Countess Me Out: Ercilia Elrod Le Ny, Denied

Posted: March 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

1973

I always knew Facebook was evil and I never thought twice about selective newspaper coverage until the 2016 election. These may seem to be two discrete issues—one boast, one admission—but both play a role in my obsession
with famed dog breeder and unfamous missing person Ercilia Anita Maria Elrod Shelton Le Ny.

Nothing in this story makes sense, none of the numbers add up and all of the details are either contradictory or unclear. That said, leading with the bleeding never goes out of style:
let’s start with the tale’s only documented act of violence—intergenerational fisticuffs—and we’ll follow the trail as best we can from there.

1964

At Your Throat or at Your Feet

 
June 10th, 1964. To call the article tawdry would be an understatement; it begins with a joke about murdered civil rights workers and races cheerily downhill from there.
According to the New York Daily News  seventy-year old New Orleans socialite Geraldine de la Parra Elrod was visiting the home of her daughter Countess Ercilia Le Ny when she was physically assaulted by Guenter Behr,
her daughter’s twenty five-year old live-in boyfriend.
The Countess, as the Daily News  noted with glee,
owned not only the elevator-equipped duplex at 130 East 72nd Street in which the assault allegedly took place but the entire apartment building, located in the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan.

“I watched my daughter being wrapped around the fingers of this arrogant man who will not go out and work; he orders the servants and even myself around as if we were part of his possessions. I could take it no more. I told my daughter she was sinking to the lowest level with this man. He was not for her.” Geraldine de la Parra Elrod, New York Daily News, June 28th, 1964

Both Ercilia and Guenter Behr denied a physical altercation had taken place and the disposition of the assault charge, apparently deemed unworthy of Daily News  coverage, has never been publicized.

Through a Glass Sparkly

 
Piecing together the narrative of Ercilia’s life from the available sources is like reconstructing a mosaic—some of the tiles are missing or cracked leaving aspects of the image indistinct.
The only child of newspaper executive Samuel Floyd Elrod and his Spanish-born second wife, Ercilia was swaddled in luxury from conception.
I can find no definitive record of her birth, oddly,
and her age varies widely in media accounts of her disappearance—but she was enrolled in Wright High School in 1941 and matriculated at Newcombe College, Tulane’s sister school, in 1942.
Assuming she graduated from high school at the age of seventeen Ercilia would’ve been forty years old in 1964, fifteen years older than Guenter Behr and sixty years old when she vanished.

A saucy Ercilia standing center in dark dress, 1938

“Miss Ercell (sic) Elrod performed a Spanish skit at a tea for the Fleur de Lis chapter of the Delphian Society.” New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 3rd, 1935

From her first mention at the (estimated) age of ten Ercilia was rarely absent from the Times-Picayune‘s society pages—performing an exhibition of Mexican dances at the 1938 Spring Fiesta,
attending charity functions and soirees,
hosting luncheons and cocktail parties at the Elrod home at 4725 Carondelet Street in NOLA.
Her first marriage, to La Vega Robert Shelton, sparked a flurry of coverage in 1943;
the couple’s divorce three years later, however, was relegated to a two-line legal notice in the McComb, Mississippi Enterprise-Journal.
Divorce in the 1940s was a societal taboo; performing the distasteful deed in a neighboring state was common haute société  publicity dodge.

1943

Ercilia’s buoyant social life seemed unscathed by her marital misadventure; readopting her maiden name the Picayune chronicled her post-divorce travels—to San Francisco, Miami, Cuba, and the “European continent.”
In 1950 she was again ready to wed, this time to Yves Joseph Le Ny of Hennebont, France;
unable to wear a white dress as a divorcée or obtain a religious ceremony she was married at the Elrod family home in a blue taffeta gown with a local judge officiating.

