By Joe Beck
The body of a 94-year-old Shenandoah County man will be exhumed under a circuit court order in which Judge Dennis L. Hupp said the case "raises red flags of giant proportions" about the man's death.
The case is an estate dispute between Anna Johnston, the 88-year-old sister of Raymond Wine, and Dolly McAvoy, a caretaker granted power of attorney and named as a beneficiary in Wine's will.
Brian Brake, Johnston's attorney from Harrisonburg, said in an interview Friday that the 227 acres Wine deeded to McAvoy is worth between $1 million and $2 million. The land was Wine's farm, where he raised mostly cattle, since his retirement as a government chemist, Brake said. The farm is located along Flat Rock Road near Timberville.
Wine died on July 7, 2011 at Rockingham Memorial Hospital after someone found him hours earlier lying on the floor of his room at Living Waters Home for Adults in Timberville, according to court documents. The cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest, a finding that Brake now doubts.
Brake said an autopsy will be conducted after the body is exhumed.
"I do think these circumstances are suspicious," Brake said.
McAvoy's attorney, Kevin Rose, also of Harrisonburg, did not return a phone call Friday afternoon.
Hupp's opinion laid out a timeline in which McAvoy began working for Wine in 2002 and gave her power of attorney in 2007. Power of attorney means a person is authorized to act in place of another person under limited or sweeping circumstances.
Three years after granting McAvoy power of attorney, Wine drew up a will identifying her as sole beneficiary. He deeded the farm to her in 2012.
"Whenever an employee of relatively short tenure with no familial connection ends up with the entire estate of an elderly person, red flags of giant proportions are raised," Hupp said.
Hupp noted that McAvoy visited Wine at Living Waters only hours before his death. Hupp wrote that evidence of a physical injury "may or may not have resulted from a fall."
"I can see possible motive for foul play on her part in that hastening the death of Mr. Wine would remove his life estate in real estate and advance the date upon she would accede to the rest of the estate," Hupp wrote.
Brake said McAvoy is currently living on Wine's former farm, although a court order issued in Rockingham County on March 5, 2012 prohibits her from conveying real estate or personal property obtained under the will and deed of Wine's estate.
The order was issued in response to a petition for an injunction filed by Anna Johnston that asks the will and deed be scrapped. The petition cites an inability of Raymond Wine to make a valid will and "undue influence on the part of Dolly."
A jury trial contesting the will is scheduled in Rockingham County from Nov. 13-15.
Brake said he hoped the exhumation at Flat Rock Cemetery in Forestville and a subsequent autopsy can be performed before the trial.
"I've been doing this for 22 years and never seen it happen," Brake said of a court order allowing a body to be exhumed.
Hupp wrote near the end of his opinion: "This may be, as the defendant suggests, a fishing expedition, but it appears at this time that the defendant may have stocked the pond."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org