Who Gets The Candy Maker's Millions? It's A Family Vs. A Priest The Widow Left Much To A Priest Who Had Been Her Friend And Her Husband's. But Relatives Are Suing.

Posted: February 18, 1996

Arthur A. Lynch was a jovial, rosy-cheeked man who spent his mornings at his mint candy company in North Philadelphia and his evenings counting millions of dollars worth of bonds that he kept neatly arranged in cardboard boxes in the bedroom of his small brick home in Cheltenham.

On Wednesdays, he liked to go to the racetrack with his friend the priest, Father Anthony W. McGuire.

On May 24, 1986, Lynch died at 81, leaving all his wealth to his wife, Tressa. The day after Arthur Lynch was buried, Father McGuire began to assist the widow, who was 88, with her affairs.

Soon she began to sign checks for thousands of dollars to the priest and to members of his family. She also gave him a vacation home she and her husband had owned for decades in Ocean City.

When she died at 94, on Christmas Day 1992, Tressa Lynch bequeathed to the priest her other home, worth more than $100,000, in Cheltenham. To various Catholic churches and organizations, she left gifts of $1.1 million.

Now, some of her relatives claim the priest defrauded her.

All the gifts - and questions as to whether all the bonds Arthur Lynch kept in his bedroom were accounted for after he died - have been the subject of litigation in Montgomery County Orphan's Court for more than two years.

In a challenge to Tressa Lynch's will, several relatives contend that as much as $4 million in bearer bonds - securities as negotiable as cash - are missing. They accuse the priest of taking advantage of the elderly widow, aided by a Haverford lawyer, to divert her wealth to himself and to the Catholic Church.

Both men deny any wrongdoing or any knowledge of missing bonds.

The priest contends in court pleadings that the widow freely gave him the gifts.

Father McGuire, 65, now a monsignor and rector of Maternity Blessed Virgin Mary Church, a large parish in Northeast Philadelphia, ended up with more than $200,000 in cash and real estate - several times more than Tressa Lynch left to most of her relatives.

He was not governed by a vow of poverty. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia does not prevent its priests, who live in parish houses and receive annual stipends no higher than $13,000, from receiving gifts, having private income or owning property.

A dozen relatives challenging the will contend that in her final years Tressa Lynch was a confused, doddering woman, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, unable to care for herself, unable to recognize relatives and unaware of what she was signing as she scrawled her name on checks and documents. Two doctors and the Lynch housekeeper bolster those claims.

On the other side, the priest, two lawyers, Tressa Lynch's personal physician and several relatives say the elderly woman was shrewd and lucid to the end.

Montgomery County Orphan's Court Judge Stanley R. Ott, who heard a week of testimony on the case this month, will decide whether Tressa Lynch made the gifts and bequests with a sound mind.

The legal standard for overturning a will is strict, requiring clear and convincing evidence.

If the judge finds Tressa Lynch acted with a clear mind, her bequests will stand. If he finds otherwise, the gifts to the priest and the church could be nullified.

The legal dispute has split a large family, bringing nieces and nephews of the Lynches from Ireland and Florida to give testimony.

One niece, Maisie Bouchier, testified on Feb. 5 that Arthur Lynch kept a careful ledger listing all the securities he kept in his bedroom. Bouchier, a fiscal officer for a hospital in Dublin, said the old man showed her the ledger when she visited in 1985 and it listed a total of $6 million in bonds.

No ledger has turned up since.

After Tressa Lynch's death in 1992, slightly more than $2 million in securities were accounted for.

* It was an ordinary looking house, the two-story brick dwelling at 132 Boncouer Rd. in the Melrose Park section of Cheltenham.

No one seeing the unpretentious occupants, Arthur and Tressa Lynch, would have guessed them millionaires.

Tressa was a strong-willed, taciturn lady who wore plain dresses, peered through thick-lensed glasses and kept close count of her pennies.

Her husband Arthur liked a drop to drink and an outing at the racetrack. He was founder and proprietor of the Devonshire Cream Mint Co., which made after-dinner mints in a small factory in the 3000 block of North 11th Street.

Both were Irish immigrants. They had no children. Their lives revolved around the candy business, which opened in 1938, the Catholic Church, friendships with priests and nuns, and visits with Irish relatives who frequently traveled to the United States courtesy of the Lynches.

With profits from the candy company, Arthur Lynch bought some stocks and lots of bonds.

Tressa Lynch had a separate source of income, drawn from the funds of a reclusive, mentally disturbed heiress who lived in an upstairs bedroom of her home.

Nancy Brinley McKean, a descendant of Thomas McKean, the second governor of Pennsylvania and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been a psychiatric patient at Friends Hospital. Tressa Lynch had been a nurse there. McKean's mother, Katharine, had placed her daughter in the private care of Tressa Lynch, in the Boncouer Road house, in the 1950s.

The heiress had few visitors, except for the lawyers and bankers who handled her $5 million trust fund. McKean family portraits and antique furniture were in the rooms of the Lynch home along with heirloom silver, china, Tiffany lamps and Ming vases.

McKean died in 1980. She left most of her wealth to charity, but gave $75,000 to Tressa Lynch ``in grateful appreciation for her loyal and affectionate companionship'' and $50,000 to Arthur ``as an expression of gratitude for his kindness.''

By all accounts, Arthur Lynch was most kind - and generous. It was through his generosity that he came to know the Rev. Anthony McGuire in 1971.