1950

For Ercilia the second time was not the charm; according to the legal notices in the Biloxi Daily Herald  she and Yves Le Ny divorced one year later, on September 15th, 1951.
I have no desire to cast aspersions but truth is an essential component of true crime: her adoption of the title “’Countess” is, as far as I can tell, puffery.
There is no record of royal lineage for Yves Joseph Le Ny and his aristocratic status is not mentioned in the couple’s marriage announcement or divorce decree, which lists Mr. Le Ny’s employer as the Berlitz School of Languages.
Ercilia apparently began calling herself Countess Le Ny in the early 1960s,
approximately ten years after the dissolution of her marriage;
the Daily News elder abuse article is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time the title is employed in print.

Who Let the Dogs in?

 
Ercilia had bad luck with men but good luck with investments; in addition to the apartment building on East 72nd street she owned a 99-acre estate at 280 Miller Park Road in Hunterdon County New Jersey, purchased in 1959.
There Ercilia—a lifelong canine enthusiast—founded Querencia Kennels, breeding and showing champion terriers.
Escorting numerous Querencia dogs to victory in the ring Guenter Behr became a well-known show handler,
most notably capturing the Best Terrier award at Westminster in 1962 with Airedale Querencia’s Suerte Brava.

1977


“I kept breeding Airedales and I couldn’t bear to sell the pups so before I knew it I had forty-five dogs.”
Ercilia Elrod Le Ny, New York Times, May 24th, 1973

Everyone who knew her agreed: it was Ercilia’s dogs, not her romantic partners, who were the genuine love of her life.

The First Thing We Do, let’s Kill all the . . . .

 
Ercilia’s early life can be traced through the Picayune-Times  society pages but in the mid-1960s another avenue of investigation unfurls—civil court records.
Shortly before Samuel Elrod died in 1961 the deed of the family home and several rental properties at 4212-14 Saint Charles Avenue were placed in Ercilia’s name.
Samuel Elrod had a son from his first marriage who predeceased him, leaving two grandchildren—after the Guenter Behr assault Geraldine attempted to rescind these property transfers,
claiming it had been implemented for the sole purpose of defrauding Samuel Elrod’s grandchildren.

1941

The legal technicalities are irrelevant but a trove of family scandals was elicited during the course of the proceedings, three separate cases litigated over a fifteen-year span.
Samuel Elrod, as it turns out, might have been a bigamist—his divorce from his first wife wasn’t granted until 1924 but Geraldine, in her sworn testimony,
asserted she and Samuel had wed in Cuba in 1922.
Conversely, it’s possible the 1922 marriage never took place, rendering Ercilia illegitimate—no record of the 1922 marriage could be located.
Although the couple did legally wed in Mississippi four years before Samuel’s death Geraldine’s evolving testimony on her marital status paints her as an unreliable narrator at best.

“We have, from the evidence before us, no way of telling whether Mrs. [Geraldine] Elrod was lying then or is lying now.” The judicial equivalent of a serious burn, Succession v. Elrod  (1971)

1961

The disclosure of the Elrods’ peculiarly-timed marriage(s) wasn’t the litigation’s only sordid revelation;
Ercilia, questioned under oath, revealed a long-term affair with a married Columbian coffee-grower who showered her with cash, sometimes as much as 4K a month.
Ercilia refused to name her benefactor, citing his diplomatic immunity, and it’s unclear whether this dalliance, or the disclosure thereof, played a role in her subsequent disappearance.
Ercilia ultimately lost both the sole rights to the litigated properties and a related suit regarding her attorneys’ fees; Geraldine died in 1973, her rift with her daughter unmended.

1984

No Accounting for the Countess

 
Time passes. Ercilia lost in court, appeared regularly in the Times-Picayune  society pages and continued to show and breed champion dogs.
At some point—the exact date is uncertain, but by 1984 he had a new, much-younger wife—her affaire d’amour with Guenter Behr went kaput.
No man, no problem: we’re not privy to her innermost thoughts on the matter but Ercilia’s dedication to living a festive and philanthropic life—as evinced by her presence at charity functions galore—apparently did not wane.
Ercilia Elrod Shelton Le Ny continued to enjoy the archetypal existence of a wealthy, well-bred woman of a certain age until Friday, August 9th, 1985.

