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1930 classic auto navigates history, epic ownership fight

By MARK HARPERJuly 6, 2019
File-Kay Catherine Eckley Bentley displays a model of a B-26 Marauder in her home in Ormond Beach in 2014. Bentley, who has since died, worked as a real "Rosie the Riveter" in Baltimore before owning, then getting involved in legal battles over a 1930 Cord L-29 classic convertible. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, file)
File-Kay Catherine Eckley Bentley displays a model of a B-26 Marauder in her home in Ormond Beach in 2014. Bentley, who has since died, worked as a real "Rosie the Riveter" in Baltimore before owning, then getting involved in legal battles over a 1930 Cord L-29 classic convertible. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, file)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — An historic auto, an Ormond divorcee, a ne’er do well son, a ‘reincarnated’ doctor equals one odd tale

It all started so simple 13 years ago. An Atlanta plastic surgeon loaned a friend $50,000. Payment with interest was due in three years.

Collateral was a 1930 Cord L-29 Phaeton sedan, a convertible nicknamed Blondie, with a history nearly as storied as Peachtree Street. It carried Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in a parade prior to the 1939 premiere of “Gone With The Wind,” then later, Bob Hope, Doris Day and then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. “It opened interstate highways, led parades, chauffeured political candidates (and) was vaulted by a team of stunt riders on horses,” according to a Sotheby’s auction site description.

Then, in another quintessentially American turn, the car became the center of three legal battles, involving an Ormond Beach divorcee and onetime “Rosie the Riveter” facing bankruptcy and a doctor with “spiritual sight” who believed herself a reincarnated wife of Henry VIII.

Blondie could be worth as much as $200,000.

Yet with both the former owners and their two sons dead, the lengthy legal battles have left Gary Graybill, one of the litigants and a distant relative, reaching back to another Hollywood classic for a phrase suggesting misfortune most commonly attributed to Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot.”

“I just feel like what people say, ‘You get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.’”

—Rosie and Blondie

Graybill is the nephew of Catherine “Kay” Eckley Bentley, a real-life “Rosie the Riveter” who after living in retirement in Ormond Beach for much of the past 20 years, died last year at age 94. Graybill served as her guardian and is now trustee of her estate.

Kay Bentley grew up in Pennsylvania. During World War II, she followed her sister in getting a job at a Maryland factory where the worked on B-26 Marauders, bombers that helped the United States and its allies win the war.

“I was proud to serve my country,” Bentley told The News-Journal in 2014 in a story about the contributions of Rosie the Riveters, the women whose labor back home was critical to arming the husbands, brothers and cousins who fought in Europe and the Pacific.

When the war ended, she married one of those Army veterans, Verney Bentley Jr., who brought Kay south to Georgia, where the couple settled, had children and, as part of their American dream, pursued an interest in classic automobiles.

The Bentleys became just the third owners of the Cord, purchasing it for $5,000 in 1967, according to a Georgia court ruling, although Kay Bentley testified in a Volusia Circuit hearing in 2015 that the purchase date was 1963.

Either way, Kay Bentley loved Blondie. In the 1960s and ’70s, Verney and Kay showed their Cord at Glidden tours, road rallies for antique cars. She later testified it is a rare and exceptional car.

The Bentleys continued to enjoy the car until 1986, when they were no longer finding joy in each other.

“After 40 years of marriage, they got divorced and it got ugly. Nasty,” Graybill said.

Kay Bentley was to receive alimony, but if it wasn’t paid, she got a lien on the Cord, according to a Cherokee County, Georgia, divorce decree. Courts later determined, though, that she never recorded the lien.

Kay Bentley didn’t get Blondie, not right away, at least.

—Cutting the Cord

Broke, Verney Bentley Jr. turned to a fellow car aficionado, Jimmy Freeman, who agreed to buy a disassembled Blondie for $15,000.

Kay Bentley challenged Freeman’s ownership; a lower court sided with her, but the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that because she had never recorded her security interest in the car, Freeman should get it. It is unclear through court records examined by The News-Journal what happened next, but Lynford Bentley — son of the divorced Bentleys — registered the car with the state between 2005 and 2008.

Freeman, now 83 years old, remembered the episode in a recent interview with The News-Journal.

Freeman said he had the Cord in his shop and it was about 95 percent restored.

“I bought it from Verney. He sold it to me and was going to buy it back later,” Freeman said. “His son Lynford came and picked up the car and never paid me. I never got my money out of it.”

Freeman said he was out about $39,000 after Lynford took the Cord back without paying him.

“Verney was an honest man,” Freeman said. “His son Lynford was a crook.”

—‘Psychiatrically unsound’

Graybill described his cousin Lynford this way: “I think he was doing some things that weren’t completely above board.”

And: “He was kind of hiding from the IRS.”

Lynford ran a parts business for cash, Graybill said.

“He was kind of different. He went to this school for holistic healing or something, and that’s where he met Dr. (Susan) Kolb,” Graybill said.

Kolb — a plastic surgeon who says she was “born with spiritual sight and hearing” — owns Plastikos, billed as “Atlanta’s leading integrative holistic plastic surgery center.”

