Jill Porter: ESTATE OF DISBELIEF

Phila. woman says push by ex for 9/11 money insults son's memory

Posted: June 20, 2007

IF LOSING HER beloved son Kenny on 9/11 was unbearable for Philadelphia mom Elsie Goss-Caldwell, what's happened since is unconscionable.

Kenny's father, who she says abandoned the family when Kenny was a toddler and played no role in his life, is seeking to profit from his death.

In an act of shameless greed, Leon Caldwell Sr. has filed for half of the nearly $3 million awarded to Kenny's estate from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.

"It's not even about the money - how dare you insult Kenny's memory?" seethed Goss-Caldwell, of West Philadelphia.

"To think you're supposed to sit back and profit off of Kenny? No. That's not right. That's not respecting him at all."

Goss-Caldwell intends to be in a Brooklyn court today, seeking to disqualify her ex-husband from receiving any part of the estate.

And what does the paragon of fatherhood have to say for himself?

He said he stopped seeing Kenny and his other son, Leon Jr., when his ex-wife "prevented him from continuing to do so," according to a legal brief filed by his lawyer.

Goss-Caldwell denies it.

And, by his own account, that would have been around 1976 - 25 years before Kenny died.

Caldwell never sought visitation or custody in court - couldn't afford a lawyer, he claims - and never attempted to re-establish a relationship when Kenny grew up.

According to Elsie, he last saw Kenny in 1984, at her mother's funeral, 17 years before Kenny's death.

As Elsie's lawyer, Paul J. Bschorr, put it so succinctly in his brief, Caldwell "abandoned Kenny and had nothing to do with him until the smell of money brought him forth."

Caldwell, a cook, and Goss-Caldwell, a tax practitioner, had been married for six years when he left the family and moved in with an aunt in Paterson, N.J., in 1974.

According to his court pleadings, he saw Kenny and his older son, Leon Jr., every weekend for the next year.

But when Goss-Caldwell stopped letting him see them at her home and told him to arrange visits at her mother's house, his visits got "sporadic."

That's the insurmountable "impediment" he cited as the reason he soon vanished from their lives.

And while he claims to have supported the boys financially, he was still more than $12,000 in arrears on court-ordered child support when Kenny died, Elsie's brief said.

At $30 a week, that's a lot of missed payments.

"He simply was not around," Goss-Caldwell's legal brief said.

"Not around for family gatherings, birthdays, holidays or graduations; not around to counsel the boys; not around to attend their sports and school functions; in sum, not around as a parent should be."

Caldwell was so estranged from the family that when Kenny died, Goss-Caldwell didn't even think to contact him.

"He was the last thought on my brain," she said.

Kenny had called his mom the morning of Sept. 11 to tell her he loved her, but had to get out of the World Trade Center because of "a bomb."

He was an executive for a consulting company on the 102nd floor of the North Tower - the first building hit by the terrorists. His body was never found.

Elsie's agonizing search for her son and her refusal to accept his death was chronicled in gut-wrenching stories by Barbara Laker in the Daily News.

Weeks after Kenny vanished in the rubble, she left messages on his cell phone beseeching him not to give up, that "Mommy" was still looking for him.

She continued paying rent on his Brooklyn apartment, which she'd visit and keep clean, in case her miracle came true and he came home.

She was reluctant to sign his death certificate months after 9/11, because "to me that meant like that was the end, you were giving up," she told me.

"My pastor said it doesn't mean that, it's just paperwork."

But when she showed up to fill out a death certificate, she was told she wasn't listed as next of kin for Kenny, who was unmarried and had no children.

His long-estranged father had signed the papers, seeking to be a beneficiary of his estate.

Caldwell's attempt to exploit the death of his son is as naked an act of greed as I can imagine - an affront to Goss-Caldwell and an assault on Kenny's soul.

"Kenny would hate that he's taking me through all this," Goss-Caldwell said. "Kenny would tell him to 'leave my mom alone.' "

If there's any justice in a world so cruel as to take her "baby boy" from her, the Surrogate's Court will do just that. *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/porter

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