Child Custody Dispute and Abduction Precursor to Murder of Father and His Family

DSC00275_1A Mississauga family: father, mother and adult son, were systematically eliminated in what police say may be revenge and payback arising from a high conflict custody case, resulting in this week’s arrest of 34-year-old Melissa Merritt and her common-law spouse, Christopher Fattore, age 37.

This bizarre case is the ultimate tale of “truth being stranger than fiction”, but it began so happily when Melissa Merritt and Caleb Harrison met and began living together in 2000.

Two children followed in quick succession and they married in 2003. However, domestic violence marred their union and the couple split in 2005 after Caleb was convicted of assaulting Melissa.

A month after their separation Caleb drove drunk, killing a taxi driver and injuring four teenagers. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and his mother, Bridget Harrison, took over the care of the children.

From there the battle lines were drawn… but the tragedies did not subside. In 2009 Melissa’s father-in-law, Bill Harrison, suddenly died at the home he shared with Bridget, his death attributed to a heart attack.

A month later Melissa abducted her two children, remaining at large for several months. Upon her return, she was convicted of criminal child abduction but served no jail time. Her access to the children, however, was now limited to every second week-end and specified holidays.

Almost a year after Bill Harrison’s death, one of the grandchildren found Grandma Bridget dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home. Suspicions were heightened with the second Harrison death in twelve months.

In the meantime, a fire destroyed the home Melissa shared with her common law spouse and their four children. The couple lost everything, but the custody battle still raged, and in 2013 Melissa filed a court application for joint custody.

A month later Caleb Harrison was also dead, and police began an investigation into the deaths of three family members in five years.

In January 2014 Melissa Merritt and her spouse, Chris Fattore, were charged with first degree murder in the deaths of her ex-husband, Caleb Harrison, and his mother, Bridget Harrison.

This week Melissa and Christopher were also charged with the murder of Bill Harrison and extradited from Nova Scotia to Brampton Ontario where they remain in custody.

All six of their children are now in care. It is unfathomable that one woman could destroy so many people’s lives…of course, she is innocent until proven guilty.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyer Botches Adoption, Sued for Dead Infant

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Rachel and Heidi McFarland were thrilled with their little baby boy, who they adopted as a newborn from the infant’s 15-year-old mother. They loved him and cared for him for two months, but then received advice from their lawyer, Jason Rieper, that their son, named Gabriel, needed to be returned to his mother, Markeya Atkins.

Lawyer Rieper told the Des Moines couple that if they wanted to continue with the adoption he would need more than $10,000, but he didn’t explain to them why the money was needed. Rachel and Heidi were devastated, writing Mr. Rieper a letter indicating their desire to continue with the process. Mr. Rieper responded with a letter outlining Ms. Atkins “troubled youth” and her abuse of drugs. A few days later, Mr. Rieper showed up at the McFarland home, told them they had a slim chance of a successful adoption, and took the child to his birth mother. He advised them that a judge would likely side with the birth mother in any court proceeding.

Within five weeks of Gabriel’s return, he was dead and the child’s father, 17-year-old Drew James Weehler-Smith was charged with first degree murder. What the McFarland’s discovered was that their lawyer had failed to obtain the mother’s signature releasing the baby to the McFarlands, a fact he hid from his clients. They are suing for negligence and also arguing that Mr. Rieper had a legal obligation to advise child protection authorities of the danger of the infant’s return.

Poor little Gabriel, another victim of child abuse.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Elder Abuse: Death By Power of Attorney

Elder abuse is a world-wide phenomenon that has only recently received the attention and research dollars that it deserves. For our senior citizens who are victims of caregivers or family members, the emotional and physical damage and financial exploitation is often hidden behind closed doors.

Such is the case in a recent elder abuse situation in Missouri that has now been exposed by authorities who have charged Kansas City lawyer, Susan Elizabeth Van Note, age 44, with first degree murder and felony forgery.

Ms. Van Note’s 67-year-old father and his long-time girlfriend, who he intended to marry, were attacked by an intruder in their Ozarks vacation home. Mr. Van Note’s girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, age 59, did not survive her gunshot wounds and died at the scene.

Mr. Van Note survived and was transported to hospital, but died four days later, after his only child, Susan, gave his medical team a durable power of health care attorney, that authorized her to determine whether or not to “pull the plug”. She decided that life support should be terminated. With the death of her father and his fiance, Susan Van Note became the beneficiary of his multi-million dollar estate.

Authorities later determined that the power of attorney was a forgery.

A September 2012 criminal indictment against Ms. Van Note says that she “knowingly caused the death of William Van Note by shooting him…either acting alone or by knowingly acting together with or aiding another or others” and used a forged power of attorney to deny him potentially life-saving treatment. No charges have yet been brought against her in respect of the death of Sharon Dickson.

Two high school friends of Ms. Van Note’s have also been charged with felony forgery and second degree murder. Desre and Stacy Dory also plead not guilty.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Van Note was removed as the executrix of her father’s will and was ordered to relinquish control of the assets in her father’s estate. She did, however, manage to post cash bail of $1 million dollars after pleading not guilty, a situation that has caused concern because Ms. Van Note filed for bankruptcy the year before her father’s death, claiming assets of $250,000 against debts of $375,000.

The obvious inference is that Ms. Van Note has already helped herself to estate assets.

Ironically, Susan Van Note practices estate law touting her “compassionate representation of clients” and expertise in end-of-life issues.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang