Carrying out the cryptic last wishes of a reclusive multimillionaire, a Baltimore County court ended a battle of wills yesterday and awarded nearly $1 million of the fortune to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The will of Olive Swindells -- a Lochearn resident who died in squalor last March despite having amassed a $4.4 million stock portfolio -- had pitted the DAR and Gallaudet University in a legal struggle for part of the riches.
Mrs. Swindells' will left 80 percent of her estate to Gallaudet, ......TC college for the deaf in Washington, and the remaining 20 percent to "the Daughters of the American Revolution Nursing Home for the use of the destitute members." But there is no such place.
So Mrs. Swindells, who lived like a pauper most of her 94 years and kept her vast wealth a secret, was cast into a spotlight that has shone on her more brightly in death than it ever did in life. Mrs. Swindells was both a member of DAR and legally deaf. Gallaudet's 80 percent share of her estate, valued at about $4.7 million, comes out to an uncontested $3.5 million, most of which the college has already received. But the college argued -- much to the displeasure of DAR officials -- that it should also get the remaining 20 percent.
Scott Kraigie, an attorney representing Gallaudet, told the court of a second, unsigned will that Mrs. Swindells had ordered her attorney to prepare after she learned there was no DAR nursing home.
But roughly three months after she'd been told of the problem with the first will, she died of a stroke, leaving the second will unsigned.
The court rejected the unsigned will but awarded the rest of the estate to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Mrs. Swindells and her husband, who was also legally deaf, lived for more than 50 years at their home at 4110 Bedford Road, which by all accounts was a broken-down, trash-strewn eyesore. Mr. Kraigie argued that their being deaf and living as poor people suggests something about Mrs. Swindells' intent in revising the will.