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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Murder Produces Tangle of Lawsuits

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (CN) - A man whose mother was stabbed to death claims in court that an insurance agent removed him as beneficiary from her $1 million insurance policy so another man could collect it.

Al Fox III sued Athene Annuity and Life Co. fka Aviva Life and Annuity Co., Accordia Life and Annuity Co., on Nov. 17 in Tarrant County Court. He also sued insurance agent Charles Mercier, Patrick M. Gorman, and a John Doe, who allegedly was meant to get the money.

Fox claims his mother, Anita Fox, bought a life insurance policy in 2008 from Aviva Life and Annuity Co., and he was named the primary beneficiary, as her oldest son.

Without informing his mother, Fox says, Mercier transferred ownership of the policy to Mark Buckland - Anita Fox's son-in-law - and to Patrick M. Gorman, and named John Doe as the new beneficiary.

Fox claims Mercier facilitated the policy changes as an agent for Aviva Life and Annuity, which changed its name to Athene Annuity and Life Co. in 2014.

His mother's original insurance policy was then transferred to Accordia Life and Annuity Co. and given a different policy number, Fox says in the complaint.

He claims that after Patrick Gorman was named the owner of the policy, Anita Fox was stabbed to death by Gorman's brother, Gerard "Joe" Gorman, in Tarrant County.

"Patrick Gorman and beneficiary defendant John Doe willfully caused the death of Anita Fox in order to collect $1,000,000.00 in life insurance benefits," the complaint states. "Thus, defendants Gorman and Doe all individually and separately caused the death of Anita Fox."

Fox claims that Athene and Accordia violated their duty not to injure their insured, by "approving and facilitating the transfer of said life insurance policy to dangerous individuals, which constitutes negligence and provided an incentive to murder."

"Defendant Athene knew or should have known that the insured, Anita Fox was not aware of the policy's transfer. ... Defendant Accordia did not exercise reasonable diligence to ascertain whether defendants Gorman and Doe had an insurable interest in the life of Anita Fox," according to the complaint.

It adds that Mercier failed to perform his duty as agent: "Mercier had actual or constructive knowledge that Anita Fox was unaware of the policy transfer. Mercier was actually or constructively aware of the owner's/beneficiary's intent to murder Anita Fox and failed to take action proximately causing her death."

The Dallas Morning News reported on Aug. 7 this year that Bernard Joseph "Little Joe" Gorman had been indicted for the murder of Anita Fox. Gorman and his father Gerard "Joe" Gorman allegedly stalked Fox for days before killing her inside a home she was cleaning in Colleyville.

"Joe Gorman, who died of apparent natural causes before he could be arrested in the case, is believed to have stabbed Fox while his son (Little Joe) drove the getaway vehicle," according to the Morning News report.

Joe Gorman and Little Joe Gorman allegedly were members of a nomadic group known as the Irish Travellers. The Irish news website TheJournal.ie describes the Irish Travellers as a "highly secretive and insular community" descended from a group of families who crossed the Atlantic in the 1800s. There may be as many as 10,000 people in the United States who identify as Irish Travellers, though the U.S. Census does not consider them a separate ethnic group.

TheJournal.ie cites a documentary on Irish Travellers by TV3 called "Travellers in America: A Secret Society." The documentary says the Irish Travellers are wealthy, that most of the men work in trades, such as roofing, and that most of their money comes from life insurance.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on July 25 that Irish Travellers often make money "by taking out huge life insurance policies on one another."

The Star-Telegram reported that Fox's stabbing death already had resulted in four lawsuits from Mark Buckland and Anita Fox's daughter Virginia Buckland, in which they claim that insurers owe them millions of dollars of life insurance proceeds.

Mark Humphreys, attorney for the Bucklands, told the newspaper his clients were not involved in the death of Anita Fox, and that she knew about all the policies, which were bought through Charles Mercier.

"This is what Mom, or Anita, wanted," Humphreys told the Star-Telegram. "Anita Fox was not some poor, desolate little lady. Her husband owned and operated mobile homes and RV parks and developed them. They had a pretty substantial income and made some pretty good money selling those."

Humphreys told the Star-Telegram that it was Mercier who suggested that Mark Buckland have a third-party invest in one of the converted insurance policies so they could share the benefits. As a result, Buckland agreed to a deal in which the investor became the beneficiary of the $1 million policy on Anita Fox, whose original beneficiary was Al Fox III, according to Humphreys. But Buckland did not know who the third-party investor was, Humphreys told the newspaper.

"There is no record at all of my client ever having any contact or knowing Gorman in any way, shape, form or fashion," Humphreys told the Star-Telegram. "My client never knew them. All they knew is Mercier's dad had a friend who did these kind of investments."

Despite this, Humphreys said, Anita Fox supported the transfer of the policy to a third-party investor. "My understanding is that was discussed with her and she thought that was a good business decision on Mark's part."

Courthouse News tried to contact Charles Mercier Friday morning through two numbers listed for his business in South Carolina, but neither one was working. He did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Athene Annuity and Life said in a statement: "The company has cooperated with authorities in connection with the investigation related to the death of Anita Fox. However, we cannot comment on the pending litigation that was filed against the company, other than to note that the life policy was issued prior to when Athene acquired Aviva USA. Athene, immediately after acquiring Aviva USA, sold the life insurance business to Commonwealth Annuity and Life Insurance Company, the parent entity of Accordia Life and Annuity Company."

Accordia Life did not respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys Humphreys did not reply to a phone message left Friday afternoon seeking comment.

Al Fox III seeks funeral costs and punitive damages for loss of inheritance and his mother's lost earnings and pain and suffering.

He is represented by Matthew McCarley, with Fears Nachawati in Dallas.

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