It was a bitter 1996 court battle that read like blue-blood pulp fiction: A young inventor woos a wealthy dying Seattle widow 18 years his senior, moves into her mansion in the gated Highlands compound, fires the help, schemes to become her legal guardian, arranges a wedding in a Las Vegas chapel named We've Only Just Begun (where the aging, dazed cancer victim has to be helped repeating her vows), and becomes the apparent beneficiary of her $3 million will ("High Society," SW, 4/24/1996). Ultimately, a court nullifies the marriage.
Now, responding to an appeal of that ruling, the state Supreme Court has peeked over the Highlands' exclusive walls to decide, among other things, what love's all about. The unanimous conclusion: In the inventor's case, it's all about fraud. In the course of reaffirming some important marital and inheritance case law, the court says the inventor, Christian Lint, 46, may have loved the widow, Estelle Murphy, 64, but his "marriage was void due to lack of solemnization and exceptional circumstances indicating that fraud of the grossest kind was practiced." The court thought it was of "considerable probative value" that Lint had a girlfriend as late as September 1995, the month before he wed the heavily medicated Estelle who, according to a medical logbook at the time, would "attempt to brush her teeth with cleaning fluid... buttered a photograph and tried to eat it... and talked about having a nice dinner of 'bell bottom toad.'" She died at Christmastime in 1995. A King County judge invalidated the marital contracts and the high court agreed—although Lint may have won a point. In his appeal, he argued that love by itself cannot be held fraudulent since that "requires the trial court to plumb human emotions and make judgments about feelings that are entirely subjective." Writes Judge Gerry Alexander: "We are not satisfied that the findings of fact... justify a conclusion that Christian fraudulently represented that he loved Estelle." But, the court added, even if he did love her, it was her money he married.