What the Buzzard Saw
Viola Drees, Lorain Enright, and Clara Lewis never knew one another while they were alive. But they had a lot in common.
All spent their adult lives in Miami. All of them had been married, but had no children. All lived into their nineties, widows left to grow old in magnificent, rambling houses, beyond whose doors they rarely ventured. All of them left behind estates worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of them had employed Dr. Aloysius "Al" Brady as their primary care physician.
When they died, all of them left Brady a significant portion of their estates, or control of the estates.
Sixty-six-years-old, tall with long limbs, and a cadaverous complexion right down to his bone white hair and mustache, Brady has established a pattern of becoming the most important man in the life of women with surprisingly consistent backgrounds: wealthy, childless, frail, nonagenarians.
It appears he accomplished that by making more than just house calls. He bought them groceries and offered to manage their checkbooks, even if there were already people performing these tasks. He also stopped by for cocktails and bought dinner and flowers. In short, say family and friends, who described all of the women as homebound and lonely, he charmed them.
Lorain Enright of Coconut Grove was 96 years old when she died in 1993. She left behind a house and bank accounts worth $284,000, but never made out a will. She left Brady in control of her estate.
Clara Lewis of Coral Gables was 90 years old when she died in 1997. She amassed an estate worth more than $450,000. After bequeathing $187,000 in gifts to friends, she left Brady half of what was left.
And Viola Drees from Miami, who died in 2000 at 92 years of age, had cash and a home worth about $400,000, perhaps thousands more given the spike in real estate values. She left all but $12,000 to Brady.
In Drees's case, family and friends are convinced that was his goal all along, and have said so during court proceedings trying to block the will.
"I believe that Dr. Aloysius Brady used his doctor/patient relationship to take advantage of Viola Drees," Sherrin Smith, who had helped Drees with financial matters, said in an affidavit.
"I feel that he alienated the family," asserts Vivian Getman, Drees's niece, during a deposition. "He was visiting my aunt a lot and I don't feel he had her best interests at heart."
Both women have contested Drees's will, saying there's evidence the doctor was after her money. Before she died, Brady tried to borrow $30,000 from Drees in an unsecured loan, they say, but both women stepped in to stop it. (Brady's lawyer denies this.) Afterwards, they say, he turned Drees against them and influenced her to rewrite her will, changing the chief beneficiary from the niece, her closest living relative, to Dr. Brady.
Smith even brought her concerns to the Miami Police Department. Given the doctor's financial ties to Drees, and the fact that he was prescribing her medication, homicide detectives found the circumstances suspicious enough to open an inquiry into the events surrounding her death.
In an aging strip mall off Sunset Drive in Kendall, behind a cigar shop and an Argentinean steak house, is the office of "Dr. A. H. Brady General Practitioner." On a weekday afternoon the office appeared closed. The beige curtains were drawn and the door was locked. But when a New Times reporter knocked, Brady himself answered the door -- just a crack. He declined to talk and directed all questions to his lawyer. Then, just as he was closing the door, Brady, in a very soft voice, said, "It's all fabrications."
Other than a blanket denial, his lawyer didn't offer much more insight into Brady's behavior. "I really think it's most appropriate that this case be tried in the court system and not in the media," attorney Michelle Maracini says. "All of their allegations are disputed." She declined further comment.
Aloysius H. Brady came to the medical profession at a mature age, graduating from the University of Miami's Medical School in 1972 when he was 34 years old. He lists his specialty as family practitioner, and is licensed in both Florida and Ohio. His disciplinary record is clean in both states. In addition to his office, he has surgery privileges at South Miami Hospital.
Those who know him say he's a quiet, private man. Whether by design or not, few people saw him interacting with the three women he was caring for. By most outward signs, he lives modestly. He drives a three-year-old Cadillac DeVille, and resides with his wife in a single-story house in a leafy part of Kendall that he bought in 1973, a year after graduating medical school, for $57,000. Today it has a market value of $548,000.
While geriatrics is not his specialty, his decision to focus care on old women is a canny professional choice.
That's because as a nation, we're getting older. Medical advances have increased our lifespans by about twenty years since the first half of the Twentieth Century. According to census figures twelve percent of our population, roughly 35 million people, is aged 65 or older. That number is expected to grow to 70 million, or 20 percent, in the next three decades. And of that group the majority are women. The world over, women outlive men. They become the bulk of what demographers call "the oldest old," people who live into their eighties and beyond.
If they grow old alone, without children to care for them, these women are especially vulnerable. Their lack of mobility makes it difficult to get medical help, run errands, and shop for food.