Guenter Behr in the rearview mirror, 1977 

As was her custom, Ercilia intended to spend the weekend at her apartment in Manhattan.
She fed her dogs, checked in with her kennel staff, packed her favorite Airedale Rudy into her 1981 Lincoln Continental and vanished off the face of the earth.

Although some contradictory information has been published these are—or at least appear to be—the relevant evidentiary events in the period after Ercilia’s disappearance:

  • When she failed to return home her dog-sitter Elizabeth Mazyk contacted authorities
  • A few days after she vanished Ercilia’s Lincoln was found in Westchester County, New York, immaculately clean and devoid of fingerprints
  • Later that week a credit card receipt arrived at the New Jersey estate for gas purchased in the Bronx; Ercilia’s signature on the sales slip appears to have been forged
  • Investigators learn two plane tickets to Caracas, Venezuela had been purchased in Ercilia’s name shortly after her disappearance; only one ticket was used and the passenger—flying sans chien—deplaned in Miami
  • Detectives entered the Manhattan duplex to search for clues and found the residence neat and orderly; when they returned months later Ercilia’s possessions had been boxed and bagged by persons unknown

 

“There is no direct evidence of foul play but since she walked away leaving a considerable amount of property and money common sense tells you that something untoward happened to her.” Lieutenant Robert Davis, NYPD Missing Persons Unit, Huntingdon County Democrat, August 11th, 1987 (reprinted in 2012)

1963

Investigation Destination Unknown

 
As is often the case with missing persons the investigation into Ercilia’s disappearance was hobbled by jurisdictional issues—her primary residence was in New Jersey,
her intended destination in Manhattan and her car was found abandoned Downstate.
Whether by design or default the Hunterdon County Sheriff’s Office took the lead, creating friction with the infamously territorial NYPD.
Hunterdon County Sheriff Warren Peterson acknowledged the animosity, later lamenting to the Bridgewater Courier News, “New York Police haven’t been the most cooperative in all of this.”

“My personal feeling is she’s disappeared permanently.” Hunterdon County Sheriff Warren Peterson, Bridgewater Courier News, July 11th, 1988

1982

Mickey Easterling Brings the Glamour, Also the Bacon

 
The leading lady had exited the stage but the daily upkeep at her New Jersey estate and Querencia Kennels did not cease with Ercilia’s disappearance.
Since she was simply missing, not deceased, her bank accounts were frozen and none of her properties or possessions could be sold.
American Kennel Club rescue groups stepped in to rehome Ercilia’s dogs and her childhood friend Marycathyrn “Mickey” Easterling, legendary New Orleans bon vivant,
stepped up and paid the 85K mortgage on the New Jersey estate.

“She loved those dogs too much to ever leave them like this. None of us have any idea what happened to her but we could never carry out her wishes for what they would get at a sheriff’s sale.” Mickey Easterling, Bridgewater Courier News, July 11th, 1988

Mickey Easterling,
timeless

Triumph of the Will

 
Ercilia’s missing . . . who’s got the will? According to Mickey Easterling several variations of Ercilla’s final testament had been drafted, including at least one version bequeathing her entire estate to Guenter Behr.
Plot twist: he may have manhandled her mother and possibly her heart but Guenter Behr made no attempt to benefit from Ercilia’s disappearance.
In truth, Geraldine Elrod’s spirited perjury in Succession of Elrod  cast a shadow on the 1964 assault allegations—although ex-boyfriends are always statistically viable suspects in this case, at least,
Guenter Behr appears to be a Teutonic MacGuffin.

The side-eye from the judge on the left is everything, 1975

Rumors of a more recent version notwithstanding, the will ultimately probated was drafted by an attorney named Irving Soloway and signed by Ercilia in 1978.
She had no children, no siblings, and her only blood relatives were the half-niece and -nephew allied with Geraldine in Succession of Elrod—they were, not surprisingly, disinherited.
An animal-lover to the end,
Ercilia bequeathed the entirety of her estate to a trust for the comfort and care of her beloved terriers.

