Mrs. Eva Slaven Depierris has begun a suit against her stepmother, Ellen A. Slaven, and the latter's husband, Henry B. Slaven, that threatens sensational developments.
Henry B. Slaven, besides being the present husband of Mrs. Depierris's stepmother, is also the uncle of the plaintiff. He is well known as one of the chief promoters of the American Construction and Dredging Company, which did most of the work on the Panama Canal. All the parties to the suit are well known in New York society, and the Slavens live at present in a fine city house at 156 West Seventy-eighth Street.
Mrs. Depierris alleges that Mr. and Mrs. Slaven are withholding her portion of the estate of her father, Moses A. Shaven, from her. She also charges that a will made in her favor by Moses A. Slaven has been either destroyed or hidden away in order to keep her out of her inheritance, which, she seems to think, ought to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000,000.
Mrs. Depierris's story was presented yesterday to Judge Barrett of the Supreme Court in a voluminous affidavit submitted in support of a motion for the examination before trial of Mr. and Mrs. Slaven, Samuel Wesley Smith, Ella Slaven Chamberlain, and Henry G. Holmes. These people, Mrs. Depierris says, are in a position to tell about the alleged disappearance of the will she is after. In the action which she has begun in the Supreme Court she seeks to establish the existence of this will in order to supersede a will executed in 1885, which has been admitted to probate.
Moses A. Slaven, the daughter alleges, was interested jointly with his brother, Henry B. Slaven, in the establishment of the American Construction Company. They owned between them 11,383 shares of the corporation, she says, and received on their stock up to the time of the stoppage of the work on the Panama Canal, dividends amounting to $3,812,305. In addition to this, Mrs. Depierris swears, her uncle once told her that the Slaven brothers had $1,500,000 in bank to meet emergencies. Yet when his death only $1,450 was reported by the assesors.
Her mother, the plaintiff says, died In 1869. The plaintiff was the only fruit of her father's first marriage. In 1875 Mr. Slaven married again. By his second wife, who figures as the defendant in the present action, he had three children. In 1886 Mr. Slaven died, and three years later, on May 28, 1889, his widow married Henry B. Slaven, her husband's brother and partner.
During all these years, Mrs. Depierris asserts, she was at school in Montreal. Her father had always been very fond of her, and liked to have her with him, but she was not informed of his serious illness. The first news she had of his illness and death was when she was summoned from school to attend the funeral. After remaining in New York for a week, she was sent back to Montreal by her stepmother. While she was there the United States Consul came to her with a paper which he asked her to sign. She was a girl of seventeen years then, and she signed the paper without asking any questions or being informed as to the nature of the document. After remaining at Montreal another year, she came to New York again, and made her home with her stepmother.
She had always supposed herself to be an heiress, and her uncle, she says, confirmed her in this belief. In due time, however she learned that her father had made a will in 1885, leaving his entire fortune to his second wife, and making the wife, with his brother Henry, executors. She also learned that a paper with her name attached had been filed in the Surrogate's office. This paper purported to be her consent to the appointment of Edward D. Cowan as her guardian and to appear for her at the probate of the will made in 1885 and she supposes that this is the paper which she ignorantly signed in Montreal. But she never knew her guardian and has never seen him.
In April of this year Mrs. Depierris was married, and then she began a systematic inquiry into the facts about her father's estate. She says she learned that Moses A. Slaven executed the will at 1885 in order to simplify the administration of his estate in the event of his death. The affairs of the Slaven brothers were so interwoven at the time that he feared complications unless the partnership was continued, and he accordingly left his property in bulk to his wife On the eve of his departure for Panama. She claims to have learned, however, that in 1886, after his return from Panama and shortly before his death, he executed another will in which he apportioned to her a proper share of his property.
Henry G. Holmes, Mrs. Depierris says, was a witness to this will, which has disappeared. Mr. Holmes is an old family friend and told her, so she states, that he was called in suddenly one night in 1886 to witness Moses A. Slaven's signature to a will. He has refused to make affidavit to this occurrence, the plaintiff charges, because of his friendship for the Slavens, and therefore, she wants to have him examined under an order of the court. The attorneys for Mr. and Mrs. Slaven opposed the motion for examination yesterday. Among other things it was urged that the proposed examinatlon would be illegal, as the defendants would have to criminate themselves if they admitted knowledge of any other will than the one that was flied for probate. Judge Barrett, however, granted the order.
New York (New York) Times, October 25, 1893.
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