And, of course, they are easy marks for the most unscrupulous criminals. So susceptible are old people in general to predators that police departments create units to investigate and attempt to protect them from becoming victims, such as the elderly abuse unit within the Miami-Dade Police Department's Domestic Crimes Bureau.
As Lewis, Enright, and Drees grew older and more feeble, the world outside their doors must have seemed more strange and terrifying by the day. No wonder they rarely left their homes.
It was most likely reassuring, then, to receive visits from a kindly doctor. We're raised to trust our doctors. We have to, we put our health in their hands. In return, medical ethics guidelines require them to put the health of the patient ahead of financial concerns.
And that is where Dr. Brady is on shifting ground. If it's not an outright conflict of interest, it might very well give the appearance of one for the primary care physician to be the major beneficiary of a patient's will. It can call into question the motives of someone who is prescribing medication, and may potentially make decisions whether to prolong the life of someone who is old and infirm. Of course, that's if they know they've been included in the will.
Because Brady and his lawyer declined to answer any questions, his complicity remains unknown. Did Dr. Brady know he was a beneficiary of these former patients? Did he ask to become one? Did the women discuss the subject with him beforehand? If so, what did he tell them? Does he negotiate for a portion of the estate in lieu of doctor's fees?
Among medical ethicists there is consensus that if a patient informed a doctor he was going to be included as a beneficiary, the doctor should simply not accept.
"If a physician knew there was a chance he might be named in a patient's will, he would need to immediately take himself off the case as serving as the primary physician, in my opinion," says Dr. Karl Steinberg, a geriatrician and director of a hospice and nursing center in Oceanside, California, who is also a national legal consultant on medical issues. "Elderly patients may lack the capacity to make a fully informed decision, and they may be subject to undue influence."
He adds: "It's just not appropriate to accept money from a patient, other than a fee. There's just something yucky about it."
"It's a conflict of interest," says Kenneth Goodman, co-director of the University of Miami's ethics program, and director of its bioethics program. "We have pretty bright-line rules in the practice of medicine about relationships that we deem appropriate. The reasons for this are that patients are presumed at the outset to be vulnerable, maybe they're sick, maybe they're scared. So we put those barriers up to keep vulnerable people from being taken advantage of."
"The most obvious prohibition is having sex with a patient," he continues. "Another clear rule is that you don't borrow money from your patients, and you don't insinuate yourself into their wills. Any time you find yourself in a patient's wallet or checkbook for anything other than a fee, you've gone from practicing medicine to doing something altogether different."
And of course, both men wonder, did these women understand everything clearly in their later years?
Lorain Enright may have been old, but she was certainly not senile, according to her great niece, Patricia Westberry Ketzle. "My great aunt was very strong-willed, very in control of her mind, but she became feeble," Ketzle recalls. "We did try to take care of her, especially my father. And it was difficult because she insisted on living alone."
In 1987 Ketzle's mother died, and the family became distracted in the aftermath. That happened to be the year Brady came on the scene, although Ketzle doesn't remember how. "One time he just showed up at her home when she was particularly needy. At the time he seemed like a god-send, a knight in shining armor. He's a very personable man, and got very involved in her life."
She adds: "He did have a way with older women. She was very persuaded by him."
Indeed, a letter Ketzle's father, Paul Westberry Jr., sent to lawyers, contained in probate court files, helps document that. (Westberry declined to comment.)
"When Dr. Brady came on the scene in 1987, he relieved me of paying her bills. He also went to the grocery store for her. Of course, she signed her checks and she paid Dr. Brady," Westberry wrote. "Her mind was very good, but she did forget things."
Westberry referred to himself in the letter as "the closest thing to a son she had." He did plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry on the house she insisted on living in alone.
"My father served that woman her entire life. We loved her and we took care of her," Ketzle says. "But it was exhausting."
Initially, the family embraced Brady's help. But as the doctor became more involved in Enright's life, she reached out to her family less. "I'm not going to say he turned her against us. I won't go that far," Ketzle says. But after meeting the doctor Enright did stop calling her kin.
"We felt he took an unusual interest in her," Ketzle notes.
Enright died of natural causes, on April 22, 1993, at age 96, having never made a will. Brady signed the death certificate as the certifying physician. Enright had also appointed Brady as her personal representative, the man in charge of her estate. The family could have protested, but, Ketzle admits, they were naive and felt a sense of relief that someone else was handling that business. "The truth of it was that we were tired," she says. Because of the lack of will, Brady hired a genealogical research firm that found more than 90 relatives. Enright's $300,000 in assets was divvied up among them all. Westberry, who had cared for her much of his life, received $4406. The estate paid Brady at least $20,000 for handling the deceased woman's affairs.
It goes down as a very difficult period in the family's life.
