"The Bicycle King"
What follows is an extract from the draft of a book. This is the extraordinary but true story of what became of Edmund Crane's estate and descendants. Details of publication will be posted here.
Sir Edmund Crane - value of estate £9 million in 1957
Shortly before Sir Edmund Crane died in 1957 his daughter, Joan, flew to Cannes. She had received a phone call from him in which he told her that he had excluded her from his will. Why would Edmund do that to his own daughter? Was it that he was still offended by the loyalty she had shown to her mother at the time of her parents separation and divorce or that he simply didn’t trust her with his money? Why didn't he leave his own daughter, Joan, his only child, the major part of his estate?
Fifty years later Joan wrote to her son, Peter, telling him that her father was a very shrewd man and that he knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote his will. What could she have meant by that? Because, on the face of it, his will was ostensibly vulnerable to legal approaches by his second wife, Kitty and he had specifically excluded Joan.
He and Joan had a uneasy relationship. However, for a man to spend most of his life in the rough and tumble of an industrial manufacturing and marketing business and still have a fondness for his daughter is not surprising. Joan, had, unlike her mother, produced three sons. These three sons were the real target of Edmund's beneficial fondness and the intended recipients of his wealth when he died. He wanted to give them a helping hand and had hoped that his work would be continued by them.
Living in Jersey, Edmund had consulted with Mourant de Feu et Jeune (lawyers), who helped him compose his will. According to a partner of Mourant, Edmund was advised against leaving Kitty half of his estate because of the risk of Kitty claiming, under Jersey law, that she was entitled to two thirds rather than one half of that she had been left.
Kitty was suspected of infidelity with the captain of the Natalie, Edmund's yacht. Her openly hostile attitude towards Edmund was unfortunate but surprisingly did not result in divorce. Perhaps he was lonely and, particularly at his age, negative contact with Kitty was better than nothing at all.
Edmund’s relationship with Kitty had long since lost any warmth or attraction and had only just survived threats of divorce. Kitty, who had started her career as a dancer was a formidable gold-digger who later went on to become a Baroness! Many years after his death she described him as ‘a loathsome man whom she utterly detested’. Edmund had depicted his first wife, Naomi, as highly strung, prone to depression and subject to bouts of mental illness which he described as bonkers - alternating between illogical depression and obsession. It is hardly surprising that he and Naomi were incompatible.
Joan flew to Cannes, not because she felt close to her father but because she knew that she had been left out of his will. According to Mourant de Feu et Jeune, subsequent to Joan coming to his bedside he changed his will to allow her to benefit from the interest from half of the estate left to his three grand-children. In this modified will he also bequeathed her his home in St Helier.
On his death it was abundantly clear that Edmund’s will was primarily intended to benefit his three grand-children and that Kitty was left more than sufficient to enable her and her adopted daughter, Corinne, to live very comfortably for the rest of their lives. There was no explanation as to why he left his own daughter so little of his considerable fortune. However, Kitty subsequently offered the explanation that he had recognised that his daughter had taken her mother’s side against him following his discovery that Naomi had been unfaithful. Kitty also added that Sir Edmund thought that Joan was mentally ill. Joan had always been close to Naomi and that didn’t change after Edmund booted Naomi out of their home and filed for divorce. “Ted thought Joan was too much like her own mother” said Kitty.
Much to the delight of three lots of lawyers Kitty took her claim, under Jersey law, to Court. The wisdom of a Judge who saw a woman who had married for money and was, by her actions, seeking to deprive his grand-children of that which Edmund had wanted them to have is questionable. Nevertheless, over a period of two years and at vast benefit to the various lawyers, Kitty was awarded two thirds of the estate. Joan was given the remaining third and the grand-children given nothing whatsoever. The court laid down a condition that Joan would be the caretaker of the money until her children came of age and would use it exclusively to take care of their interests. Of course, at the ages of 14, 12 and 10, her children, were not told about this arrangement.
Mourant du Feu, who acted on behalf of the grand-children were hopelessly ineffective in representing their interests. Mourant allowed them, primary beneficiaries in the will, to be completely written out of the revised will which emanated from the court case. Instead, the Judge saw fit, in stark contrast to the will of their grandfather, to give their share to Joan. There was no provision for ensuring that Sir Edmund’s will was executed. Not only were the grand-children not formally notified of the Judge’s decisions but no provisions were made to protect their interests in the event that their mother was tempted to use the money as if it was hers. Perhaps that is what Edmund was trying to avoid? However, that is exactly what happened.
Mourant du Feu in Jersey described Kitty as greedy and Joan's conduct as completely immoral.
It is interesting to note that Joan, in her book about her father makes no attempt to describe her actions and the result of the Court case. Importantly, she also fails to note that her own father excluded her.
Subsequent to the settlement of the will the Daily Express reported Kitty as having described Joan as drunk. In reality, she had taken prescription Benzodiazepines (purples hearts) to ‘calm her nerves’ and was suffering from the effects of this drug. Joan was addicted to Benzodiazepines and took them continuously until she died - some 46 years later, having wreaked havoc with her own family throughout this time. Joan sued the Daily Express at considerable cost and won £100 in damages.
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© Peter Trevelyan-Johnson 2017