Sister convicted of keeping siblings' items in Fayette estate battle
A West Virginia woman was convicted on Thursday of theft for failing to return collectible dolls, baseball cards, knives, jewelry and other items to her brothers and sisters after their mother's death.
A Fayette County jury deliberated for an hour before finding Marlene Wesolowsky, 49, guilty of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds.
“It's been a long, tortuous process,” said Michael Mehall, 41, of Scottdale, one of Wesolowsky's brothers, after the verdict was read before Judge Nancy Vernon. “I think we got justice for Mom and Dad.”
State police Trooper John Marshall filed the charge after Wesolowsky's siblings said the Morgantown woman failed to return the items after their mother died in 2004.
The siblings had stored the items at their mother's home in Hopwood. Wesolowsky was appointed administratix of Rosemary Mehall's estate.
Among the items was Mehall's collection of 300,000 baseball cards, valued at $148,000. Sister Ralene Debord of Wexford said she never received any of her $5,000 worth of dolls, which included porcelain Cabbage Patch dolls.
Brother Ernie Mehall of Hopwood said his Roberto Clemente-autographed baseball and bat are missing.
On Thursday, Wesolowsky testified the baseball cards were not in the house when she became administratix.
“He asked me about his baseball card collection, and I said, ‘Michael, it's not here,' ” Wesolowsky, 49, testified.
“I said, ‘Michael, what do you think I did with them? Took them to the garden and burned them?' ”
Michael Mehall previously told jurors that Wesolowsky threatened in August 2007 to burn the collection, which included a rare, 1952 Topps No. 407 Eddie Mathews Milwaukee Braves card valued at $10,000.
Defense witness Ruth Johnston, 70, of Hopwood testified that before Mehall died, she had Johnston place the baseball card collection in the garage so that Michael Mehall could retrieve it. The boxes stayed there for about two months, Johnston said.
“I was told Michael had got them,” Johnston testified, but jurors were directed to disregard her remark when Wesolowsky's attorney, David Kaiser of Uniontown, objected.
DeBord testified the dolls and other items were in her mother's house when the siblings met there in August 2007. She said Wesolowsky would not allow her to take the dolls that day.
When the siblings returned to the house in November 2007 without Wesolowsky present, DeBord testified, the items were missing.
“It was like the Grinch who stole Christmas,” DeBord testified. “Everything was gone.”
Wesolowsky denied taking any of the items. She testified she divided the dolls between herself and DeBord and turned over knives and coins to an attorney for safekeeping.
She testified she never saw the autographed ball and bat, which Ernie Mehall said he acquired at a Pittsburgh Pirates game he attended when he was 7 with his late father, Frank Mehall Sr.
“I never even knew that existed,” Wesolowsky testified.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic said the monetary value of the items was not as important as their sentimental value.
“What she stole was their childhood memories,” Sepic said.
Sepic said Wesolowsky could have avoided the trial by returning her siblings' belongings.
“The whole object from day one has been to try to get the victims their property back,” Sepic said. “Had she come forward two minutes before we picked a jury and said, ‘I'll give you your stuff back,' we could have worked this out in some way and saved her a felony conviction.
Kaiser declined to comment. Wesolowsky will be sentenced on May 8.
Michael Mehall said he and his siblings realize their sister may spend time in prison.
“Even though she has put us through hell, still, after everything that she has done, she's still our sister,” he said. “It's just she made some horrifically bad decisions, for whatever reason.”
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.