"We made the mistake of handing control over to him," Ketzle now says. "He came out smelling like a rose and got a lot of our money."
Unlike Enright, Clara Lewis, "Marty" to her friends, left few loose ends when she died.
"She had become a recluse," says her friend Mary Rodneff. "I'd stop by to give her some company. She just needed someone to talk to. She was set in her ways, but very trusting."
Rodneff, who has since moved out of Miami, never met Brady. "No, I'm sorry, I never heard of him," she says. Nor did Lewis's neighbors of 40 years, William and Eunice Amos. And that's unusual because they knew everyone else who Lewis included in her will: the stepdaughter in California, the niece in Virginia, her close friends in northern Florida, even Michael Carrier, the Winn-Dixie employee who used to make special trips to bring Lewis her groceries. But they did not know Brady. "I've never heard of him," Eunice Amos remarks.
Carrier, who had befriended Lewis and her husband in the early 1980s, and who Lewis selected as her personal representative after she died, did meet Brady once at the hospital after Lewis had a stroke. "I know he made house calls as well, but I was never there when he came," he says. "From what I could tell, he took care of the lady."
Lewis died on July 13, 1997, at age 90. Brady once again signed the death certificate. This time there was a last will and testament. Lewis doled out $187,000 in cash, from more than $450,000 in the estate, to eight friends and relatives. Her stepdaughter received $100,000. After the cash was paid out, she left half of her estate, which included her 10,000 square foot home on Santurce Avenue in Coral Gables, to Brady, who made at least $92,000 after the sale of the house.
"She offered the home to me once," Carrier recalled. "But I told her I didn't want it. I didn't agree to do this for financial gain. I did it because, well, I respected her."
Brady had been caring for Drees's husband Billy, a horse trainer and bar owner originally from upstate New York, since 1990. In 1993 Billy Drees died and Viola kept the doctor on as her personal physician.
Mary Oakes, a home-health nurse who had been caring for Mr. Drees, recalled a conversation she had with Brady around that time.
"My association with Dr. A.H. Brady was professional. So, I was surprised when he called me -- on a weekend day, sometime after Billy Drees had died -- and suggested that I be the executor of Mrs. Viola Drees's will," Oakes wrote in a notarized statement. "He stated öThere is money there.' This suggestion made me feel very uncomfortable."
Oakes declined to be interviewed other than to verify that statement and add that the reason it made her uncomfortable was because of the implications. "I just feel we have to be professional about this and not take advantage of vulnerable people," Oakes, who is now retired, says, adding that the matter was dropped and never brought up again.
As a widow, Viola Drees, like both Lewis and Enright before her, relied on significant outside help in order to get through her days. She had groceries delivered. She hired a woman who had grown up across the street from her, Sherrin Smith, to pay her bills and balance her checkbook as well as find people to help maintain the house. She used upstairs tenants to help with odd jobs. And her niece Vivian Getman, 64 years old, who lives in Sanford, Florida, would check in on Drees every month.
Drees was, by most accounts, animated and fond of her whiskey. "She drank a lot," Getman said in a deposition in which she also described her aunt as "short-tempered."
And she was flirtatious. "Viola Drees was very fond of male companionship and interaction," Smith claimed in court papers. "Drees especially loved and coveted the attention of professional men, i.e. lawyers and doctors."
"She was -- how could I describe her personality -- very impressionable by men," Getman's husband, Tony, also 64 years old, said in a deposition.
Friends and neighbors say they noticed Brady stopping by a couple of times a week. At first people assumed her health was bad. But according to depositions Smith and the Getmans gave, Brady was simply socializing with Drees over drinks.
On April 4, 1996, Drees called Smith and asked her to come over and sign some papers. Smith says that when she arrived she found out that she was being asked to sign as a witness for a $30,000 promissory note from Drees to Brady -- the doctor was trying to borrow the money from Drees through an unsecured loan. "I thought it was very unprofessional of a doctor to be doing that," Smith says. She immediately objected and called Drees's lawyer, John Sullivan. "John Sullivan told [me] he thought it was okay for [Drees] to loan the money."
Smith was incensed. She called the Getmans. Vivian Getman recalled the conversation with Smith.
"She told me that the doctor was trying to borrow some money from Aunt Vi," Getman said in her deposition. "I called Mr. Sullivan. At first Mr. Sullivan said it was okay [to give an unsecured loan] and then we talked again and he said he found out that a second mortgage could be put on Dr. Brady's house for $30,000 and I suggested -- no, I told Mr. Sullivan -- I did not think it was a good idea because if he defaulted on the payment, my aunt would be long gone and dead before anything could be done about it."
Despite this detailed account, Maracini denies her client ever tried to borrow any money. "No matter how many times they say it, it doesn't make it true," the lawyer protests.