The priest was then rector at Men of Malvern, a spiritual retreat for men in Chester County. There had been cost overruns on a building project at the retreat. Sitting at dinner one night with a group of visitors, the priest talked of his need for $15,000 to furnish the new building. Across the table, a cheerful, white-haired man piped up: ``You got it.''

The man approached Father McGuire after dinner, introduced himself as Arthur Lynch and asked how to make out the check.

With that began a camaraderie between priest and candymaker that bridged a 25-year difference in their ages.

For years, the two men made regular Wednesday afternoon visits to Philadelphia Park racetrack. While Lynch placed $50 bets, the priest stopped at the $2 window. Afterward, they returned to Lynch's home for a dinner prepared by the cook and housekeeper Elizabeth Johnson. Msgr. McGuire testified to all that in a deposition in 1994.

``We had good times,'' recalled the monsignor this month during a break in the testimony at Montgomery County Courthouse. Looking around the courtroom, feuding parties clustered on opposite sides, the priest shook his head. ``This is the price you pay for kindness,'' he said. ``Terrible what money can do.''

The monsignor knew Arthur Lynch's love for his bonds.

The old man used to surround himself with stacks of them on the bed in his room. When he took vacations at the Jersey Shore, he carted the bonds along in the back seat of his 1979 Cadillac. On the day Arthur Lynch died in 1986, the bonds were locked up in a wooden wardrobe in his bedroom.

The day after the funeral, the priest, then assigned to an impoverished parish in Norristown, took Tressa Lynch to the Montgomery County Courthouse to file Lynch's handwritten will leaving all his assets to his wife.

A second errand that day took them to the Haverford law office of C. Dale McClain, a former president of the Montgomery County Bar Association and former board member at Men of Malvern, to make plans for a will for Tressa Lynch.

Maisie Bouchier, the niece from Dublin, accompanied her aunt and the priest that day. She testified that Msgr. McGuire told her to wait in the car while he and Tressa Lynch went into the lawyer's office. The priest said the widow wanted it that way - to keep Bouchier from knowing her financial plans.

In testimony, Bouchier described Tressa Lynch as grief-stricken at the loss of her husband, ``deteriorated and distressed'' and seemingly incapable of focusing on finances. Of the priest, she said, ``He was very domineering. He was taking control.''

The monsignor described the event differently: He contended the elderly woman asked him to help her make a will to reflect her husband's wishes, and he did. McClain, who drafted the will, agrees.

Another niece, Betty Lou McKay, supported the priest in deposition testimony, saying he was her aunt's ``confidant.''

``She was well able to take care of her own things and her own affairs to the end,'' said McKay.

Five weeks after Arthur Lynch's death, Tressa Lynch signed the will that is now in dispute, leaving roughly half her wealth to the Catholic Church and half to be divided among 17 relatives. In a later codicil, also drafted by McClain, she bequeathed the Boncouer Road home and its furnishings to Msgr. McGuire.

Three months after her husband died, Tressa Lynch sold her vacation home in Ocean City to the priest in a transaction handled by McClain. The deed says the sale price was $55,000.

What it does not say is that Tressa Lynch provided the $55,000 to pay for it. The day the house was transferred, on Aug. 21, 1986, the widow signed checks totaling $55,000 to six of Msgr. McGuire's friends and relatives, in sums less than $10,000 each. The money, by prearrangement, was used to pay for the property. The transaction is spelled out in the court record.

The explanation for the convoluted transaction? It was done for tax purposes. Under federal law, gifts above $10,000 are taxable. McClain contends that Tressa Lynch understood the transaction and expressed clear wishes to give the priest the Shore house.

Maisie Bouchier testified that she found the six canceled checks a few months later while on another visit to Tressa Lynch. When she asked her aunt about them, she said, ``She said she didn't know what they were.''

In 1993, Msgr. McGuire sold the Ocean City house for $115,000. The Cheltenham house was sold for $112,000 in 1993. Its contents, the priest testified in his deposition, were auctioned for $15,000. The funds remain in Tressa Lynch's estate until the dispute is resolved.

James Doherty of Havertown, a nephew of Tressa Lynch, and his wife, Mary Lou, a lawyer who filed the 1993 will challenge, accuse McClain of assisting in a fraud of their aunt.

John A. Guernsey, a lawyer representing McClain, labeled the allegations ``scandalous, scurrilous and without any basis in fact.''

Beyond the $55,000, more than a dozen other checks were written to Msgr. McGuire, his mother and his brother from Tressa Lynch's bank account between 1988 and 1992.

In all, according to court exhibits, the priest received $35,900. His mother, Ellen McGuire, with whom he shared a bank account, received $11,000, and his brother, William, also a priest, received $10,000.

Msgr. McGuire testified in his deposition that some of the money was given for repairs to the house in Ocean City. He could not recall the purpose of all the checks. ``She just gave me checks,'' he said.

In 1991, the priest was elevated to the rank of monsignor and assigned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to his current parish of 4,000 families in the Northeast.

Tressa Lynch's will left $20,000 to the Glenmary Home Missioners in Cincinnati for special Masses to be said for her, her husband and all their dead relatives. More than three years after her death, the Masses have yet to be conducted.

Msgr. McGuire said at a break in the court proceedings that the money for them is tied up in the estate litigation.

``It's a terrible thing,'' the priest said. ``They were such wonderful people. I pray for them every day.''

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