Doug Butler, a CPA, had prepared his parents' tax returns since 1970. So he could hardly have imagined, when he sat down to prepare them again in 2010, that he was about to enter a maelstrom.
Butler lives in the small farming community of Ellensburg, Wash., with his wife and 16-year-old son. There is no way he could have known, on that day in April 2010, that what he was about to discover would turn his family upside-down and impel him to start carrying a gun — or that, a year later, it would lead him to a courtroom in Helena, Ark., to a Methodist church in Little Rock, and to the Pulaski County prosecutor's office.
Butler's father, Norman Butler, had worked as an optometrist. When he and his wife, Mary, retired in 2000, they'd built a house on property adjacent to Doug's. The couple had been married for 56 years when Mary died in 2004.
In 2005, Norman met a widow online whom he would occasionally visit. His children — Doug and his two sisters — were happy that, at 75, their dad had found some romance in his life. Doug even thought she resembled his mom.
Doug Butler also felt satisfied that his dad was in good shape financially. Norman owned his house and had about $2.5 million dollars set aside in two trust accounts. But, in April 2010, when he began work on the 2009 taxes, what he saw was shocking. A brokerage statement for one of the trusts, valued at more than $420,000 the year before, now showed just $14,000.
Over the years, Butler had not had to delve far into his father's finances to prepare his taxes — and he hadn't. His father, who'd grown up during the Depression, had been a careful money manager. Like other CPAs, Doug Butler used his father's end-of-the-year statements and worked from those numbers. But the depletion of the trust account sent him looking further.
It didn't take long for the accountant to figure out that his father had sent the money — more than $849,000 in 2009 alone — to his lady friend, whom the family knew as Shea Saenger. When Doug found a single check to Saenger for $97,000, he confronted his father. "I asked him, 'Why? Why'd you send it to Shea?' His answer was, 'I don't know.' "
Butler called Saenger. "I asked her, 'You know, there's a lot of money missing from Dad's accounts. Do you have any idea what happened to it?' She said no. She said she didn't get any money from Dad."
"Dad was always buying and selling stock," Butler says. "In all of the earlier years it just never occurred to me that instead of reinvesting the proceeds from a stock sale, he was sending it all to Shea Saenger."
Butler asked his dad to grant him his durable power of attorney and to resign as trustee on the accounts, which Norman Butler did. That allowed Doug to get control of his father's accounts, request copies of the checks that had been drawn on them, and search his father's computer. There he found a trail of e-mails from Saenger, most pleading for money.
Butler found that in 2009, his father had written two checks to Saenger for $164,000 each. E-mails revealed that Saenger had directed Norman Butler not to deposit checks he received but to endorse them and send them to her. She even provided him with pre-addressed envelopes.
It was a lot to absorb. "I had a hard time believing what Dad had done, even when I was seeing it," Doug Butler says. "It took me a long time to accept that, yeah, this is what happened."
But that was just the earthquake. The tsunami was yet to come.
Tracks to Arkansas
In June, Butler hired an attorney, who hired a private investigator. The investigator quickly reported that Saenger was married, that she had gone by several other names, and finally, that she had a long criminal record in Arkansas, which included a conviction for murder.
Rose Winquist, the private investigator Butler's attorney brought into the case, recalls what she had to start with: "I got involved after Doug discovered that Shea Saenger had been e-mailing his dad and instructing him to delete the e-mails — some things that were pretty underhanded.'
Winquist began looking into Saenger's background. She advises: "Everybody who meets somebody on the Internet should do a quick background check before they get involved. If the Butlers had done that for their dad, they would have discovered that Shea Saenger was married to somebody else."
Winquist started at the sheriff's office in Washington's Kittitas County, where the Butlers lived, but found no help there. As she puts it, "If there's not blood and bullets, forget it."
"Then," she says, "we went to the feds." Many of those checks that Norman Butler had given Saenger had been sent via U.S. mail. An agent for the postal service interviewed the elder Butler. Winquist says, "He found that Mr. Butler was pretty incapacitated. He didn't have much of a memory. He thought he'd given this woman a couple hundred bucks."
Winquist began by looking up marriage applications for the uncommon name of Saenger. "I found that a man named Art Saenger, of Coupeville, Washington, had married a Shea Miller." Tracing Shea Miller, she found a name change; that Shea Miller had once been Sharon Miller.
