Gaithersburg Then and Now

 

Rancher Leaves Fortune Inside Old Milk Cans

The Associated Press
June 24, 1975

 

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) - When Charles Herman Rabbitt died three years ago and left nearly half his fortune inside old milk cans at his Montgomery County farm, he precipitated an unresolved legal fight.

The estate battle has yet to go before a judge, but Rabbitt's fortune, which totaled a little over $2 million, already has been almost halved by estate taxes and executor and attorney fees. None of the heirs to Rabbitt's fortune has yet to see a penny of the money, and it will be months before all the challenges are resolved.

For the principal heir, however, a resolution of the dispute no longer matters. Robert Stiles, Rabbitt's distant cousin and a successful farmer in his own right, died March 13, 1974. His wife now is seeking his share.

Rabbitt was a landowner and cattleman in Montgomery County all his life. A shrewd businessman, he made a fortune through his cattle-buying throughout the Midwest and his ability to sell farmland to real estate developers.

According to those who knew him, he was also a farmer who got along on the bare necessities of life, without any of the usual display of wealth by the financially successful.

When he died on October 10, 1972 at 81, most of Rabbitt's assets was in his bank accounts, real estate holdings and loans and mortgages. But nearly $750,000 in cash was found in milk cans stashed in the fruit cellar of his modest brick farm home. The money has since been moved to a bank account, but there is little agreement on where it should go next.

There are currently three challenges against Rabbitt's will on file in Montgomery County Circuit Court: one by Bessie Mills, his housekeeper; one by Charles Herman Rau of New York, who contends he is the illegitimate son of the bachelor Rabbitt, and one by Rabbitt's half-nieces and nephew.

The original will, dated August 8, 1966, bequeathed to Mrs. Mills all of Rabbitt's "personal property" in the farmhouse, according to court papers. In an amendment to the will dated January 29, 1968, which Mrs. Mills is contesting, that legacy was changed to a lump sum of $2,000.

Rabbitt left Rau $1,000 in his will but made no mention of any relationship to him. The other living claimants are Rabbitt's three half-nieces and half-nephew and the wife of a deceased half-nephew, each of which had also been left legacies of $1,000 each.

William Miller, the attorney for the estate, said the controversy could possibly be resolved either through settlements or in court within "a couple of months."

"The whole thing's a mess all right," he added.

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