‘A breathing skeleton’: Utah couple exploits elderly man of multi-million dollar estate, charges say

PAYSON, Utah (ABC4) — A Utah County couple was charged last week after allegedly exploiting a vulnerable, elderly man of his multi-million dollar estate — befriending him and cutting him off from his family to do so.

Troy Lynn Lerwill, 57, and Katherine Gean Talley, 49, were charged in Fourth District Court on Thursday, April 4, with intentional aggravated abuse and financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, both second-degree felonies.

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In 2020, Lerwill reportedly became acquainted with a Payson resident, who was about 70 years old at the time. The resident had some mental health issues, according to the affidavit, including apparent hoarding tendencies, autism, and anxiety, and was “extremely private and independent,” as well as “very fixed in his routines and habits,” and was “frugal to the point of miserliness.”

The resident had financial assets exceeding $6 million, as well as valuable collections of coins and sports cards.

In March 2021, Lerwill had the resident’s landline phone disconnected, despite the resident’s regular assertion to family members that he did not want a cell phone because his home phone was “just fine,” the affidavit states. This was the resident’s only means of communication.

Additionally, Lerwill reportedly told financial advisors to contact him if they wanted to reach the resident, the affidavit states.

A few days later, the resident reportedly created a will — leaving his Beanie Baby collection to Lerwill’s girlfriend, Talley, and everything else (including his Payson home) to Lerwill. The affidavit states this was contrary to what the resident had always told his financial advisors.

In April 2021, a Power of Attorney in favor of Lerwill was executed, although improperly notarized. That same day, the affidavit states Lerwill and Talley “recorded themselves bathing [the resident], and sent the video to a few people, apparently to show that they were caring for [the resident].”

A few days later, Lerwill reportedly contacted the resident’s financial advisors, saying the resident was dying and refused medical treatment, and that Lerwill was his beneficiary.

“Lerwill wanted to know what forms he needed to get ‘his’ money,” the affidavit states.

Suspicious, the financial advisors insisted on a face-to-face meeting with the resident. When they arrived, they said Talley was sitting on the front porch. She told the advisors “what a blessing [the resident] had been in their lives,” and that being a caretaker was “the hardest thing in the world,” the affidavit states.

Additionally, she and Lerwill reportedly told the advisors that they were the resident’s best friends, and that they had been taking good care of him.

However, when the advisors entered the home, they said it smelled foul and discovered Lerwill had turned the water off. The advisors called for an ambulance despite Lerwill’s rejection.

According to the affidavit, EMS responders noticed the resident was in a bed that was covered with “a few days worth” of urine and excrement, wearing only an adult diaper.

He was “a breathing skeleton and in the midst of a heart attack,” the affidavit states.

Lerwill and Talley told the advisors that the resident had given them a verbal DNR (do not resuscitate), and that “it was a spiritual experience watching him die the way he wanted to,” the affidavit states.

Officials said no written DNR was ever located, and family members believe the resident would have wanted palliative care, pain relief, and a more dignified end of his life.

The resident was taken to a hospital, where Lerwill claimed to be his caregiver. Additionally, Lerwill said the resident was “estranged” from his family members, although the resident’s family later said that was not true, the affidavit states.

The resident died of cancer on April 12, 2021. He was also malnourished and dehydrated, the affidavit states.

Lerwill and Talley reportedly tried to have the resident cremated immediately, but the affidavit states a hospital staff member recognized the resident and contacted his family.

“The nephew and nieces responded immediately to the hospital, but [the resident] died a half hour before they arrived,” the affidavit states.

Those family members went to the resident’s home and found that his coin collection, estimated to be worth more than $1 million, was missing. Additionally, his safe had been completely emptied, the affidavit states.

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