Further tracing revealed that Sharon Miller had been married to a man named Morley Miller, who had since died. Morley Miller's marriage license showed that Sharon Miller's maiden name was Sharon Lumpkin.
Sharon Lumpkin was an unusual enough name that Winquist Googled it. That turned up a civil case from Arkansas. It seemed that Sharon Lumpkin had been held in an Arkansas prison, that she'd been disciplined for having sex with another inmate, and that she'd sued a prison official for violating her constitutional rights. A federal judge ruled against her, she appealed, and in 1989, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed the lower court's ruling.
Winquist called the Arkansas Department of Correction. "They said, 'Yeah. We had her.' So I asked for her records," the investigator recalls. "They copied all their records and a photo and sent them to me. The date of birth — Aug. 16, 1950 — matched. So I called my client and said, 'Hey, this woman is a convicted murderer in Arkansas.' And, of course, they were floored, just sick."
But there was an up-side to the information. As Winquist put it, "Then the feds really took an interest."
The records Winquist received revealed a lot more than murder. They showed that by the age of 20, Sharon Ann Lumpkin was already getting into trouble in Phillips County, mostly for hot checks. According to court records, she wrote a lot of them over the next several years. And she faced charges for theft of property.
On one such charge, when she was 27, the warrant noted that she had paid for repairs on a refrigerator that was not hers and taken it home. According to the arrest warrant, when the rightful owner found out, located her, and offered to pay her for the repairs in order to get his refrigerator back, she told him: "She wasn't going to give me a DAMM thing and if my father had anything to say about it she would kill him."
In March 1987, when Lumpkin was 37, she was charged with killing a man named Eugene Quarles Jr. Quarles, of Marvell, had been dating Lumpkin's 16-year-old niece, Shannon.
Lumpkin claimed that Quarles attacked her when she asked him to return some money she'd loaned him. "He knocked me down flat. He then straddled me and held me down and beat me in the face with his fists," she told officials. "So somehow, I got my right hand in my pocket — by a miracle — and I pulled out the knife I had in my pocket, and I just went up with the knife."
The jurors didn't buy it. They convicted Lumpkin of second-degree murder and sentenced her to 15 years in prison. There is no evidence of this, but while in prison, Lumpkin may have observed the not-uncommon prisoner practice of corresponding with free-world people in hopes of gaining friendship — or cash.
What is known is that as soon as Lumpkin was released from prison in 1995, she moved to Washington, where, within two weeks, she married a man named Morley Miller. She was 45, he 74. She took his last name and, the following year, she legally changed her first name to Shea.
After Miller died, Shea Miller, who had never held a job, married Art Saenger. Winquist, who has met him, says, "Her poor husband. We've sort of befriended him, which is sort of ironic. He's a veteran. He's very feeble, very ill. He took pride in his reputation in the community. He knew nothing about any of this. He's another victim."
She adds: "I think they had very separate lives. He's not one of those people who asks a lot of questions. When Shea would leave to meet Norman Butler, he just thought she was going off with her family or friends, and that they were paying for it."
Scamming Norman Butler
By 2009, Doug Butler, along with his wife and sisters, had begun noticing that Norman Butler's memory was beginning to fail. When they'd gone on a cruise with him that year, they'd noticed that he could never remember which cabin was his. Still, they did not find that especially odd for a man of 79 who was in an unfamiliar place. Otherwise, he seemed to be doing OK.
After discovering the depleted trust account, Doug Butler began to piece together his father's history with Saenger. "I was kind of tip-toeing around Dad," he says. "I was afraid that if I made a stink about it, he'd get mad, and I didn't want to have that fight.
"But then one day he wanted me to call his broker because there was a problem with his account. I'd had it. I said, 'Dad, there's no problem with the account.' I said, 'You've given it all to Shea. She's a con artist, and I'm going to try to get her thrown in jail.' And he went home and wrote a check to her for $70,000."
The younger Butler adds: "Shea Saenger pushed Dad to not ever tell us anything that went on between them. There are e-mails where she specifically tells Dad not to tell me about things, and others where she says she does not want any of Dad's family to know about their 'business.' Dad seems to have taken that to heart because he never said a word about helping Shea Saenger with any type of financial difficulties."
