When Someone Dies Alone, They Don Hazmats, Go In

The story of 2 public administrators, Eugene Brown, and his millions
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2019 6:45 PM CDT
Updated May 17, 2019 1:00 AM CDT
When Someone Dies Alone, They Don Hazmats, Go In
Public administrators Dale Tisserand and Melani Rodrigue changed the locks on Eugene Brown's home.   (Getty Images)

"The Mystery of the Millionaire Hermit" is a story with three main sets of characters: the man who died alone in his 90s in his Corning, Calif., home in 2015; the two public administrators tasked with tracking down his will and heirs; and the heir-finding company that got in on the action. In a lengthy piece for Bloomberg, Claire Martin introduces us to Dale Tisserand and Melani Rodrigue, investigators with the Tehama County Public Administrator, who were tasked with dealing with Eugene Brown's estate. They began where they always do: They had the locks changed on his house so it was in their control, had his mail forwarded to their office in case it led them to anyone, and showed up at his house with hazmat suits in hand. As Martin writes, most of the homes the women enter are in shambles. (They once memorably found the "jellified remains" of 30 cats stored in boxes.)

The suits weren't needed in Brown's case. His home was tidy and relatively bare: He had no mattress, just a foam bedroll. His second bedroom contained only a filing cabinet—and inside were banking statements and handwritten ledgers that detailed his mutual-fund investments. Rodrigue and Tisserand eventually arrived at his net worth: $2.7 million. But while Brown spoke to his investment adviser twice daily—the man "cried so hard he had to hang up" upon learning of Brown's death—it took months to uncover his heirs: his sister's four children. They were found by probate research firm Brandenburger & Davis; these firms contact heirs, vaguely tell them an unnamed relative has died, and offer to represent them for a 33% cut. Two of Brown's heirs said yes, then told their siblings—who decided to represent themselves, cutting the company out. (Read the full story to learn how much each got, and what some of the money has been spent on.)

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