S-Town: The Truth behind the Guardianship of Mary Grace McLemore

For those of you who are fans - or at least avid listeners to the hit podcast "S-Town," you may be left with a few questions:

  • What happened to Mary Grace? 
  • Where is the gold??
  • Did Cousin Rita have something to gain?
  • What happened to all those dogs?

I can't answer these questions definitively, but a recent examination of Mary Grace McLemore's Conservatorship/Guardianship file from the Bibb County Probate Court sheds light on a few of them.

Now, first I'll say that as an attorney who specializes in Conservatorships, as soon as John mention Mary Grace had dementia, I immediately wondered if he was her Conservator. For clarification, a "conservatorship" is equivalent to a guardianship for an adult. Conservatorships allow one person - the Conservator -to manage medical and financial affairs for another, usually a person with dementia or related illness. All John's trips to visit his lawyer - one B. Boozer Downs, Jr. - led me to believe a Conservatorship might be in place.

Despite my suppositions, a review of Mary Grace's file revealed that John did not have Conservatorship over Mary Grace, but was her "agent" under a power of attorney. It appears that Mary Grace signed the power of attorney very close to the time she was diagnosed with dementia, which legally can be very risky. However, with no other close family besides John, a lawsuit would have seemed unlikely.

A conservatorship proceeding was not initiated until after John's suicide, when Mary Grace's second cousin, Rita Lawrence, petitioned the court to become Conservator of both Mary Grace's "person," and her "estate." A Conservatorship of the Person would allow Rita to manage health and medical decisions for Mary Grace, while Conservatorship of the Estate would giv her control over Mary Grace's financial affairs. 

Now, let's start with perhaps the biggest curiosity of S-Town: What happened to the Gold?

Apologies if I got you too excited - I too was hoping Mary Grace's Conservatorship file, which contains a detailed accounting of all her expenses and income, would show signs of a gold discovery. Alas, it was not so. Even a hint of mysterious funds was not to be found. Instead, Rita was lending money to Mary Grace (or rather her conservatorship bank account) so that she could pay for expenses incurred prior to the sale of her property.

If Mary Grace didn't have any gold, what assets did she have?

Other than the property Mary Grace and John lived on - a vast 123 acres of mostly forested land, Mary Grace had a paltry $98 in her bank account when John passed away. According to the Conservatorship accounting, Mary Grace did have a monthly income of about $2,000 from Social Security and VA benefits. 

On August 12, 2016 Burt Holdings (ironically owned by rumored-but-not murderer Kaleb's father) bought Mary Grace's property for $280,000. The funds from the property sale would have gone directly to Mary Grace's conservatorship account, to be used for her care. If anything is left over, it would be inherited by her heirs.

What happened to Mary Grace after Rita became Conservator?

When listening to the show, I concluded that Mary Grace had gone to Florida to live with Rita (or Reta). But that was not the case, at least for the following year after John's death. From shortly after John's suicide to the end of the Conservatorship accounting in July 2016, Mary Grace still resided in Alabama, just 7 miles away from her home with John. She was apparently sent to live with a full time caregiver. 

This fact would certainly quell any fears Tyler Goodson had about Mary Grace being taken away. It's unclear exactly who the caregiver is in relation to the family, or how she ended up being the one to care for Mary Grace, but it seems to me like the small town equivalent of placing a Conservatee in a residential living facility. 

Is Mary Grace in a better situation than she was with John?

It is unclear as to whether or not Mary Grace is happier and receiving superior care. Rita reports to the court that Mary Grace is "thriving" in her new environment, and I certainly hope she is. It's also unclear if Mary Grace was being properly cared for by John. According to the Conservatorship documents, the Woodstock property had to be sprayed for fleas on at least two different occasions after John's death. This is a bad sign in general, but we of course have to take into account the many dogs that lived with them. Which brings us to the question...

What happened to all those Dogs?

Those of you who listened to the podcast will remember that John said he had quite a few dogs. According to Mary Grace's file, she paid $60 in August of 2015 to remove 10 dogs from the property. Presumably someone took care of the dogs after John died - was it Tyler? Sadly, many of those dogs probably did not survive the year.

Did Cousin Rita have something to gain?

S-Town inspired a bit of a conspiracy around Rita's presence in Mary Grace's life. In fact, many conservatorship cases can turn in to hotly contested matters where one party is in fact out to gain something for themselves. After a review of her file, however, I have to say that in this particular matter, that does not appear to be the case. In fact, due to the many criminal counts Tyler is being tried for, it appears that Tyler, and John by default, are the ones guilty of wreaking havoc in the Conservatorship case. Why John? Because he killed himself in what was likely a traumatizing event for Tyler - and furthermore neglected to do a will leaving Tyler what he'd supposedly promised to him. Had John done a will, Tyler likely would have gotten more closure and been able to move forward with his life. 

Now, that's not to say that Rita did everything for Mary Grace out of sheer love and kindness. She did get paid for her time. This is normal for Conservators, however. If the Conservator is a child of the Conservatee, he or she may not seek payment, but other relatives typically do. In Bibb County the rate is $18/hr, while here in Northern California the rate ranges between $25-$40/hr, depending on the county. Still, assuming Rita never found any gold, she certainly did not become rich by stepping in to help Mary Grace. Moreover, Rita appears to be the only relatively young family member Mary Grace had. Two other relatives live in Alabama - cousins Elna and Kay. They appear to be Mary Grace's direct heirs, and were asked to sign off on the sale of her property. Elna and Kay are likely quite old themselves, and therefore not in a position to care for Mary Grace. So Rita was the best choice.

So, now you know what happened to Mary Grace after John's death, and perhaps have a little more insight into the story of John McLemore and S-Town, also commonly called Woodstock, Alabama.

For more information about Conservatorship, contact my Walnut Creek Elder Law Office at 925-322-1795.