In September 2010, Doug Butler sued Saenger, based on a Washington law that prohibits the abuse or exploitation of "vulnerable adults." The lawsuit claimed that Saenger had financially exploited Norman Butler "by exerting undue influence over him and causing him to act in ways that were inconsistent with his past behavior."
In the lawsuit, Doug Butler stated: "Contrary to Shea's representations to my dad, she is not a single widow; she has been married to Arthur Saenger throughout the time she has been carrying on with my dad and leading him to believe that she is in love with him and going to marry him.
"She has gotten money out of my dad by telling him that she has had major medical bills she needed to pay (for cervical cancer, breast cancer and heart surgery). It turns out, however, that she has been covered all this time by her husband's medical insurance. ... She has asked for money for cars, real estate, and for no reason at all."
In December 2010, Norman Butler was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. By then, Doug Butler had finally gathered enough information to assess the timing and extent of his father's losses. The gifts had started immediately, the year Norman Butler met Saenger—and steadily escalated:
In less than five years, Norman Butler had given Saenger the bulk of his life's savings: $2,210,329.
"For years, Dad kept a notebook by his computer and every night he would record the closing prices of everything he owned, the daily gain or loss and his total net worth," Doug Butler says. "On February 25, 2010, Dad recorded that he still had over a million in his portfolios, when in reality there was only about $150,000. It looks like, some time in 2008, what he was recording — and what he thought he had — became completely detached from reality."
In December — the same month that Norman Butler was diagnosed — his family's lawsuit against Saenger was settled. A superior court ruled that she owed the Butlers more than $2.2 million in damages and fees. "That's nice," Doug Butler says today. "But it's just a piece of paper saying Shea Saenger owes us that amount of money. We've still got to collect it."
'It's been hard'
Saenger, who lived with her husband in a mobile home, was disinclined to help. She refused a court order to disclose what she had done with the money and was jailed for contempt of court. Every Monday for weeks in early 2011 — until the arrangement was changed to monthly — she was brought into court to reveal where the money went. Week after week, then month after month, she refused and was returned to her cell in the Kittitas County jail.
Despite Saenger's silence, Butler and Winquist were able to trace quite a bit of what Saenger had done with the money. According to documents they've filed in various courts, she sent some of it to relatives in Mississippi and Louisiana. But according to the filings, she sent most of it to relatives in Arkansas: more than $1.1 million to her brother, Mark Lumpkin, a farmer in Phillips County, and his wife Rosemary; another $195,555 was sent to her niece Shannon Wiggins of Hazen — the same niece whose boyfriend Saenger (Sharon Lumpkin at the time) had killed in 1987.
By the start of this year, the Butlers, with Doug in the lead, were coping with a many-sided disaster. "At first, we weren't poking our noses into his life unless we were invited," Doug Butler says, "but then we were having to deal with his medical problems, and go over every night to give him his meds.
"Debbie, my wife, started doing his grocery shopping, but he wouldn't fix food on his own. Then we began having him to our house to eat, and having Meals-on-Wheels delivered. That's the Alzheimer's part."
There was also the financial part. Norman Butler finally had to be moved into an assisted-care facility. That costs $1,900 a month. All but $200 of that is covered by his Social Security check. But medications cost another $400.
"And," says Doug Butler, "Dad still owns the house, so we have property taxes, insurance and utilities to pay on that. We plan to rent the house because now we're burning through what capital he had left."
There was the legal part. Doug Butler has hired attorneys in three states to pursue legal action to recover as much of his father's wealth as possible. Butler also created a website, butlervsaenger.com, on which he posted financial records, photos, and documents of legal proceedings as they developed.
One of the lawyers' first actions was to petition courts in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas to issue restraining orders to prevent Saenger's relatives from spending money she'd sent them or selling assets they had already bought with that money. The courts in Mississippi, Louisiana and Prairie County, Arkansas, where Shannon Wiggins resides, complied. The court in Phillips County, where Mark and Rosemary Lumpkin live, and Doug Butler appeared in April when his lawsuit was filed, did not.
Calls to attorneys for Wiggins and the Lumpkins were not returned. A visit to the Lumpkins' home, in the tiny town of Ratio, about 30 miles southwest of Helena, was brief. When this reporter introduced herself, Rosemary Lumpkin said, "We're not talking to you."
