Daughter of woman whose body lay undiscovered for weeks sues neighbour

Daughter of woman whose body lay undiscovered in her £700,000 Surrey home for weeks is locked in a bitter court battle with neighbour over ‘mysterious disappearance’ of jewellery collection and valuables

  • Lucille Maeda was found by police in September 2015 in her Surrey home
  • Deborah Ziparo raised the alarm when her mother failed to return her calls
  • She flew over later in 2015 to sort out her mother’s possessions
  • Ms Ziparo believes items including jewellery are missing and has taken action
  • Neighbour Christopher Martin denies allegations and says they are ‘baseless’ 

A daughter whose mother’s body lay dead and undiscovered in her £700,000 home for weeks is suing a family friend over the ‘mysterious disappearance’ of her jewellery.

The ‘decomposed’ body of Lucille Maeda was found by police in September 2015 in her Surrey home after her USA-based daughter Deborah Ziparo raised the alarm when she failed to return her calls.

When the 77-year-old former secretary flew over from the states in November 2015 to sort out her mother’s possessions,she claims a long list of valuable items, including her wedding ring and other jewellery, had ‘mysteriously vanished’ from her home.

After hiring private investigators to solve the puzzle, Ms Ziparo is now suing family friend, neighbour and former executor of her mother’s will Christopher Martin, accusing him of ‘taking items’ from her late mother’s home before she arrived in the UK.

Mr Martin ‘vehemently denies the serious allegations’ against him, which he says are ‘baseless’.

Central London County Court heard that the body of ‘world traveller’ Mrs Maeda was found by police on the floor of her home in Merrow, Surrey, on September 24, 2015, after the alarm was raised by Ms Ziparo.

She had been calling her mother up to 20 times a day for weeks and getting no response, and told a coroner’s inquest that she had ‘feared the worst’.

Deborah Ziparo, the daughter of Lucille Maeda, outside Central London County Court

Christopher Martin, Lucille Maeda’s neighbour, outside Central London County Court

A post-mortem examination was carried out, but the cause of death as ‘unascertained’ because the pathologist was unable to conduct a toxicology report because there were no fluids or blood to take.

The inquest concluded that Mrs Maeda, who had become a ‘reclusive hoarder’ after the death of her husband Susumu in 2011, could have been lying undiscovered for weeks before the police found her corpse.

Neighbour and family friend Mr Martin had been appointed one of the executors of Mrs Maeda’s estate by her will made in 2012, but Ms Ziparo took him to court and succeeded in getting him removed from that role by a judge in 2019.

Now she is suing him in Central London County Court, demanding that he pay her mother’s estate for the missing valuables and the costs of her investigation.

Her barrister Gideon Roseman told Judge Simon Monty QC that Mr Martin had ‘secretly attended the property on repeated occasions’ but ‘failed to carry out any inventory of the chattels in the property during any of his repeated visits.

‘It is clear a number of valuable chattels have mysteriously vanished from the property, which is of concern given that there is no evidence that anyone ever broke into the property and the deceased was a recluse and something of a hoarder,’ he said.

The £700,000 house in Guildford, Surrey, where Lucille Maeda lived and her body was found

Ms Ziparo, giving evidence, told the judge that a long list of her mother’s valuables were missing, including her jewellery, which she had placed in an envelope having promised to send it to her daughter in the USA.

‘Her wedding ring was not on her body. I never received my mother’s wedding ring. It was photographed on the coffee table with the ashes – never to be seen again. She had two, her mother’s and her own. She sometimes wore them both. The police stated they didn’t find her wedding band. I saw it amongst the ashes on the table. I do not know where it is.

‘There were certain things that were gone that never turned up anywhere…I’m accusing Christopher Martin of taking items,’ she said.

Other things she says are missing include a diamond and ruby ring, a 12 place-setting bone china dinner set, a jewellery box, furs, clocks, porcelain dolls, crystal decanters and glasses.

Mr Roseman told the judge that a jewellery box containing items passed from Mrs Maeda’s late husband and seen at the house in November 2015 ‘was full’ but ‘by 23 December 2015 it was empty’.

‘There are photographs…that confirm the presence of a number of the chattels in the property on 7 October 2015 onwards, which subsequently disappeared,’ he said.

‘There are a number of photographs of the deceased wearing various chattels, such as her fur coat, watches and jewellery, which were not found in the property.

‘The deceased had been a recluse and something of a hoarder, which meant it was inherently unlikely she would have disposed of her chattels.

‘Despite the fact there is clear evidence the deceased owned expensive jewellery and other valuable chattels, many of these items have disappeared.’

The barrister asked the judge to order that Mr Martin ‘should account to the estate and/or pay equitable compensation in respect of the missing chattels’.

If Ms Ziparo succeeds Mr Martin will have to pay for her legal expenses of more than £200,000 on top of any order made against him.

But William Moffett, for Mr Martin, told the judge: ‘The defendant is perplexed and upset that he should have been the subject of very serious but baseless allegations.

‘He is accused of stealing property from the estates of Susumu Maeda and Lucille Maeda of which Christopher Martin was a personal representative.

‘It seems to Mr Martin that Ms Ziparo has lost all sense of proportion and reality in this matter.

‘The case against him is purely circumstantial. It amounts to no more than pointing to the fact that he was one of several persons with access to the property at various times during the period that (Ms Ziparo) claims items went missing.

‘In respect of various of the items identified…there is no evidence that they were actually still in the property at the date of discovery of Mrs Maeda’s body on 24 September 2015.

‘Communications between Mr Martin and Ms Ziparo became increasingly strained. She instructed private investigators to investigate the alleged thefts.

‘There is no evidence on which the allegation of theft / conversion could properly have been raised against Mr Martin and this claim should never have been brought.

‘He vehemently denies the serious allegations. Given the lack of any evidence, other than circumstantial insinuations, it is regrettable that these allegations have been raised against him at all,’ he concluded.

The hearing continues. 

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