Friday, February 20, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 20

St. Louis City Hall 1885
John Murdoch and Charles Dickson were both deceased but the estate of their firm, Murdoch & Dickson, was far from settled. Murdoch had executed a deed on October 14, 1873, by which he conveyed to John Priest as assignee all of his own property as well as the property of Murdoch & Dickson for the benefit of the creditors following the death of Dickson earlier that year. Priest took possession of certain assets of Murdoch & Dickson on November 29, 1873. But he made no report, as assignee, until November 23, 1880. He had heard proof of claims, and claims to an amount in excess of $117,000 were proven against the estate. Assets of the alleged value of $40,000 came into the hands of Priest as assignee under the deed.

On December 15, 1888, Priest filed a petition in the circuit court of St. Louis for his final discharge, in which he admitted being in possession of $2,911.48. Exceptions to the report were filed by a creditor, and a lawsuit was filed. It was referred, and the referee reported that there was $9,782.58 in the hands of the assignee which should be distributed among creditors. The assignee excepted to this report, the St. Louis circuit court overruled these exceptions, and an appeal went to the appellate court. The appellate court resulted in a finding that there was $9, 632.58 in the hands of Priest, and mandated that the circuit court enter judgement against him for that sum.

Unfortunately, that was not the only lawsuit that had been filed against the estate. John Priest had filed suit around 1874 in the circuit court of St. Louis County against James B. Eads and Barton Bates as devisees of Charles K. Dickson (and executors of his will as well), to divest of them the title to all property held in trust by them under the last will of Charles K. Dickson which Murdoch and Dickson had owned jointly as partners. Dickson had a large quantity of real estate held in trust for his wife and children in accordance with the provisions of his will. The jointly held property would then be vested to Priest as the assignee of the partnership estate. Eads and Bates, as trustees under the last will and testament of Charles K. Dickson, responded by filing suit against John G. Priest, assignee of Murdoch & Dickson, and John J. Murdoch on the grounds that the suit by Priest did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and that the deed of assignment made by Murdoch to Priest was on its face absolutely void and of no force against the interest of Dickson in said firm of Murdoch & Dickson.

The lawsuits against the estate of Murdoch & Dickson were further complicated by the fact that no one was appointed to succeed Priest as administrator after he stepped down in 1888. No one was protecting the interests of the creditors or other plaintiffs in the suits. In 1895, the widow and children of Charles Dickson filed a petition in the probate court "In the manner of Murdoch & Dickson", praying that William C. Richardson, as Public Administrator of the City of St. Louis, take charge of the estate. On August 11, 1895, Richardson was ordered to take charge and custody of all the remaining estate of the late firm. When he left office, his successor Harry Troll was appointed administrator of the firm's estate. Troll continued to appear before the court in cases brought against the estate of Murdoch & Dickson until at least 1914.

In one particular case that was bought over a property dispute, the appellate court ruled that John Murdoch had no authority to make the assignment dated September 14, 1873 to Priest as assignee for the benefits of the firm’s creditors. This would no doubt have impacted any other lawsuits that were brought concerning issues at the time Priest was assignee from 1873 to 1888. Further, the court concluded the following:

“No fair-minded, disinterested court can read this record without coming to the conclusion that the affairs of this estate have been very poorly managed and administered, if not fraudulently, and especially by Priest. His dereliction of duty and dilatory methods, taken in connection with his poor and extremely unsatisfactory system of bookkeeping, if we may so dignify it by calling it bookkeeping, and his failure to collect and charge himself with all of the partnership assets, which the record discloses he had knowledge of, or was possessed by the means by which he could have known of their existence, and could have collected and charged himself with them had he discharged his duty in following up that information and knowledge.”

It appears that many of the litigants, creditors and heirs of the estate were long dead before things came to a resolution. One can only imagine what happened to the relationship between the Murdoch and Dickson families as these lawsuits were filed. Could the families who were once so close - Julia Murdoch was Charles Dickson's niece, and the Dicksons named one of their sons John Murdoch Dickson - survive the courtroom battles? It seemed they could, as the families who spent so much time together on earth are spending eternity together in the same burial plot.

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