by Matt Pearce
Van Note’s 59-year-old girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, was shot three times in the back of the head. Dickson, the heir to a share of Van Note’s fortune, died. Van Note survived — and then he didn’t.
Van Note’s daughter, Susan Elizabeth “Liz” Van Note, now his would-be heir, showed up two days later at the hospital where her father was in a coma and hooked up to a ventilator. She brought with her a legal document giving her the power to tell doctors to pull the plug on her father, which she claimed was his wish. So they did, and Van Note died.
Liz and William Van Note had a strained relationship at times, though they had patched things up a little in recent years. Van Note’s money now fell to his daughter.
Two years later, the spin around that series of events has taken on a criminal torque, and William Van Note’s fortune is at the center of a three-suspect murder case.
In September, a grand jury indicted Liz Van Note, alleging that she shot her father and forged the pull-the-plug papers with the help of a Shawnee couple, 42-year-old Desre Lechele Dory and 43-year-old Stacey Nicole Dory. Camden County prosecutors charged Van Note with first-degree murder. The Dorys’ connection to Van Note is unclear — Camden County Prosecutor Brian Keedy would tell The Pitch only that Stacey Dory and Liz Van Note attended high school together. Prosecutors charged the Dorys with second-degree murder, saying their forgery resulted in William Van Note’s death.
It’s been a tumultuous ride for Liz Van Note, a bankrupted Lee’s Summit lawyer who specializes in the very issues entangling this case.
Her legal website, which is still live online, advertises seminars in which she would give advice on estate planning and do-not-resuscitate orders. “In this class we will discuss the basic elements of an estate plan by defining wills, powers of attorney, powers of attorney for health care and non-probate transfers,” the website reads. Another on end-of-life care adds, “For ourselves, our families and our loved ones, it’s time to get the facts straight.”
New facts in this case have observers wondering if William Van Note’s money is going toward the legal defense of the daughter accused of killing him.
On October 4, Liz Van Note posted an eye-grabbing $1 million cash-only bond — a rarity in most murder cases and especially eyebrow-raising for Van Note. Three years ago, she had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. In federal-court filings, her listing of possessions and debts was a woe-is-me document straight out of recession America. She was underwater on her mortgage, owing more on her $210,000 Longview Farm Villas home in Lee’s Summit than it was worth. She also owed tens of thousands of dollars in other personal and medical debts. Squaring up with her creditors was unlikely. Her work as a lawyer was bringing in a little more than $3,000 a month, and she was receiving $400 a month in child support for her son, now in the seventh grade. So she filed for, and received, bankruptcy protection.
Yet Van Note’s posting the $1 million cash bond apparently means that she has become a millionaire since her bankruptcy.
“In some time subsequent to that, is my guess, she amassed this million dollars she used to put down for her bond,” Kansas City lawyer Erlene Krigel, the trustee for Van Note’s bankruptcy case, tells The Pitch.
If Van Note already had the money when she filed for bankruptcy, it would indicate that she had committed fraud, Krigel says. “She’s the one who prepared her documents and signed them under oath, and she testified under oath.”
Van Note’s Overland Park defense attorney, Tom Bath, didn’t respond to The Pitch’s requests for comment. Bath told The Kansas City Star that he didn’t know where she got the bond money and implied that a friend might have given it to her.
But you don’t have to look far to find a potential source of the money. What about the $1.8 million in assets that William Van Note left behind to be disbursed by a Clay County probate court? After her father’s death, Van Note was in charge of managing this portion of her father’s estate. After prosecutors leveled a murder charge against Van Note, the court stripped her of the job and appointed independent attorney David Holdsworth to safeguard it.
“Were those assets used to raise a million dollars? I don’t know,” Holdsworth tells The Pitch. “But I would say the bulk of that probate estate she has already distributed to herself. Legally, there’s nothing on the face of it that’s wrong with her distributing it to herself.”
If Liz Van Note did take the money, the real question may be why she sat in jail for a month before paying the $1 million cash bond.
Holdsworth says the exact amount of William Van Note’s assets that his daughter allocated to herself isn’t clear yet because Liz Van Note managed the money herself with minimal supervision from the court. “This is a huge job,” Holdsworth says of the estate that he now has to evaluate. “It’s very complex.”
The $1.8 million of William Van Note’s money being sorted out by probate court may be only a slice of the wealth that has been transferred since his death. Some close to the case have estimated that his estate is worth anywhere from $8 million to $10 million. But without third-party management of all the assets, it’s hard to know what has gone where. (Andy Dickson, Sharon Dickson’s son, has been fighting Liz Van Note’s claim to the money. He declined to comment for this story.)
If Liz Van Note is convicted of killing her father — her attorney has conceded that Van Note forged the hospital documents but says there’s no evidence that she was at the scene of his shooting and Dickson’s killing — she’ll lose her right to the money in both the probate court and under Missouri nonprobate statutes. Until then, she’s free and, according to her attorney, spending time with her son.
Prosecuting attorney Keedy wouldn’t discuss the possibility that Liz Van Note has used her father’s money for her defense. Keedy also didn’t think much of the suggestion that a newly minted millionaire might be a flight risk.
“That’s the purpose of the bond, to give her lots and lots of incentive to show,” Keedy says of Van Note’s impending trial. “If she decided she didn’t want to show up, she’d be forfeiting a million dollars. Most people wouldn’t want to do that.”