VIENNA — Vienna and the wider Maries County community and beyond were shocked late last week when Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman posted on his office’s Facebook page that charges …
VIENNA — Vienna and the wider Maries County community and beyond were shocked late last week when Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman posted on his office’s Facebook page that charges have been filed against a Vienna couple for trying to take an elderly woman’s farm from her without paying for it.
Gary Lee Honse, 64, and Deborah Kaye Honse, 56, both of Vienna, have been charged by Prosecuting Attorney Anthony “Tony” Skouby with the class A felony of financial exploitation of an elderly/disabled person. The couple was arrested and released from the county jail on issued summons due to health reasons. They are set for arraignment on Dec. 7 in Maries County Associate Judge Kerry’s Rowden’s court.
In Missouri, a class A felony carries the most severe range of punishment. The authorized sentence is a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years or life imprisonment. First degree murder is a class A felony.
According to the statement of probable cause, the sheriff’s office began an investigation in late October when the victim, a 91-year-old Vienna area woman, filed a criminal complaint with the office, reporting her farm land, worth about $1,413,755, had been stolen by a deception perpetrated by Gary and Debbie Honse. The couple was known to her as they are neighbors. The elderly woman realized what had been done to her when she went to pay her 2021 taxes at the courthouse in Vienna. She was told she did not owe the farm taxes as the farm was no longer in her name. Her tax statement only listed her motor vehicle and not her farm.
The victim told the sheriff’s investigators she believed and alleged Gary and Debbie Honse stole the paperwork from her house to get the owner’s name changed. Her land Abstract of Title were taken from her home. The victim told the investigators she saw Gary and Debbie Honse going out of her home while she was moving grass in the spring of 2021. The investigators reviewed paperwork that included a Quit Claim Deed filed in the county on April 1, 2021 that contained a cover page from one of the documents missing from the victim’s home, the Abstract of Title. Both Gary and Debbie Honse were identified as the persons who filed a Quit Claim Deed.
The sheriff’s deputies asked the victim about signing to have her land transferred to Gary and Debbie Honse. She said the only thing she had signed is what Gary Honse told her, which was some paperwork to keep hunters from crossing her land.
The individual who notarized the victim’s signature said she overhead the victim ask Gary Honse what she was signing. When the deputies informed her what she had actually signed, she said she took Honse at his word that keeping the hunters from crossing her land was the intended reason for the paper with her signature.
In an interview with this publication, the victim said she trusted Gary Honse and has known him since he was a boy. She never thought he would steal from her. She has been greatly upset about what was done to her and had never intended to sign something to allow them to take over her farm. It was her grandfather’s farm she and her husband purchased. Together they raised beef and milk cows. A close friend helped her make the decision to reach out to law enforcement for help. The victim said she hopes to get her farm back. The friend said this situation has been extremely hard on the victim’s health because she is so upset about it.
There was talk about a transaction between the victim and Honse about selling the farm to him for $30,000 which the victim said was “explicit” as she knows they didn’t have any money and owned her three years worth of rent on her pasture, the probable cause statement said.
The sheriff’s deputies, with a search warrant, searched the Honse residence and found the missing documents from the victim’s residence. Gary and Debbie Honse said they had those documents because they came with the transfer of land and the victim gave them the documents voluntarily three days before they filed the Quit Claim Deed.
A local title company said it refused to file the deed as it appeared to be a questionable transaction because of the value and the company recommended Gary Honse obtain legal counsel to properly fill out the paperwork and file it in a more acceptable manner.
Chief Deputy Major Scott John gave the Miranda warning to Gary and Debbie Honse, explaining the victim did not know what she was signing, which gave her farm to them for nothing. The couple then said disparaging statements about the victim, saying she was a “explicit” and that she didn’t need to be “living down there alone,” and that “she can’t take care of herself properly.”
Major John told them they both needed to stop making statements if they were invoking their rights, but he said they continued. Major John pointed out if they were aware of the victim’s mental health struggles, they should not have engaged her into a land transaction of that value without ensuring she had legal representation when doing so. Gary and Debbie Honse said it was the victim’s idea to transfer the land to them because of a potential lawsuit involving a motor vehicle accident. The investigators questioned why the victim would give away her farm for $30,000 when it is worth over $1 million.
The investigators perused the victim’s will on file at the courthouse and Gary and Debbie Honse were not listed as the heirs. Gary and Debbie Honse argued there was another will with the land going to a charity. The couple told the investigators they took care of the victim for 20 years and indicated the farm was payment of all the years of taking care of her and being good neighbors.
The couple also said they witnesses, family members, who heard the victim state she was selling the land to them for $30,000, but these witnesses were not produced. A brother of Gary Honse, arrived on scene during the search warrant and said he was not privy to any arrangements between his brother other than what Gary Honse had told him. He said he was leaving that between them and was just renting the ground to plant crops this year because Gary Honse was unable to because of health reasons.
The investigators also found out on Oct. 27, 2021 Gary Honse paid the property taxes on the 403 acres in question.
The sheriff’s investigators arrested the couple for financial exploitation of the elderly as the evidence showed they completed a questionable transaction worth more than $1 million with a 91-year-old lady, who has a durable power of attorney, and at their own admission was showing signs of dementia.
“As a Sheriff it is always so upsetting when someone takes advantage of the elderly,” Sheriff Heitman said. “I am utterly disgusted with the actions of these two. After reviewing all of evidence I do not believe it will be a hard case to prove at all and I am certain they will be held accountable for their actions.”
The sheriff said he commends his staff for their expedient investigation of “this heinous act.”