We begin here, because this is the oldest information I have.
Note: there are a lot of images here, and many of them are large. I try not to do that, but I had to keep them pretty big so they can be read.
This is a public notice of a sheriff’s sale of real estate October 11, 1965, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now, I want to focus on the part I have highlighted.
Being the same premises which Cleo M. Smith etvir by Indenture hearing date the 29th day of September A. D. 1950, and recorded at Doylestown, Pa. in Deed Book 980 page 328 granted and conveyed to Claire Malanee, single woman, in fee.
What in the hell does that mean?
Well, this is part of a legal description of Cleo’s farm. In September, 1950, Cleo Smith and her husband, Carlton (that’s what “etvir” means – when this was written, Carlton was dead) changed the title to their farm from their names into the name of Claire Malanee.
A question arises as to whether Claire Malanee was a real person or a completely fictitious one. I think she was fictitious, but it really doesn’t matter. Regardless, she was a straw name, a place holder.
At one point, in 1952, the phone company tried to gain access to the farm set phone lines, and couldn’t find Claire, because Claire wasn’t either Cleo or Carlton. Claire was a mirage.
Cleo and Carlton did not cease owning the farm. It was just titled in a different name. They most likely did this, back in 1950, on the advice of an attorney, and Cleo did this with all her other property as well.
If you haven’t read the piece I wrote about straw names, stop and do that now.
Keep in mind that for Cleo to have this farm in the name of Claire Malanee was not illegal. It was not shady, or immoral, or anything. It was more than likely something an attorney advised. In the end, it was probably unnecessary and needlessly complicated things, but that doesn’t make it illegal.
Carlton Smith died on March 12, 1954. A pedestrian, he was struck and killed by a car.
It appears to have been his own fault. The serviceman who hit him was not charged with anything.
So, eleven years later, Cleo, who ran the farm herself from that point forward, sometimes without any or little help until Lou came along, found herself in financial trouble.
As Claire Malanee, she owed some money on a mortgage on the farm. And she got behind.
Notice that this is all made out against Claire Malanee. That’s whose name the farm was in. That’s the straw name.
Cleo, as Claire, owed the Urbanis over $20,000 and the sheriff was going to take the farm and sell it to pay the debt.
Cleo was in a bit of a mess.
The year before, she’d hosted Carl McIntire on her farm for a big rally, the first “cow pasture rally.” This was the period when McIntire’s star was on the rise. He was becoming very famous, especially in religious fundamentalist circles. And he liked doing rallies and stuff.
I have no idea and no way to know who approached who about the deal they worked out, but somebody brought it up and they talked. And they came up with a plan.
There’s the summary of it. And here’s the actual contract that they hammered out.
So basically, here’s what ensued.
To keep the sheriff off the door, Cleo gave her farm to Carl McIntire. However, he also got the mortgage she owed. In addition, she got a $300 per month annuity for the remainder of her life and the right to live there, and work the farm for profit. He was responsible for the taxes and insurance and upkeep. She was responsible for her own utilities and other expenses.
And in a sort of touching note, she wanted a memorial to her and Carlton after her death. [Instead, she got Cathy, which just shows you how unfair life can be.]
Anyway, it was a pretty sweet deal.
This is the agreement they signed. It’s a “fee simple deed,” which is something most of us are used to. It’s the way most property is transferred. Notice the amount listed?
What is that?
Well, that is the approximate amount that an actuarial table showed that the Christian Beacon would end up forking over to Cleo in the form of that $300 monthly payment. The agreement was an encumbrance on the property, something the buyer (the Christian Beacon) and seller (Cleo) had agreed to, in the contract above.
And see the part highlighted? Claire Malanee (who was Cleo herself) deeded the property over to Cleo Smith nine days before this exchange was done between Cleo and the Christian Beacon. It was a simple name change, complete with a nice fee. Notice that the mortgage (the one that Claire Malanee had obtained from the couple named Urbani) followed right along?
And this is interesting. See the “witnesses”? Notice that “Claire Malanee” was a witness? The handwriting is almost certainly Cleo’s.
Neither I nor Lisa know why this was done. There is a notarized signature which would make witnesses superfluous. The only thing I can think of is that they wanted something signed by “Claire” to indicate that “Claire” had agreed to all this, so that nobody named Claire Malanee would show up two years later and put a claim on the property.
And one other thing. Notice that the consideration paid was $1? Wait. One dollar? The first page says $79,200. That’s what I mean about it being an encumbrance. That’s the price that was owed, payable in monthly payments of $300. One dollar is what exchanged hands on that day in November, 1965.
People do this sort of thing today, but it’s more streamlined and not nearly as detailed. They are called “reverse mortgages.” They’re generally done with a bank. This was very like that, only done between two private entities (Cleo Smith and the Christian Beacon, owned by Carl McIntire).
And this is two and a half years later, 1969. The Christian Beacon had the mortgage re-assigned to a local bank, and got it out of the hands of the Urbani couple.
Once they did that, they began using the farm as a cash cow. If I felt like sorting through it all (there are hundreds of pages of documents), I could figure out how many times McIntire mortgaged that farm. In addition to the original Urbani mortgage, I know he got a $25,000 second mortgage, and then in 1972, took out a $100,000 mortgage.
This all makes sense.
He was doing well financially in 1965.
In 1970, he played around with the idea of selling the farm. According to the contract he had with Cleo, he couldn’t do that without her written permission, but half a million dollars will buy you a lot of permission.
