Famed spiritualist testifies in estate trial

The Times Argus, Feb. 25, 2002
By ALAN J. KEAYS, Herald Staff

A Dorset woman who bills herself as “The Voice of the Spirit World” was either a spiritualist helping an older woman with cancer or an opportunistic pretender seeking the woman’s 580-acre property.

Those were the two pictures presented of Rosemary Altea — a medium, spiritualist and best-selling author — Tuesday in Rutland Superior Court. A jury will decide.

At stake is the estate of the late Llewella Day, valued at $720,000 with most of it consisting of an expansive hilltop tract in Ira. Altea is appealing a decision that removed her as Day’s sole beneficiary.

“This isn’t some storefront psychic trying to bilk some money out of an old lady,” Altea’s attorney, James Swift, told the 10-person jury. He said later during his opening argument, “There is no motive for somebody in Rosemary’s position to want to bilk a little old lady out of her farm in Ira, Vermont.”

Attorney Jack Kennelly represents several of Day’s former business associates, who claim Altea took advantage of the dying woman.

“This is a case about a spiritualist healer and psychic who met a weak woman,” Kennelly said. “Within a year of that meeting, Llewella became estranged from many of her friends.”

And Altea was named the sole beneficiary of Day’s will, he said.

One aspect of the case all parties agreed on during the trial’s opening day is that the land caught in the middle of this legal battle is a special piece of property.

“The Day Farm in Ira, and no one is going to dispute this, is a breathtaking property,” Kennelly said.

Day, at the center of this controversy, died of cancer in January 2001 at age 73. Prior to her death, she rewrote her original will twice to bequeath her entire estate to Altea.

The original will left her estate to her brother, Arden Day of Tucson, Ariz., and several friends and business associates. Those people were dropped from the will when Altea was named the sole beneficiary.

The third will was drawn about two weeks before Day died, when Altea asked that Day’s second will be changed to remove a stipulation that the property be a working farm.

Day’s brother and former associates contested Day’s will in probate court, claiming that Altea used undue influence to gain possession of the property.

Rutland County Probate Judge Kevin Candon sided with them, throwing out that will. Candon wrote that Altea was Day’s spiritual adviser and had failed to prove she did not exert undue influence to benefit herself.

Altea appealed that decision and now it’s up to the Rutland jury to decide the matter.

The first day of the trial kicked off Tuesday with Swift describing Day to the jury as a strong, independent-minded woman, “very much in the Yankee tradition.”

He said Day had a strong affinity for animals, and spent most her adult life working as a veterinarian’s assistant. She never married or had children. She lived on the family property in Ira her entire life, he added. She rarely attended church services, but Swift said Day was well versed in the Bible, always keeping it nearby.

Day was also very sick, suffering from breast cancer when she met Altea.

“Llewella became to believe that Rosemary could communicate with spirits,” Kennelly said in his remarks to the jury. “You’ll see Llewella deferred decisions to Rosemary. Rosemary was running the show.”

About a year before Day died, she met Altea through a friend, who knew she was battling cancer and asked her if she wanted to meet the Dorset spiritualist.

Altea was the only witness to takes the stand Tuesday, testifying throughout the late morning and the entire afternoon.

“I’m a spiritual medium and healer,” she told the jury.

Altea, speaking with a British accent, said she was born in England and moved to Dorset in the mid-1990s. She said she discovered she had special abilities as a child.

“Since I was a little girl, I’ve seen faces and heard voices and I was terrified by them,” Altea said.

In her 30s, she said, she met a man in England who described himself as spiritual healer and medium, and he helped her develop her own abilities.

“I had a gift that appeared to be literally exploding. It was like a champagne bottle,” Altea said. “He believed, as I do, in the power of prayer and the power of God.”

She said she also became aware of a spiritual presence by her side, “Grey Eagle,” who she said was an Apache shaman and healer.

“I know how wacky that sounds,” Altea said. “I see him. I hear him … He helps me with my work and my students.” She later added, “He’s kind of like my silent partner.”

She added that she also has developed her abilities to communicate with the dead.

Altea said she doesn’t accept money for her healing services. She has written three books, telling the jury she has made about $3 million on book royalties in the United States alone.

She also said she has appeared on many television programs to talk about her healing abilities, from CNN’s “Larry King Live” to the nationally syndicated talk show, “Oprah Winfrey.”

Altea said after meeting Day she was inspired by her faith in God.

“I grew to admire and love her,” Altea said. “I never knew anyone so tough, so ornery, so cantankerous and yet so incredibly beautiful and kind.”

In fact, Altea said, she had to remind Day each day to eat since she was spending more on food for her animals than herself. She said her nagging reminders prompted Day to nickname her “Boss.”

Altea said she never used undue influence to get Day to change her will. She said the change was made because Day wanted to keep the property as it had always been.

“She felt very strongly about the land. She thought it was a gift from God,” Altea said. “She wanted someone she could trust to look after it.”

And she said Day trusted her. Altea said she planned to open a healing center on the property.

“My plans for the property were to, are to, absolutely follow Llewella’s wishes, to have some kind of healing center,” Altea said.

The center would include a place for people to come from all over the world for healing services, Altea said. To finance the center, she said, seminars and workshops would be held there.

“All profits from that part of the endeavor would go to keep the healing center open,” she said.

At one point, William Carris, president of Carris Reels in Rutland Town, tried to buy about 250 acres of the property and the deal was nearly done when Day backed out for fear of gaining a neighbor and losing her privacy.

Altea said if she prevails in court, one option would be put to most of the land under the care of a land trust or the Nature Conservancy to keep it from being developed.

“They would allow us maybe 10 acres for our healing center so our dream could come true,” she said.

Kennelly asked Altea in cross-examination if she considered her first book, “The Eagle and the Rose,” which talks about her healing skills and ability to talk with spirits, a work of non-fiction.

“Absolutely,” she responded. “I believe that everything I say in that book is true.”

Kennelly asked if she became upset when she learned of a provision in Day’s second will that called for the property to be a working farm.

Altea said it was Day who became angry.

“I was upset that Llewella was upset,” she said.

Altea said she told Day that if she wanted the property to remain a working farm, she didn’t want to be named in the will. The spiritualist said she had no experience farming.

Altea said she suggested to Day that if she wanted the property to be a working farm she should give it to a neighbor who helped out a great deal with maintaining it.

Altea said Day instructed her to call the attorney who drafted the will and have that stipulation taken out and keep her as the sole beneficiary. Altea said she called and then put Day on the line to talk to the attorney and told him to make the change.

About two weeks later, Day died.

The trial is expected to continue today and last about a week.

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