“I am not convinced Ercilia had her last will with Mr. Soloway; they were not on the friendliest of terms.” Mickey Easterling, Bridgewater Courier News, November 17th, 1990

Mickey Easterling attending her own funeral in style, 2014

After(math) Not Adding Up

 
“It’s a story made for the magazine rack at the grocery store checkout lane: money, romance, royalty, mystery.”
Bridgewater Courier News  on the Le Ny case, July 11th, 1988

Women go missing—even, on rare occasions, wealthy women. Ercilia’s disappearance was within the realm of possibility but what happened next was not.
Not a single story was written about her disappearance in the New York papers or the Picayune-Times—not an article, not an item, not a word.
Media attention can be capricious but there is one inviolate rule: when a rich white lady goes missing attention must be paid.

From the Picayune-Times  exactly one month before her disappearance,
1985

To recap: the Daily News  featured Guenter Behr’s 1964 battery arrest, the Picayune covered her every pirouette since childhood and the New York Times  printed twelve years of Querencia Kennel victories plus a quarter-page Style Section puff piece in 1973.
Ercilia’s conventionally charmed life had been saturated with media coverage and yet her disappearance—the most newsworthy aspect of her biography—somehow rated nary a mention.

The investigation into Ercilia’s disappearance will receive no first-class reportage despite her fist-class life; instead the case garnered scattershot accounts from three Hunterdon County newspapers,
a total of seven articles in all— four stories in the Bridgewater Courier News,
two in the Hunterdon County Democrat  and a single piece in the Hunterdon County Observer.
Adding insult to injury not only is the coverage paltry but much of the reported information is erroneous—the name of Ercilia’s second husband,
her age, her New York address, the lengths of her marriages and the acreage of her New Jersey estate are all listed incorrectly.

Querencia stud circa 1975

Confession: I am not averse to conspiratorial thinking; sometimes powerful people are, in fact, working together towards nefarious ends.
If Ercilia vanished from a backwater I could (grudgingly) believe a shady lawyer, police chief, and the town’s only newspaper owner colluded to steal her fortune—disappearing her,
eliminating publicity, and probating a bogus or outdated will.
Admittedly, such an occurrence would be bizarre and unlikely but it could, theoretically, happen.
A media blackout on a wealthy woman’s abduction in Manhattan would be an impossibility—three daily newspapers, multiple law enforcement agencies,
in New York City there are too many working parts, too many opportunities for leaks and pointed questions.
Yet somehow, here we are.

Can’t Buy Me Love

 

For comparison purposes here are four fellow heiresses who vanished within the same general time frame:

Helen Brach

    , Chicago IL in 1977

Camilla Lyman

    , Hopkington RI in 1987

Jacqueline Levitz

    , Vicksburg MS in 1995

Irene Silverman

    , Manhattan NY in 1998

 
All of these women received copious publicity not only in their local newspapers but in national publications;
books have been written, documentaries filmed and in the case of gender-fluidity pioneer Cam Lyman Robert Stack himself weighed in on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

Guenter Behr, Tarnbreck Cassius and two plaid jackets from Satan’s atelier, 1977

But Ercilia—just as wealthy, the circumstances of her disappearance equally mysterious—-garnered naught but a handful of poorly-fact checked articles in second-tier media outlets.
In investigations, especially missing persons cases, media attention can be vital:
an Airedale terrier running loose in the Bronx,
a human-sized parcel carried out of Ercilia’s duplex—we’ll never know if anyone saw these things because they’re not, in and of themselves, incriminating.
Witnesses won’t come forward with information if they’re unaware a crime has been committed.

It’s the ultimate irony: Ercilia’s disappearance had everything—missing wills, orphaned show-dogs, high-dollar real estate, spurious claims of royalty—everything except the one thing it needed most: publicity.

Not the Record We Want but the Record We Have

 
Although I can’t explain how we ended up with such a paucity of information within the Huntingdon County articles lurk two facts and one incidence of trial testimony which almost certainly hold great import,
and might even be the key(s) necessary to unlock mystery of Ercilia’s disappearance.

