By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Retired Lawrence police officer William Hale is facing criminal charges for allegedly stealing from an elderly Andover Street woman he befriended.
Hale, 77, is scheduled for arraignment in Lawrence District Court next week on uttering, forgery and larceny of property over $250 — charges stemming from a state police investigation into the estate of Elizabeth B. Lacey, according to court records.
The thefts and forgeries occurred between May 3, 2007 and Sept. 5, 2007, according to court papers. Lacey died at age 89 on May 1, 2007.
In April, in a civil action, a Superior Court judge placed an attachment on Hale’s 7 Meadow St. home to recoup money he took from Lacey.
The attachment was for $70,000, nearly half the valuation of Hale’s three-bedroom house, which is assessed at $147,200, according to city records.
After Lacey’s death, in probate and civil trials, Hale, a 33-year police veteran, repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when asked if he cashed and deposited checks belonging to Lacey, known to her close friends and surrogate family members as “Aunt Betty.”
Hale’s relationship with “Aunt Betty” and the dispute over wills she executed was exposed in a July 24, 2011 Sunday Eagle-Tribune article.
When Lacey died in 2007, her surrogate family members were shocked to learn that Hale was named sole beneficiary of her estate. Hale is the son of a man Lacey dated in the 1950s. The will leaving everything to Hale was written eight months after another will written by Lacey which left everything to James Wareing, his mother Joan McQuire and his two twin sisters, Denise Clegg and Diane Forrester, who are all Lawrence natives.
Both wills were prepared by a longtime acquaintance of Hale — lawyer Robert Kelley, who was previously the register of deeds for Essex County.
Wareing and his family couldn’t believe Lacey had left her house and money to Hale, a man they said she distrusted and disliked because he badgered her for money.
Judge Mary Ann Sahagian didn’t believe it either when the wills were contested in Probate Court. On July 7, 2011, Sahagain threw out the Hale will and approved the earlier will. Sahagian also referred her findings to District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett for a criminal investigation.
The checks caused Sahagian to doubt Hale’s claims on the estate. She said in her decision that Hale had cashed personal checks in Lacey’s name and also her monthly pension checks — both before and after she died, according to court records.
Lacey’s Sovereign Bank checking account was all but drained after her death. When she died, she had $66,000 in the account. Seven months later, in December 2007, her balance was just under $53, according to court documents.
Sahagian said Hale also forged Lacey’s name to six monthly pension checks that he cashed after her death.
The child of Lithuanian immigrants, Elizabeth married William Lacey in 1939. They had two children who tragically died in a house fire on Jan. 1, 1948. The Lacey’s divorced in 1953.
When she died, Lacey’s home at 418 Andover St. was worth $175,000. She had another $170,000 in her checking and savings accounts, according to court papers.
Trooper Steve Buccheri, who is assigned to Blodgett’s office, filed an application for criminal charges against Hale on Jan. 13. Hale is now scheduled for arraignment on Thursday, Jan. 31 in Lawrence District Court.
Hale could not be reached for comment for this story. The attorney who represented him last spring, John Hodges Jr., died in July.
Bryan Kerman, the Methuen attorney representing Wareing and the McGuire family, declined comment for this story.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.