A visit to Shannon Wiggins at the Hazen Police Department, where she's employed, didn't last much longer. "I'd love to talk to you," she said, "but not while we've got this lawsuit." She advised speaking with her attorney. When told that her attorney was not responding, she replied, "That's not my problem."
The Lumpkins and Wiggins responded to Butler's legal actions with legal actions of their own. They demanded a jury trial and argued that Butler's claim should be dismissed for several reasons, including that he was "not entitled, under Arkansas law, to any of the relief sought."
They also counter-sued, claiming that Butler had published false statements about them on the Internet, "including statements indicating that they had somehow stolen money for him and/or the trust" in an attempt to damage their reputations and interfere with their businesses.
For the Butlers, the past 16 months have also carried an emotional part. "My son is 16 years old now," Butler says, "and he's sick to death of Shea Saenger. He is so tired of hearing about her and hearing about Dad and hearing about these lawsuits — and he's tired of it. It's been a year and a half, but if we have a conversation at home, it's hard to have one that's not related to this."
"It's been hard," he adds. "Doing it all at the same time ... it's been hard."
There have been moments of satisfaction, however. The civil judgment in his family's favor was one. Another one — a big one — came three weeks ago, when Shea Saenger pleaded guilty to mail fraud in a federal court in Seattle. In a plea agreement, she admitted that she had "knowingly devised a scheme or plan for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses" and had "used the U.S. Mail to carry out or attempt to carry out an essential part of the scheme."
Saenger admits in the agreement that, despite having already received more than $225,000 to pay for her purported breast cancer surgery, Saenger "took advantage of [Norman Butler's] memory loss and condition" by claiming in late 2009 that he still had not paid her for the surgery.
The plea agreement quoted an e-mail Saenger had sent: "If you want me to come live with you ... sell some municipal bonds to get the money for the surgery today and I can get things in order to come over with you." In response, Norman Butler sent her an additional $47,569.
But, the agreement notes, "In truth and in fact, Shea Saenger did not have breast cancer" at all. "To the contrary," during the same period she was seeking the money, "Shea Saenger was informed by medical professionals ... that her mammogram was normal."
Saenger's conviction for mail fraud carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The federal court also ordered her to "make restitution" to Norman Butler of more than $2.1 million, that amount being "due and payable immediately."
The plea agreement states that Saenger "transferred approximately $1,121,214.61 of the money she fraudulently obtained" to "relatives" identified in the agreement as "M.L. and R.L., which they subsequently used for their personal benefit."
In her plea, Saenger agreed to "provide a truthful statement" about what she did with Norman Butler's money, and to take "whatever steps are necessary to ensure that assets subject to forfeiture are not sold, disbursed, wasted, hidden, or otherwise made unavailable for forfeiture."
Now that Saenger has admitted sending huge amounts of money to the Lumpkins and other relatives, the question for Butler — if he'll manage to get any of it back — is why. "We have no clue as to why she sent all that money to her family," he says. "Nobody has any kind of a theory about what she was doing. All I can say is everybody I know, and myself — our minds do not work the way hers does."
He has similar feelings about the relatives to whom Saenger sent his dad's money. "My hope was that, when we presented them with the evidence that this money had been taken from my father, they would all get together and sell what they could sell and refinance or restructure or do whatever they could, and make us an offer.
"We thought they might say, 'Yes, we've got this stolen money, and this is what we can do.' But every last one of them basically has said, 'We've got the money and you don't, so too bad for you.' "
Winquist, the private investigator, put it more directly. "My question for them is: 'What the hell did you think? You're taking a million dollars from a convicted murderer who's never had a job in her life?'
"We said, 'Maybe you didn't know it was stolen, but now you do, so give it back.' And they just dug their heels in the dirt and flat out refused, so that's why we had to sue them. We would have preferred to work with all these people and cut some kind of a deal with them."
With that apparently off the table, Winquist says, "Maybe the feds are looking at them too. I hope so."
As for Norman Butler, his son reports that he has adjusted well to the assisted-care facility. "I don't think he remembers Shea," Doug Butler says. "He did not move his computer, so he did not have the ability to try to e-mail her anymore. And now that he hasn't for three or four months, I think she's completely gone from his mind."