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94-Year-Old Leaves a Fortune to a University

December 27, 1995

PIKESVILLE, Md. (AP) _ A 94-year-old woman who lived in a rundown, cluttered house despite having a $4.4 million stock portfolio willed most of her fortune to a university that had never heard of her.

Olive Swindells, who died in March of a stroke while preparing her tax return, left 80 percent of her estate to Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington.

Nobody seems to know for sure where she got the money to buy stocks or the real estate she also owned.

Her husband, Bert, died in 1994 at 86. He was a draftsman and had been deaf since childhood. They had no children. They lived in a middle-class neighborhood in this Baltimore suburb in a modest, eight-room house valued at $35,000.

``They were very unusual people,″ said neighbor Drannin Rose, who said he was unaware of their fortune. ``They lived like they had nothing. They never put their trash out, never cut down a bush or a weed.″

After Mrs. Swindells’ death, thousands of newspapers and magazines dating to the 1920s, many of them relating to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, were found in the house, along with dozens of empty cans, bottles and boxes.

The couple had one luxury, a summer cottage in Naples, Fla., but had not gone there for most of the last decade.

However, Mrs. Swindells had $4.4 million worth of stocks in accounts at brokerages in Baltimore and in Florida, and in a safe deposit box, and also had bank accounts and real estate, said her lawyer, Bruce E. Goodman.

Altogether, he said, the estate was worth about $4.8 million.

The lawyer authorized an initial transfer of $3 million to the school and will release more after bills are paid.

``We had never heard of this woman until her lawyer called us to say she’d left us $3 million″ said Gallaudet spokeswoman Mercy H. Coogan.

Neighbors and friends had never heard Mrs. Swindells mention Gallaudet either.

The money will go toward construction of a conference center.

In New York City recently, 101-year-old recluse Anne Scheiber left a stock portfolio valued at $22 million to Yeshiva University, which also never heard of its benefactor. She had built her fortune on $5,000 in savings after retiring as a government auditor at the height of World War II.

Because it was so long ago, neither Goodman nor her Baltimore brokerage, Alex. Brown & Sons, was able to say when Mrs. Swindells began playing the market.

``My understanding is that when she married Bert back in the ’40s, she was basically penniless,″ Goodman said. ``She accumulated all her wealth after they got married.″

Hilda ``Pat″ Brewer, a neighbor and friend of Mrs. Swindells, said the woman started ``saving every penny″ after she married.

But Goodman said he doesn’t know where she got the money to save and invest, or whether it came from her husband’s earnings. He described the couple as very private and independent.

At the time of her death, Mrs. Swindells’ portfolio included 55 stocks, including H&R Block, Schlumberger Ltd., DuPont and Royal Dutch Petroleum.

The remaining 20 percent of the estate was willed to the Daughters of the American Revolution Nursing Home. Estate attorneys have not been able to find a nursing home by that name, but the DAR has filed a claim for the money.

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