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Abbott estate's auctions begin in Butler County

| Sunday, June 2, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Kathleen Neal watches as the John R. Huey II Auctioneers sell the possessions of her brother, Ken Abbott, on Saturday, June 1, 2013, at the Brady, Butler County home that belonged to Ken and Celeste Abbott,
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Norm Abbott (center) watches as auctioneers sell the possessions of his brother, Ken, on Saturday, June 1, 2013, in Brady, Butler County.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Kathleen Neal stands in the shade as the John R. Huey II Auctioneers sell her brother, Ken Abbott's, possessions at the Slippery Rock home that belonged to Ken and Celeste Abbott, Saturday, June 1st, 2013.

Kathleen Neal watched quietly on Saturday as, piece by piece, an auctioneer sold off items from her slain brother's Brady estate.

Floor jacks, lawn tractors, many tools, auctioneer John Huey chanted the bids and spectators raised them with a nod or a wave of a numbered card — all occurring near where prosecutors say Colin Abbott shot his father and stepmother and burned their remains in a crime that stunned the Butler County community with its seeming callousness.

Some people went to the auction for a chance to see inside the gated rural property, which armed security guards and surveillance cameras have protected since soon after police found the scattered remains of Ken and Celeste Abbott on July 5, 2011.

“I've read about what happened over here,” said Tom Mekis, 75, of Clearfield, who went with his wife, Sue, 62, to see the estate. “I kinda was interested in what the place looked like.”

But others in the crowd of more than 350 went for a chance to pick up equipment, spending anywhere from a few dollars for a wrench to hundreds of dollars for a riding tractor, items that Ken Abbott, a retired pharmaceutical executive, had gathered over several decades and stockpiled at the sprawling, 25-acre estate with his fourth wife.

“(Ken) worked his whole life for this,” said Neal, 63, of Marshall, Va., the trustee of her brother's estate. “It shouldn't have been taken away.”

The auction took place in a field more than 100 yards from the main house.

Guards kept people from wandering past yellow caution tape that cordoned off most of the West Liberty Road property, where the Abbotts raised several horses and other farm animals. Those who hoped to see inside the house or look at the drained pond where some remains of the couple were found were left disappointed.

Of the curiosity seekers, Neal's husband, Gary, 72, said: “We just have to accept it. A lot of people have those kind of interests. It's sad, but it's a reality.”

The auction was the first of as many as eight as the Abbott family settles the estate. It featured several riding tractors, trailers, lawn equipment and a wide variety of tools, some brand-new.

On Thursday, Butler County Judge S. Michael Yeager denied a motion from Colin Abbott to stop the auctions, estate attorney Tom King said.

Abbott is trying to withdraw the no-contest plea he made in February to third-degree murder charges in the deaths of his father and stepmother. He is serving a prison sentence of 35 to 80 years.

He has appealed to Pennsylvania Superior Court because he now wants the case to go to trial.

The last day anyone heard from Ken and Celeste Abbott was June 6, 2011. Several days later, Colin Abbott told his family that the couple had died in a fiery car crash in New Jersey, investigators said, but police there had no record of any such accident. Family members asked state police in Butler County to check on the Abbotts, and they discovered the remains on July 13, 2011.

Ken Abbott's will leaves the bulk of his estate, estimated at $4 million, to Colin Abbott, though prosecutors question the validity of that document because it was changed a month before the couple disappeared. Prosecutors maintain that Colin Abbott killed Ken and Celeste Abbott because he wanted his father's money to wipe out mounting debts.

Prosecutors say Colin Abbott's attempt to withdraw his plea is a ploy to generate publicity so his mother, a murder-mystery publisher, can get a book deal. Deborah Buchanan of Rockaway, N.J., has denied that.

Yeager ruled that auction proceeds will be held in escrow while Colin Abbott's appeal proceeds. King is seeking to bar him from profiting in any way from his father's estate. Yeager is expected to rule in July.

The next auction, scheduled for June 28, will include restored vehicles, motorcycles and boats.

“It's just stuff,” said Ken's brother Norm Abbott, 61, of Cherry, Butler County, as items sold on Saturday. “It's Ken's stuff. There's no emotional attachment.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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