When times got tight, Lynford Bentley put the Cord up to borrow from Kolb, then paid back less than $3,000 of that original $50,000.

In October and November 2009, Kolb asked Bentley to deliver the Cord because of the non-payment.

On Dec. 8, 2009, Lynford Bentley died, leaving his debt unpaid.

Four years passed. Blondie resurfaced in court documents.

Kolb sued Lynford Bentley’s longtime, live-in girlfriend, Belinda Horne, seeking to recover the Cord in lieu of her unpaid $47,666 plus interest.

The surgeon herself was going through some challenging times, having lost privileges at two Atlanta hospitals, including one that determined her “psychiatrically unsound” because she believes in clairvoyance and reincarnation, she testified in a deposition posted to YouTube by 11Alive, an Atlanta TV station.

“Some people have prophetic dreams; some people have visions,” Kolb said. “They’re not anything that would make me psychiatric, OK?”

She also testified there is “evidence from what other mediums have told me that” she was the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, Catherine Parr. “I actually look a lot like her,” Kolb said.

Kolb did not respond to requests for comment through her business email and attorney. The phone number listed for her plastic-surgery center has been disconnected.

—Storage unit ‘empty’

Sometime around 2000, Kay Bentley moved to Florida.

“Volusia and Daytona have the racing history. That’s the birth place of speed and they being car aficionados, I think they had a tradition of coming to Daytona or Ormond every Easter,” Graybill said.

Her life here, first in Ormond-by-the-Sea, then Ormond Beach proper, was good for a time, filled with friends, but her mind deteriorated as she entered her 90s.

“One of the symptoms of her dementia, vascular dementia, was paranoia,” Graybill said. “I could see a definite change over time. She wasn’t the same person I had known.”

Until their deaths six days apart in 2009, Kay Bentley remained bound to her sons Lynford and Verney Bentley III back in Georgia, and her other baby, the 1930 Cord L-29.

Kay Bentley conspired to keep Kolb from collecting the Cord, the doctor alleged in 2017 complaint.

She had worked with her son’s former girlfriend to transport the car to a storage garage in Daytona Beach, in violation of a Georgia court order granting Kolb rights to the Cord, the complaint alleges. Then Bentley sold it before Kolb could collect it.

One of Kolb’s attorneys, Genevieve Dame of Atlanta, told Volusia Circuit Judge Dennis Craig of an effort to take possession in 2015. A Volusia County sheriff’s deputy was ordered to bring a locksmith to collect Blondie from All Aboard Storage on Jimmy Ann Drive.

“When we opened the unit, it was empty,” Dame told the judge.

Bentley had sold Blondie at auction on Sept. 5, 2015, a few weeks earlier, for $137,500, from which Bentley collected almost $113,000. She then used nearly $98,000 of that to pay off her Ormond Beach condo.

Judge Craig explained to Bentley that Kolb might be able to contest the proceeds of the sale.

“Most of that proceeds is in my condo,” Kay Bentley told the judge. “You mean . . . you would take my condo from me?”

—Bankruptcy ruling

Before her death, and right after she sold the car, Kay Bentley filed for bankruptcy, seeking to protect herself against losing her home, an eighth-story oceanfront condo.

But Kolb was still trying to collect.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Karen Jennemann of the Middle District of Florida in Orlando, summarized what was before her: “To say both the facts and the legal arguments in this dispute are unique is an enormous understatement. (Kay Bentley), assisted by her nephew and lawyer, went to extraordinary lengths to hide a valuable 1930 Cord Phaeton, sell it secretly, use the proceeds to pay off her home mortgage and then file bankruptcy all to keep Kolb from getting paid on a $50,000 loan she made to (Bentley’s) son.”

Jennemann ruled that while Bentley was declared incompetent and appointed a guardian, Graybill, in May 2018, she was competent when she sold the Cord three years earlier, and when she filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and that Kolb is entitled to $113,000 of the value of the condo when it sells.

Graybill estimates the condo is worth close to three times that amount, and it was valued at $280,000 in the bankruptcy filing.

He and his attorney, Anna Handy of Daytona Beach, have filed notice of intent to appeal on several grounds, including a statute of limitations on Kolb’s collection of the loan and their argument a homestead exemption should protect a debtor in this instance.

“I kind of got sucked into this just trying to help her,” Graybill said. “That was kind of my goal, to not see her end up out on the street.”

While Bentley was able to spend her dying days in her condo, she did so with the legal case brought on by the battle over Blondie.

“I felt she deserved better,” Graybill said.

Just 1,873 Cord L-29 Phaetons were produced in 1930 by Auburn Automobile Company. It was the first mass-produced U.S. car with a front-wheel drive system. The Phaeton was advertised at $3,295, which in today’s dollars equates to nearly $50,000.

A Cord similar to Blondie was available at Sotheby’s spring auction in Auburn, a city of 13,000 in northeast Indiana. Its value is estimated at between $200,000 and $250,000.

As for Blondie, several websites list it as having been sold since it left Bentley’s hands. One, Classic Digest, reports Mark Hyman Ltd. sold it for $189,500. Hyman did not return a message seeking comment on who owns it today.

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Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com

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