Mommy Dearest

The fight between socialite Judi Wolf and her brother has turned into the mother of all family feuds.

Sometimes Letty would complain that John, a vegetarian, had insisted she cook vegetables for herself. "Letty is a notorious junk-food junkie," Watts says. "After he'd leave, she'd confide, 'I don't care for vegetables. I just buy them to make John happy.'"

Watts found Letty to be a spry, opinionated woman who wasn't afraid to share those opinions. He discovered her outspokenness shortly after he moved in, when she let him know that he wasn't keeping his yard up the way his predecessor had.

"The woman who lived here before had been there for something like thirty years," Watts says. "She had been a big gardener, and all summer long her backyard was one big floral display. I didn't realize it until I went to visit Letty, but her sunroom faced that backyard. So for all those years she got to look at those flowers, then along comes someone new and her world's turned upside down."

Despite their rough beginning, Watts came to like Letty. "Actually, she's something of a battle-ax," he says with a laugh. "That's not bad--it's just Letty."

Letty wasn't one to discuss world affairs over the backyard fence. She was more interested in the things that mattered most to her, Watts says. Things like her dog, Surprise, a gift from Judi and Marvin. And especially John.

"It was John this and John that," Watts recalls. "How he had gone to Harvard and Yale. How well he took care of her. What a good son he was."

Letty only rarely spoke about Judi, who was extremely jealous of John because of the amount of money they'd spent on his education, she told Watts. "She said her daughter had married into money," he recalls, "but she was not particularly impressed with Marvin. She also saw no reason to leave Judi any of her estate when she died...She said John would need it more."

Letty impressed Watts as not needing much help, physically or mentally. "Sure, she was getting older," he says. "And she might forget where she put something for a while. But she seemed to do just fine in her little least until all this other stuff blew up."

The fuse was lit at the end of 1994, when Marvin and Judi brought over attorney Lawrence Henry to help Letty revise her will. They seemed particularly concerned that she and John shared joint tenancy on her accounts (even though Letty remained sole recipient of any dividend checks) and that John was named as the beneficiary of those accounts upon Letty's death.

Judi had prepared a list of her mother's assets, including "personal jewelry, diamond ring, diamond wedding band, diamond wristwatch, pearls and gold all other jewelry." Judi drew a bracket at the side of the list and repeated the word "all."

But Letty said she didn't want Henry to represent her, and she refused to have her son's name taken off the accounts. In a book she kept of her affairs, on January 6, 1995, Letty noted, "Marvin is taking my...funds and assets and changing my accounts so he'll end up with them."

Marvin was doing some writing of his own. On January 9, 1995, he sent Letty a message on his personal stationery: "Letty...Since you refuse to cooperate and went back on your word to follow through when we met with Larry, this is your bill to pay. I simply won't put up with your actions anymore."

Along with Henry's bill for several hundred dollars, Marvin included his opinion that John was manipulating his mother. "Either go after him," he wrote Letty, "or lay down and let him step all over you...It's your choice."

On February 10, 1995, Henry sent a letter marked "private and personal" to his "dear friends," the Wolfs. In it, he described how Letty wouldn't cooperate and how John's lawyer, Michael Merrion, had challenged Henry's assertion that he represented Letty. "I am now advising Letty," Henry wrote the Wolfs, "that I cannot further represent her under all the confused circumstance involved." He asked the Wolfs to pay him "since Letty never committed to pay me." Letty ended up giving Marvin a check for Henry's bill.

After that, Letty hired her own attorney, Robert Horen, to look after her interests. Among other things, according to court records, she told him that Judi and Marvin were after her estate and wanted her put in a nursing home. She also told Horen how proud she was of John.

With the help of John or the Densts, Letty still went to the hairdresser every Friday and grocery shopping once a week. She had no major medical problems, and while she and John had discussed whether she was maybe getting too old to drive her 1987 Cadillac, if John wasn't around she wasn't afraid to climb behind the wheel. Letty wrote her own checks to cover her bills, never once overdrawing her account. And she kept going to the symphony, her favorite outside entertainment.

A couple of days after Christmas 1995, Letty was in her backyard with Surprise when she fell and broke her hip. Using her arms, she crawled thirty feet to her kitchen, where she tried to call John. He wasn't home, so she called Dr. Denst, who ran across the street. When Judi was contacted, she reportedly told Denst that her mother would now have to be placed in a different sort of living arrangement.

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