Crime Does Pay
by Sue Jennings
Josiah R. Sutcliff made his fortune stealing the mineral wealth of California and Nevada in the 1880’s and 1890’s. When Josiah died in 1937, he was one of the richest and loneliest men west of Denver.
It was reported on his deathbed Josiah mumbled his wealth was evil money. To spare his children from affluent sin he did not give a penny of inheritance to his sons, Jacob, William or his daughter Ilsa. Their children would not benefit from his wicked riches. The fortune of Josiah Sutcliff belonged to his great-grandchildren but only if they remained in college from age eighteen until age thirty. If the children of Josiah Sutcliff were unable to produce heirs or the great-grandchildren violated the terms, the fortune belonged equally between charitable organizations and the law firm of Malcolm, Malcolm, and Malcolm or M3 to those in the legal profession.
William died in a dank alley choking on vomit before his sperm met a fertile egg. Ilsa’s only child, a son, died childless in 1918 France. Jacob sired a son. He named the child Ezra after his fallen nephew.
On his birthday, Betis Donner, the son of Ezra and the only great-grandchild of Josiah Sutcliff became aware of his potential fortune while incarcerated at a juvenile detention facility. He’d been a street rogue most of his seventeen years. He had known, seen or had done every criminal act written in the California penal code. He quit school after an arrest in the eighth grade for selling weed at his junior high. He was clever, resourceful and crafty.
Betis solved his lack of a high school education when issued a Home Tutored certificate of completion by a clerk who no longer owed money to him. Two hours later, the M3 law firm reluctantly accepted the certificate. September of 1984, at age eighteen, Josiah Sutcliff’s heir was a college freshman.
The Sutcliff Trust paid all the college cost and provided a thousand dollars a month for personal expenses. Betis used the money wisely. He paid bright, but financially strapped students to attend class, write class papers, and take exams for him.
The day of his twenty fifth birthday hanging on his wall was a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Science and Master of Arts, and a JD. A PhD was progressing. Betis anticipated his ghost would complete the thesis for him on his next birthday.
The M3 law firm was not receptive to their client’s college success. Since 1898, the firm had profited representing the legal interests of Josiah Sutcliff and his estate. If Betis met the condition of the will, M3 would not be a benefactor. The greed of two hundred million dollars divided between partners was maniacal.
The law firm was aware Betis was paying others to matriculate for him. They had reviewed the will word by word to find a legal reason to deny him his wealth. They could not find a clause to separate him from the money. The condition was simply the Great-grandchild be enrolled in a college from age eighteen to thirty. Betis was legally meeting the requirements.
The partners of M3 were resolute they had lost their share of the estate until the monthly issue of the Baker Thermometer came to their attention. Thugs posing as California Highway Patrol vehicle inspectors were robbing gambling busses on the I-15 to Las Vegas. The front page of the most recent issue of the Thermometer had a photo of the female bandit taken by a passenger with a cell phone. An M3 private investigator looking at the Thermometer on his way to Las Vegas had recognized the woman as Betis’s girlfriend.
The partners authorized payment for 24/7 surveillance. The girl friend led investigators to a garage where vehicles resembling CHP inspection trucks were stored. A covert break in by agents added tracking devices and remote cameras to the vehicles. Two weeks later cameras recorded the robbing of two busses. Betis was not filmed but his girlfriend and others were obvious perpetrators.
Investigators met with the criminals encouraging them to name the person who had planned the robberies. M3 arranged for the District Attorney to inform the group the minimum prison sentence would be no less than six-years. However, if they cooperated they would receive plea deals with probation. Hearing an offer they couldn’t refuse, they named Betis.
Betis was arrested and charged with ten counts of conspiracy to commit robbery. The trial lasted three days. The girl friend and others denied they had named Betis the ringleader or they had perpetrated any crimes. The prosecuting attorney attempted to show the jury the video-recorded statements to refute their denial. The CD disk was blank as was the recordings of the garage and the robbed busses. The jury found Betis not guilty. Charges against the girl friend and others were dismissed. The M3 partners were apoplectic.
Two months later, the partners were further shocked when they learned the Sutcliff account had a zero balance. A forensic audit established the money was in the Cayman Islands and Swiss banks. Anonymously, the state bar association and news outlets were informed. After the public disclosure, the law firm of Malcolm, Malcolm,
and Malcolm ceased to exist.
Betis and his girlfriend read of the M3 demise on their Caribbean Island. The M3 chief accountant, who’d transferred money from the Sutcliff estate to Switzerland and the Caymans for Betis, receiving a substantial gratuity, chuckled at the news. The week of thanksgiving, the former supervisor of the M3 information and technology docked his Catamaran next to the Sloop of a retired evidence clerk. The ex-supervisor for the police property room landed his Gulf Stream jet at the island’s private airport. All agreed over Thanks giving dinner, they loved being rich.
Sue Jennings is a retired social worker.