William Donald Schaefer wasn't always easy to read. That goes double for his wills. And yes, that's wills, plural.

In a will signed in 2009 and made public May 17, the late Baltimore mayor, Maryland governor and state comptroller left an amount that could approach $1 million to longtime aide Lainy LeBow-Sachs. Jeanne Bell — a friend for decades, someone to whom he gave his power of attorney just three years ago — received only his stamp and plate collections.

In a will signed in 2005, LeBow-Sachs made out about the same as in the current will. But Bell's windfall amounted to much more than postage stamps and Franklin Mint plates.

The 2005 will also gave Bell $200,000, a Pasadena townhouse worth about $235,000, and 25 percent of whatever remained of Schaefer's estate after it was distributed, which could have added about $425,000. In all, an $860,000 bequest.

Schaefer, who died April 18, changed his will several times over the years. No one has suggested that the 2005 version remains valid or that anyone will contest the 2009 will. The more recent will opens with Schaefer revoking any previous wills.

But the question remains: Why was Bell all but written out in 2009?

Bell declined to comment, except to say that she had no plans to challenge the 2009 will and that she was pleased to have been left something with sentimental value.

"What I'm happy about is he left me something that meant the world to him and that's what we were about," said Bell, 62, a retired Locust Point secretary. "We worked on those stamps at home, and that means more to me than anything, that he thought of me that way."

Schaefer never seemed to mind when staffers and friends fought jealously for his attention and affection, and parts of his 2005 will read like an effort to stir the pot from beyond the grave.

Schaefer designated an unlikely triumvirate of executors in 2005: Bell, LeBow-Sachs and Gene Raynor, a close friend and former state elections chief.

Bell and Raynor happily spent many Christmases and Thanksgivings with Schaefer. But for years, Raynor said, both have been bitterly at odds with LeBow-Sachs. Raynor and Bell bristled at the City Hall aide who had forged such a strong emotional bond with the mayor that she's described in C. Fraser Smith's biography as his "blankie." And they opposed some of the political and personal decisions LeBow-Sachs made on Schaefer's behalf.

The day it became public, LeBow-Sachs said she was shocked by Schaefer's large gift to her. She declined to comment on the 2005 will when The Baltimore Sun obtained a copy last week, referring questions to Charles B. Jones, the lawyer probating the current will. She did not respond to questions, forwarded to her through Jones, about her relationship with Raynor and Bell.

"We're probating a will that was executed in 2009 and in accordance with Governor Schaefer's wishes and done lawfully," Jones said. "People oftentimes change their minds and they have updated wills. That's part of our practice all the time."

The 2005 will also put Raynor and LeBow-Sachs in charge of planning a party after his death. There is no such plan in the 2009 will.

"GENE and LAINY shall serve as hosts of the party and shall have full discretion as to the details ," the 2005 will said. "I hope that GENE and LAINY and the invited guests will not view the party as a time for sadness, but rather as a time for remembering the good times we have shared. I have had a rich and full life, and I have been blessed with friends who have made it so. I hope that everyone at the party will take the opportunity to reminisce about old times and to share their stories with each other. ... I direct my Personal Representatives to pay a sum not to exceed Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00) for expenses related to the party."

As if the party-planning wouldn't have produced enough friction, Schaefer added: "I hope Jeanne Bell will attend."

As it turned out, the funeral procession that LeBow-Sachs directed to stop at Schaefer's haunts around the city rolled past Dalesio's in Little Italy, snubbing Raynor, the restaurant's landlord, who had helped assemble an elaborate tribute to his friend on the sidewalk. Two days later, neither Raynor nor Bell attended the funeral, where LeBow-Sachs took center stage. LeBow-Sachs did not respond to questions about the funeral procession.

Schaefer and Bell went back 40 years. An election night photo that ran in the News American on Nov. 3, 1971, shows Bell, a 23-year-old blonde campaign volunteer, presenting a birthday cake to the mayor-elect, who'd turned 50 that day. Friends say they started dating after Schaefer's longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, died in 1999.

Few people outside Schaefer's inner circle had heard of Bell until 2008, when she tried to help Schaefer stave off LeBow-Sachs' plan to move him. Schaefer was 86 and shaky but resisting LeBow-Sachs' push to move to the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville. After he fell that March, LeBow-Sachs decided to move him anyway, using the power of attorney he'd granted her years earlier.

Schaefer got wind of her plan, revoked the power of attorney and gave it to Bell. When movers LeBow-Sachs had hired arrived at Schaefer's Pasadena townhouse, Bell turned them away.

But three weeks later, LeBow-Sachs took Schaefer out for a Petit Louis lunch and had movers empty his townhouse while they dined. Schaefer reacted angrily, but soon was telling some people that he was resigned to the move — even as he complained to others that he was in "jail."

"He would say he wanted to get out of there," Raynor said. "Every time I saw him he complained. But … it was his fault he was there. He could have changed it any time. He gave a lot of mixed signals."

Shortly after the move, Schaefer gave his power of attorney back to LeBow-Sachs.

"He regretted giving his power of attorney [to Bell] and requested me to kindly terminate it," said Zelig Robinson, Schaefer's lawyer. He and LeBow-Sachs and Robinson were named as co-executors in the 2009 will.

Nine months later, in January 2009, Schaefer had a new will. That one leaves intact LeBow-Sachs' bequest: $500,000 plus 25 percent of the remainder of the estate, which could add another $425,000 based on the estate's estimated $2.4 million value. Bell gets the plates and stamps.

Three months after the new will was signed, the Pasadena townhouse left to Bell in 2005 was donated to the Baltimore Community Foundation, which sold it for $235,000.

laura.vozzella@baltsun.com


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