Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County,
the Hon. Frank R. Petrone, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE CLARK DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This action was brought by Gaither Collier, individually and as administrator of the estate of Warner Collier, to have letters of administration issued upon the presumption of death of E.W. Morrison. The Cook County treasurer is holding funds in the amount of $3,815.13 for the benefit of E.W. Morrison, which were deposited under the estate of Nettie Stevenson, who died intestate in 1971, and left E.W. Morrison and Warner Collier as her sole heirs.
A one-half interest in a parcel of Illinois real estate was also distributed to Morrison as a result of the Nettie Stevenson estate proceedings.
The plaintiff, Gaither Collier, is the sole heir of the estate of Warner Collier. If E.W. Morrison is presumed dead the plaintiff is entitled to the funds held by the Cook County treasurer.
The circuit court of Cook County found that E.W. Morrison is presumed dead as of January 1, 1937. Letters of administration were thereupon issued to the plaintiff. The appellate court reversed the trial court's order issuing letters of administration upon the presumption of death, finding that the evidence was clearly insufficient to establish the prerequisites for a presumption of death. 100 Ill. App.3d 891.
The record indicates that Morrison was an unmarried man without children in 1929, whose parents were both deceased. As of 1932, Morrison had three living relatives: Adelia Morrison Bland, his sister; Nettie Stevenson, Adelia Morrison Bland's daughter, his niece; and Warner Collier, his nephew, the now deceased husband of the plaintiff.
It is necessary to recount the testimony of Gaither Collier to establish the facts upon which the trial court relied in determining that a legal presumption of death had arisen in the case of E.W. Morrison.
Gaither Collier married Morrison's nephew, Warner Collier, in 1932. She had known Warner Collier since approximately 1925. The plaintiff had met Morrison on two occasions in 1929. She met E.W. Morrison for the first time in Earle, Arkansas, where the Colliers resided. The plaintiff met E.W. Morrison for the second and last time at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. At that meeting the plaintiff indicated that Morrison, then approximately 28 or 29 years old, appeared to be sick. After 1929 Warner and Gaither Collier never again saw, heard from, or heard anything about E.W. Morrison.
From 1929 to 1935 Warner and Gaither Collier traveled to Memphis, which was about 30 miles from Earle, Arkansas, at least once or twice a year. In 1935 the Colliers moved to Chicago, but continued to travel to Memphis approximately once a year. During these trips Mr. and Mrs. Collier visited Mrs. Collier's relatives but never attempted to contact E.W. Morrison.
In or around 1946 the plaintiff lived in the same apartment with the three living blood relatives of E.W. Morrison: Adelia Morrison Bland, Nettie Stevenson and Warner Collier. To the best of her knowledge, none of them had seen or heard from Morrison or received any letters or phone calls from or any information about him.
In 1972, when questions arose concerning the estate of Nettie Stevenson, Warner Collier attempted to contact E.W. Morrison (43 years had now elapsed since their last meeting). Accompanied by a friend, Leo Armstrong, Warner Collier traveled to Memphis to look for Morrison. Leo Armstrong testified as to the details of the trip. Upon arriving in Memphis, Armstrong and Collier went to an address on East Iowa Street where Morrison had lived in 1929. They found a vacant lot at that address. Armstrong and Collier then went to see a friend, John Thomas, and told him about their search for E.W. Morrison. He suggested that they have an announcement placed on a local radio station asking for any information concerning Morrison. John Thomas called a Memphis radio station to have the announcement aired, but no listeners ever called with any information about Morrison. Collier, Armstrong and Thomas went to the site of the Goldcrest Brewery where E.W. Morrison had worked in 1929. Upon their arrival they discovered that the brewery had burned down. Subsequently, they went to a cafe a couple of blocks away from the site of the brewery. Inquiries were made at the restaurant, but no information was gained about Morrison. Warner Collier then contacted the Missing Persons Bureau, the Social Security Administration and the police department. He was unable to obtain any information regarding E.W. Morrison.
The plaintiff testified that in 1973 she asked her niece, Perlie Mae Gillum, who lived in Memphis, to make an inquiry at the local courthouse for any information concerning E.W. Morrison. We do not know how extensive that inquiry was. We do know Miss Gillum's search did not reveal any information. The plaintiff also wrote to the city of Memphis seeking information about Morrison. The city responded that all efforts to locate E.W. Morrison were without success.
The trial court record also shows that the plaintiff's attorneys attempted to obtain a death certificate from the proper authorities in Memphis. The authorities indicated that there was no death record on file for E.W. Morrison.
The trial court found that E.W. Morrison has been missing since 1929, that he has not communicated with those with whom he would naturally communicate, that diligent inquiries have been made at his last known address in an attempt to discover his whereabouts, and that the inquiries did not reveal any information that would indicate that E.W. Morrison is alive. The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment, ...