

Gaither Collier also testified that, as far as she knew, the first time after 1929 that her husband tried to locate Morrison was in 1972. Stevenson had died, and her estate was in question. According to Gaither, Warner then made a trip to Memphis with one Leo Armstrong. Gaither did not go with them.

Gaither herself made attempts to locate Morrison in 1973. First, she asked her niece, Perlie Mae Gillum, who lived in Memphis, to go to the courthouse in Memphis to inquire about Morrison. Gillum subsequently informed Gaither that she was unable to obtain any information about Morrison. Gaither also wrote a letter addressed to the City of Memphis. In reply, she received a letter from Rev. Chester L. Berryhill, Jr., of the Memphis Community Relations Commission. This letter stated that all efforts to locate Morrison were unsuccessful, and that the Memphis Housing Authority, local radio stations and the Social Security office had been contacted. The Social Security office refused to reveal information because of confidentiality laws.

On cross-examination, Gaither Collier testified that she did not know how long Morrison had lived at the above-mentioned address in Memphis. She also testified that she made several trips to Memphis in 1931 and 1932, but did not attempt to visit Morrison. After her marriage in 1932 to Warner Collier, she continued to make trips to Memphis, usually accompanied by Warner; however, she never went to Morrison's home with her husband, except for the 1929 visit in front of Morrison's home. According to Gaither, Morrison was approximately 28 or 29 years old in 1929.

Leo Armstrong testified that he had been a friend of Warner Collier since childhood and that he had never met Morrison. In May or June of 1972, he traveled with Warner to Memphis. The sole purpose of the trip was to search for Morrison. Upon arrival, they first looked for a building address on East Iowa Street where Warner said that Morrison had lived. They found a vacant lot. There was no building at that location. Then they went to the house of John Thomas, a mutual friend. Thomas suggested that they make an announcement on a radio station. They took his suggestion, and later that afternoon Armstrong heard an announcement which asked listeners with any information about Morrison to call the radio station or Thomas at numbers which were announced. The radio station never contacted any of them. Thomas later informed Armstrong that he had not received any response from the announcement. Armstrong could not remember the name of the radio station.

While in Memphis, Armstrong, Thomas and Warner Collier also went to the Goldcrest Brewery, where Morrison was supposed to have been employed. The brewery had burned down. Then they went to a cafe located approximately two blocks from the brewery. Thomas and Warner asked a few questions of two or three people at this cafe, but they were unable to obtain any information about Morrison.

On cross-examination, Armstrong testified that he did not know over what period of time the radio station broadcast the announcement and that he did not know how many times it was broadcast per day. Armstrong also stated that he and Warner were in Memphis for between five and seven days, and that he only heard the announcement once. Armstrong did not attempt to contact the former owners of the brewery regarding employment records. Further, no hospital in the vicinity of Morrison's residence was contacted. On redirect, Armstrong was permitted to testify that Warner had told him that he had contacted the Missing Person's Bureau, the Social Security office and the police department. No information was obtained as a result of these inquiries.

Appellants presented no evidence at the hearing. In concluding that there was sufficient evidence to establish a presumption of death, the trial court stated that relatives who probably would have heard from Morrison, if he was alive, had not heard from him since 1929. The sole question presented for review is whether the ...


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