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Altered will left Butler County fortune to son charged with murder

| Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011

A retired Butler County businessman changed his will to give his son the bulk of a multimillion-dollar estate about a month before the son allegedly killed the man and his wife.

Kenneth Abbott, 65, of Brady added a codicil to his will on May 11 making it clear he wanted Colin Abbott to reap the rewards of his "lucrative lifestyle." The wills of Kenneth Abbott and his wife, Celeste, became public as part of a court battle for control of the estates that began after police charged Colin Abbott, 40, of Randolph, N.J., in their deaths.

Kenneth Abbott planned to provide for Celeste, 55, in the event of his death but said he wanted most of his belongings, including a property valued at more than $1.2 million, to go to his son.

"(He) has proven to me in the past few years he has become a hard worker, and a responsible person serious about improving his lifestyle," Kenneth Abbott wrote.

Kenneth Abbott feared his wife, whom he married six years ago, would leave his estate to her four children when she died, giving them "a windfall bonanza that they first, have no right to, second, certainly do not deserve, third, should not be awarded with, and fourth, would most likely squander in no time."

His chief complaint was that three of her children did not seek an education to develop job skills and become "productive members of society." Kenneth Abbott made his fortune as an executive in pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert.

"They're in their very early 20s," said Eileen Whiting, the dead woman's sister. "That was a harsh judgment if he actually said that. I don't know what to think of that."

Whiting, 63, of Albion, N.Y., said she didn't know the nature of Kenneth Abbott's relationship with her sister's four children. She said her sister reunited Kenneth and Colin Abbott, his son from a previous marriage.

"It's a very strange turn of events," Whiting said. "We're still having a hard time digesting any of it."

Celeste Abbott wished to leave each of her children $1,000 upon her death, according to her will. She planned to give the balance of her estate to her husband, whom she named as executor. If her husband preceded her in death, Colin Abbott would become the executor, according to the document she signed in December 2007.

David Trautman, an attorney representing Celeste Abbott's children, said it's unknown what the estate entails. Trautman filed one of two requests seeking his clients' control of the estates.

"If everything was titled in his name, that's one thing, but if everything is held jointly, how do you determine what belonged to him and what belonged to Celeste?" Trautman said. "It's a conundrum. We don't know how it's held."

Kathleen Schaible, who works at First National Bank in Slippery Rock, signed as a witness to the change in Kenneth Abbott's will. Schaible told police that Kenneth and Colin Abbott came to the bank on June 6 and accessed Kenneth Abbott's safe deposit box, according to a criminal complaint police filed against Colin Abbott. An employee said the bank had no comment on the case.

Colin Abbott told relatives his father and stepmother died in a fiery car crash in New Jersey sometime around June 8 that burned their bodies beyond recognition. But New Jersey state police could find no record of the crash and contacted Pennsylvania state police on July 13 to check the Abbotts' home on West Liberty Road.

That's where troopers found the burned and scattered remains in a pond and around two burn barrels on the 25-acre property. A bullet was found in the pond. Dental records show the remains are those of Celeste Abbott and "probably" Kenneth Abbott.

Police found Celeste Abbott's credit cards and driver's license, along with a .38-caliber handgun, in Colin Abbott's home.

A judge on July 28 granted a request from Kenneth Abbott's sister, Kathleen Neal, to temporarily freeze Colin Abbott's accounts and prohibit him from transferring any of his father's assets.

According to the request, on or around June 6 someone wrote a $499,000 check from an account held by Kenneth Abbott at First National Bank and deposited in an Ameritrade account. There is a "high likelihood" Colin Abbott forged the check, the request states.

While in jail, Colin Abbott has told family members he plans to transfer titles of vehicles that belonged to Kenneth Abbott, possibly with the help of his girlfriend, Rayna Regenthal, the request said.

A hearing on the request to freeze and block Colin Abbott's access to his father's assets is scheduled for Aug. 25. Neal's attorneys, Thomas King and Ronald Elliott, did not return a message left seeking comment.

Colin Abbott was jailed without bond on charges of homicide and abuse of a corpse. A preliminary hearing is set for Sept. 29. His attorney, James Donohue, did not return a message.

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