First:    One of the tenants residing at 130 East 72nd Street, Louis Laurie, attempted to claim partial ownership of the building. It’s unclear if his claim had merit or ultimately prevailed.

Second:    New Jersey allows a declaration of death after five years of absence. Ercilia was declared deceased on November 30th, 1990 and during the hearing NYPD Detective Constance Montonaro testified
the Le Ny investigation would likely be closed
as a declaration of death would make it difficult to question Louis Laurie about his ownership claim on the building.

Everything about Detective Montonaro’s reported testimony is so ludicrous I can only assume the Bridgewater Courier  journalist misunderstood or misheard her.
Louis Laurie would have the same legal right to be questioned—-or to refuse to be questioned, if he so chose—irrespective of whether the NYPD was investigating Ercilia’s death or disappearance.
Criminal investigations are not closed because of “difficulty” in questioning witnesses; jabber-jaws might facilitate prosecution but they are not a prerequisite.

Third:    An unnamed employee of Querencia Kennels received a letter purporting to be from Ercilia in 1988, three years after she vanished.
Although the handwriting was believed to be genuine Judge Bernhard proceeded to issue the 1990 finding of death since the note—the contents of which were not revealed—could have been written prior to her disappearance.
What did the note say, and if Ercilia didn’t send the note who did and why?

Even amidst the misreporting it’s obvious Ercilia didn’t voluntarily abandon her fortune and pets to live penniless on the streets of Miami, panhandling and performing Spanish skits and Mexican folk dances for cash.
(“Will Breed Dogs For Food” is a cardboard sign you’ll never see brandished on skid row.)
It’s also clear she wasn’t slain in a random act of violence since elements of staging—the plane ticket purchase most glaringly—were manifest throughout the crime.
That a conspiracy existed is undeniable but it’s impossible to assess which anomalies—the press inattention, the law enforcement jurisdictional feud—were manufactured and which were dumb luck.
Who was in cahoots with whom, and who stood to gain the most from Ercilia’s disappearance?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions and the New Jersey press didn’t seem interested in finding out.

 From a modern perspective it looks like Guenter Behr is goosing that bitch while Roger Ailes looks on approvingly, 1977

Not with a Bang but a Whimper

 
When Ercilia Elrod Le Ny departed her home on August 9th, 1985 she owned a mansion on ninety-nine acres of prime New Jersey real estate and an Upper East Side apartment building valued at 7.5 million dollars in 1990—plus whatever stocks, jewelry, and liquid assets she had inherited or accrued throughout her not-especially long but fabulous life.

In December of 1996, nearly twelve years after her disappearance attorney Irving Soloway settled her estate with a 100K donation to the Hunterdon County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
an organization unmentioned in the decedent’s will.

The sole directive of Ercilia’s final will and testament was that her cherished pets—ultimately charity cases rehomed with strangers—continue to live lives of canine luxury.
I have no idea where her assets went or why it took so long to probate an uncontested will but—coincidentally or not—by the time her estate was settled every single one of her dogs was dead.

Anti-Social Media

 
That was then, this is now.

As I have previously noted on this very blog I’d rather have a public pap-smear than a Facebook page.
Smarmy dopamine peddler Mark Zuckerberg hooked the unwashed masses on likes and fake news but my brain chemistry is strictly off-limits.

During the course of my deep-dive into Ercilia’s disappearance, however, I stumbled upon this:

2019

If Ercilia Elrod Le Ny was still alive she’d be approximately ninety-three years old, a not impossible feat; that a woman of such advanced years would create a Facebook page is unlikely but not inconceivable.

I hesitated for a moment; was it possible Ercilia had  sashayed away from her money,
possessions and pets thirty-three years ago?
I pondered—perhaps publishing this post without creating a Facebook account and reaching out to Ercilia—or the person posing as Ercilia online—would be ill-advised.

And then I reconsidered.