Sullivan told New Times he couldn't remember whether Brady tried to borrow money. Yet, following that conversation, his lawyer filed an affidavit on August 31 stating that he "never advised Sherrin A. Smith that it was all right for Viola Drees to loan money to A.H. Brady."
Smith says she contacted the state Department of Health's Investigative Services Unit to file a complaint but never heard back from them. (Complaints about doctors don't become part of their record unless they are substantiated.) Vivian Getman says she called the elderly abuse hotline, and later spoke with a man who interviewed her aunt and said she appeared fine.
The episode became a turning point in Drees's relationship with Smith.
Afterwards Dr. Brady told Drees to make sure Smith was not around when he stopped by, according to the Getmans. Drees, in essence, "fired" Smith.
Drees explained to Tony Getman that "the doctor said that she didn't need Sherrin. The doctor said he would take care of getting the groceries. ... She didn't need anyone to be involved. That's what she told me."
Drees also stopped calling the Getmans as frequently. "We saw her less and less because of the doctor," Tony Getman said.
Two years later, in 1998, Drees changed her will. The Getmans said that Drees explained how Brady gave her a ride to the lawyer's office in order to do that. They believe this means Brady had knowledge he was a beneficiary.
In the first draft of her will, in 1992, Drees gave about $40,000 in cash to various friends (including $10,000 to Brady). "All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate to my niece, Vivian Getman," the will states. In 1994, she altered it to give 40 percent of her estate to Brady, another 40 percent to Smith, and only 20 percent to Getman. Then in 1998, she changed it again, for the final time. She eliminated Smith completely, and left only $1000 to Getman. After doling out about another $12,000 to friends, "All the residue of my estate, wherever situated, I devised to A.H. Brady."
In June of 1998, right before Drees changed her will, the Getmans spent a night in her house. When they arrived, Drees told them to wait outside because the doctor was in the house. When Drees finally let them in, Brady had gone out the back door. He didn't want to meet them. Tony Getman recalled seeing two cocktail glasses on the coffee table. "She got drunk that night and told us a lot of things about Dr. Brady," Tony Getman recounted. "She discussed him taking her out to supper. She discussed how he brought her flowers all the time." While recounting this Getman became upset. "I think this is dead wrong. I will tell him right to his face, öYou're nothing but a thief,'" he said.
It was the last time the Getmans would see Drees alive.
Viola Drees died on November 2, 2002, of heart failure. She was 92 years old.
Sullivan, Drees's lawyer, called the Getmans. Vivian immediately asked that an autopsy be conducted. She says Sullivan initially agreed to file the necessary paperwork, then backed off. She said he told her his law partners viewed it as a conflict of interest for him to authorize that. The autopsy was never performed.
The day the Getmans arrived in Miami, Sullivan read them Drees's will. "My reaction was öOh...My...God,'" Vivian recalled for New Times. "I immediately thought he had influenced her into doing this, leaving him everything."
That night the Getmans went out to the Chart House restaurant with Sherrin Smith and decided to protest the will. Smith agreed to help in any way she could. The Getmans filed a "Petition for Revocation of Probate Will" in March 2001. After more than a year, they settled.
"It just cost too much," Vivian Getman says. "I spent about $20,000 in lawyer's fees and they said it would be another $5000 to $6000 to do an autopsy."
As a result of the case, though, Smith says she found out she had been a beneficiary in a previous will. So when the Getmans dropped their case, she filed her own petition.
While working on her case, Smith went through the medications Brady had prescribed Drees, and wondered if they were safe to take while drinking alcohol, which Drees famously consumed every day. She took her findings to the Miami Police Department. Homicide detective Emiliano Tamayo opened a file. "A suspicious death investigation is presently being conducted by the City of Miami Police Department Homicide Unit regarding the death of Viola Drees," Tamayo stated in an affidavit on April 2 of this year. "Her death was unattended and a major beneficiary, the personal physician of the decedent, Dr. Aloysius Henry Brady signed off on the death certificate."
But without an autopsy, the case has stalled.
In April, circuit court Judge Arthur Rothenberg, in a summary judgment, ruled against Smith, stating that the evidence showed "the decedent possessed the testamentary capacity necessary to execute her will."
Smith has appealed the ruling.
In the days after Drees's death, Vivian Getman had to ask permission to go into her aunt's house. She went once to pick up a cookbook, some lace handkerchiefs, and some frying pans that had belonged to her grandmother. The second time she went to the house Dr. Brady made it clear he wanted appraisals on anything before it left the premises.
In June of this year, Dr. Brady took title of the house. In August he asked the caretaker living upstairs to move out. He was getting ready, he explained, to put the home on the market.