BOSTON -- A multimillionaire who disappeared in 1977 one day before he was to stand trial on sexual assault charges is legally considered still alive because no body has been found, the state Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
'I'm in a state of shock,' Leonard Jacobs, brother of the missing Richard C. Jacobs of Brookline, said following Wednesday's ruling, which was based on grounds that Jacobs had a reason to flee and that there is no evidence he died.
The high court ruling overturned a decision by the Middlesex County Superior Court that cited a state law that presumes a person is dead following a seven-year unexplained absence.
The ruling also denies Richard Jacobs' mother a $1 million life insurance claim, while forcing the state and federal governments to return more than $1 million in inheritance taxes already collected on his $3 million estate.
Jacobs, a manufacturing company executive and heir to the Jet Spray soda fountain fortune, disappeared on the eve of his trial in New Orleans on charges he had sex with two young boys.
Owen Gallagher, lawyer for Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, had cited in court arguments Jacobs' default on a court appearance on similar charges in London about one year before the New Orleans trial. Jacobs had 'the motive, the propensity, and the means to flee,' Gallagher said.
'His car's never been found, there's no evidence at all, anywhere, that he's dead,' Gallagher said. 'When people die, there's usually a body around.'
The Supreme Judicial Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice Edward Hennessey, agreed with Gallagher that state law allows rebuttal of the presumption that a person missing at least seven years is dead.
'Once a person is known to have been living, the presumption of life continues until rebutted,' Hennessey wrote. 'As a matter of law, it is presumed that Jacobs is alive.'