If Ercilia eloped to begin life anew she certainly wouldn’t create a Facebook page in the name she’d abandoned millions of dollars and her precious pups to jettison.
She had no family to speak of and her disappearance received virtually no publicity—who was even aware she was missing?

Reliably, my paranoia blossomed—and this image popped unbidden into my mind.

You rang?

Clear as day I pictured the person behind the Facebook page dolled up like Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, draped in the blue taffeta wedding dress from Ercilia’s second wedding,
fingers and earlobes dripping with the Elrod family jewels.
Propped next to not-really-Ercilia in my fevered imagination lolled the taxidermized remains of an AKC-Champion Airedale terrier, Rudy beside his mistress in death as in life.

Ercilia’s killer is still out there. I did not create a Facebook page.

Still not as scary as a Russian troll farm

Comments
  1. stokes30 says:

    I lived with Ercilla for the last five years of her life, both at the farm “La Querencia” and the New York City town house, there is more to this story and I know all about everything BUT for the details of the Mob hit on her for non payment of a loan to her.

  2. stokes30 says:

    We lived with the Countess for the last five years of her life, well, all but the last year when she was “rubbed out” by the Mob in New York due to an unpaid loan of $200,000. (I remember) I know so much more about her and her life, but this here is a very good start!

  3. stokes30 says:

    The countess was flat broke for years, the farm was mortgaged as was the New York Townhouse, she could barely make the payments (but did thanks to the rent paid for two or three of the apartments that were rented out long term.) Last time that Mickey Easterling called me was about 1987, and she did not know what to think, Betsey Mazyk was and is a good friend of ours, and she was at a loss too, she lived at the farm for years as Chief Kennel Keeper and ran the entire business of the dogs after Gunter left.
    Ercilla begged me to move in for her last summer in New York (weekends at the farm) but I said no, she had way too much baggage for me to deal with. There was a mob run totally illegal night gambling operation on her top floor apartment and she was afraid of the the men she allowed to do this, some of whom I met, and some of whom took over the building after she was disappeared, met and spoke with two of them a year after she was gone, as they let me into her duplex where all her things were left as though she was coming back (even left the star sapphire ring out on her dressing table – which she would NEVER do, she did not trust anybody.)
    The last sugar daddy of great wealth she had was Andres Uribe from Columbia and NYC, the man who invented “el excedente colombian coffee”. this was in the 1960’s He bought both the townhouse and the farm for her and the Westminister Kennel Club grand champion Suerte Brava to start her in the dog show business. Things were great for her until the best friend of playboy Andres tried to get into Ercilla’s pants – and did – and Andres left her on her own, however he did put the properties into her name when he bought them so she got to keep them.
    The true stories go on and on!

  4. stokes30 says:

    Ercilla however DID take the photograph of her beloved father that was always taped to her dresser mirror at the farm when she disappeared into the wind. As far as I know this is the only evidence that she took something and that she took it herself is only my guess, as no one else cared? She was hocking and pawning her jewelry and art and just about anything that she could for the last number of years, so for her to leave the ring Andres bought for her in Thailand – the star sapphire that she always wore sitting out tells me that it was planted there on the dresser in NYC.

  5. stokes30 says:

    “Yves Joseph Le Ny” was French from the Le Ny family of Brittany.
    Noble titles of France were officially expunged after the revolution, but are used as a courtesy to this day.
    Ercilla also had a short movie career as an ingenue in Rome during the 1950’s I don’t know much about this but her close friend Morris Herman if he is still alive in New Orleans would know more about this.

  6. stokes30 says:

    Ercilla also bought herself a PhD degree, large diploma was hung on the Office wall behind her desk in the street side office on the ground floor on East 72nd Street. This was at the suggestion of a so called (phony) lady lawyer, who’s name escapes me who got poor Ercilla to invest the money that she got from her mothers estate and real estate in a scheme to rip off Ercilla by having her “invest” in a soon to be trendy blue jean factory supposedly located in the Cape Verde Islands off of West Africa.

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