There are some other documents where people contacted McIntire who were interested in buying the place, and there was certainly a flurry in Maurice the Accountant’s office of totting up figures. Most of it is boring, but here’s some of Maurice’s work.
Imagine the excitement that must have ensued when Maurice, who had listed the place as valued at a bit over $100K on December 18, got an appraisal letter written a few days later valuing it at $500K.
Nothing seems to have come of it, however, and I doubt that appraisal was rooted in anything more substantial than wishful thinking.
By 1972, McIntire was in trouble with the FCC. He lost WXUR in 1973, but he knew he was in a mess much earlier than that. And he started having his own financial problems. That’s when he borrowed quite heavily against the property.
By 1977, Cleo had gotten a bit soured on the deal. Looking at it from her viewpoint, she was facing a situation where she was getting up there in years (79 years old), Lou Canby had died in February, leaving her with no help on the farm. She couldn’t keep the place up. She seems to have desired to move to Philadelphia (which she appears to have done). She only had two years left to live.
The earliest piece of correspondence about this that I’ve got is a letter dated August 4, 1977, where the Christian Beacon is offering Cleo a crappy little deal, which she quite sensibly did not take. They wanted her to pay them $50,000 outright and then they would hold a first mortgage for an additional $50,000, make her pay three years of back taxes (!!), and release them from the whole damn thing. No mention is made of the $100,000 loan they got just four years earlier. One has to assume there was a balance outstanding on it.
Cleo’s retort is here. She offers them $60,000 after they pay off all the loans. She is obviously ticked off. I have no idea what was entailed in “you have not kept your part of the agreement” but I’m sure it included failing to pay the taxes for three solid years.
This is Carl schmoozing Cleo. It’s basically bullshit. The whole “this is the Lord’s money” is fundamentalist-speak for “I didn’t pay the taxes and I haven’t done what I promised, but it’s not my fault.” And there’s a bit of gas-lighting going on, with the “This ceases to be an agreement between us in behalf of the Lord’s work” shit. He’s trying to shame her into taking whatever bullshit offer he can get away with.
Undaunted by the religious jargon, Cleo turns it over to her attorney and lets him hammer out the details. Her offer rises, but she includes the taxes she’ll have to pay out.
See the word trust in quotes? This is a smarmy son of a bitch. She trusted him to keep his part of a contract, and at the very least, by his own words, he failed to pay the taxes for three solid years. There were other issues regarding insurance on the place that he was supposed to keep current and didn’t. Yet he dares put quotes around that word as though she is not honest.
I don’t like this man one bit.
She finally upped it to $125,000.
I don’t know if this was fair or not. There’s not enough information here to make a judgement, but I do know that my instincts are to say that she was an old woman, probably tired and ill, and McIntire was a bit of a jerk.
The releases he is talking about involve the life tenancy agreement, the contract that Cleo and McIntire signed at the very beginning of this. Each of them had to release the other from the terms of the contract.
And here’s Cleo’s release. The copy I have of McIntire’s release is very similar, but unsigned, so I’m not including it here.
Ultimately, Cleo and the Christian Beacon, jointly, sold the farm to Bethel Baptist church for $125,000 and each of them, Cleo and McIntire,signed a release from the life tenancy contract.
I don’t have the actual signed deed on this. But we do have this. It’s not signed, but I suspect it probably was finally signed, and I’ll show why I think that in a minute.
We do know for sure that Bethel Baptist Church ended up as the owner of the farm, and that this happened sometime during that two year period from Cleo getting the farm returned to her (1977) and her death (1979) because it does not appear as part of her estate.
We also know that McIntire’s big objection to all of this involved his obsession with how the money to fund the farm came from donations and it was the “Lord’s money” and so golly gee, he couldn’t just give it back to Cleo because profanity or something.
I suspect that Cleo agreed to the 25% higher price because they hammered out a deal where she would deed over the farm to Bethel Baptist Church. This would accomplish a couple of things.
From Cleo’s viewpoint, it solved her problem. She didn’t want McIntire to just lose the farm (and that is very likely what would have happened). She wanted it all finalized, but she probably could not afford a $125,000 mortgage. That was just about the amount of her net worth subtracting the farm. It was a lot of money in 1977, more than twice as much as the average cost of a home.
She was also by this time writing her will, and she knew she was going to leave the bulk of her estate to Bethel Baptist Church. It only made sense to go ahead and sell the farm to them. It got the farm out of her estate and made everything easier (and that’s a relative term – Cleo left a mess to sort out).
From McIntire’s viewpoint, it meant that the farm stayed in the “Lord’s hands.” He could save face. He hadn’t just allowed it to go back into private hands. He’d been a good steward, even if one who didn’t pay his taxes for three solid years.
From Bethel’s viewpoint, it was a very good deal. The church sold the farm a number of years later for substantially more than they paid for it.
Here’s a letter from an appraiser at the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, during the period when Cleo’s estate was being probated. She makes it clear that the Christian Beacon and Cleo sold the farm to Bethel.
And here, in its entirety, is the title insurance company’s report on the property. This would have accompanied the sale.
Take special notice of this page above. This is the life tenancy agreement that Cleo had with the Christian Beacon, which was terminated prior to this sale. I realize it’s hard to read, but it’s not impossible.
So, to summarize.
Cleo entered into a life tenancy contract (sort of a reverse mortgage) on her farm with the Christian Beacon in 1965. By 1977, she wanted out. She and McIntire hammered out a deal and sold the property to Bethel Baptist Church. This is why the farm does not appear in her estate.
I will go into why all this matters next.