By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
For 32 years, Luise Buettner marked the beginning of the tourist season with the arrival of the Joessmans, the Uoesers, Inga Koetz, and Karl Heinz. The Nuremberg-born motel owner catered to vacationers from her homeland. Herzlich Willkommen, read a sign in the office window of the Noble Motel Apartments, 3110 Auramar St., on Fort Lauderdale Beach: "From the heart, we welcome you."
German tourists found the 16-unit motel by word of mouth. And they came back year after year, forming a tight-knit community at the two-story, '60s-era motel with the tropical courtyard and the oval swimming pool at its center. In the evenings, everybody would cook a favorite dish, gather at poolside for dinner, sing the old songs, and dance the polka late into the night. "Oh, we had fun," Buettner beamed.
The Noble was a one-woman operation, and Buettner kept things just so for her guests. "There wasn't a leaf on the ground!" marveled Buettner's close friend Candy Fulves, who died June 22, a few weeks after she granted this interview. Indeed, when Fulves first met Buettner 32 years ago, she thought her diminutive German neighbor was the motel's maid.
Paul Joseph Edwards/Pavel Josef Placek
lawyer, Edwards's ex-wife
Heinrich's ex-girlfriend and mother of his three daughters
Buettner bought the Noble for $250,000 in 1970. In today's market, with its location a block from the ocean near Sunrise Boulevard, in a neighborhood of mom-and-pop motels coveted by developers who dream of condo canyons, Buettner thinks her 8744-square-foot motel on half a city block would fetch $2 million to $3 million. That is, if she could stand to part with it.
For the past few years, friends have urged her to do just that -- sell the place and retire to a waterfront home she owns in Pompano Beach. But Buettner won't hear of it. She likes her apartment at the motel and the commotion of visitors. If not sell, then perhaps hire a manager and take things easier? No. Even as diabetes has ravaged her eyesight, Buettner has stubbornly refused to give up control.
On a sunny afternoon in late May, the air is so humid that it leaves a film on the skin. Underneath the metal umbrella poolside at the Noble sit three scraggly, blond guys who look like they walked off a construction site. Today, they hoist beers and work cigarettes down to the nub. As a stranger pushes open the white, wrought-iron gate and walks inside, one of the men decides to play host. Beyond him, black scum circles the edge of the Noble pool. He addresses a New Times reporter with rushed, exaggerated urgency, "Can I help you? You looking for Luise? You want Luise? Go right around that way." He points to the jalousie door of Luise's apartment. "Right there. That's her door. Just knock."
A television blares inside. The air conditioner rumbles. A woman's voice layers through the racket. She is yelling something. A gentle knock on the door. Inside, Luise Buettner shouts, "Is someone there? Come in, come in! I can't come to the door! Come in. Come in!"
When you've been in a place before, you think you know how you'll find things. When the door opens, Buettner will be sitting on her day bed surrounded by a collection of dolls she has outfitted in crocheted dresses and bonnets. A forest of elves will be perched on a shelf that encircles the room above the window frames. She will smile.
Instead, she is down on the tile floor. Her walker, with its bright-green tennis balls on the tips, is smashed against a television tray. Bottles of pills are strewn on the floor around her. "I fell," she says sheepishly. Right outside the window, the blond dudes are still downing their beers. They couldn't hear her shouts. She looks dazed, embarrassed at her predicament. "You must be my angel," she says.
Alerted to her plight, the men hoist Buettner off the floor and back onto her day bed. Buettner thanks them, but when they leave, her tone changes. "Acchhh, none of them can pay," she says, disgusted. As word ricochets around the complex, people troop in the door to check on her: Jean, a 50-something woman with badly dyed blond hair, hollow cheeks, and stick legs. A 20-ish girl named Cheryl who is supposed to be entering a drug treatment program. Mark, who administers her daily insulin shot and admits, yes, he used crack cocaine at one time. When each leaves, Buettner spits out the same remark: "Can't pay. None of them can pay."
Now, she may have no choice but to sell. Small motels like the Noble, where the high season was crippled by 9/11, face a most gruesome summer. Many of Noble's German tourists canceled their reservations after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And Buettner hasn't been able to run things on her own since she suffered two strokes in January 2001. After that setback, she turned to a stranger who ripped her off. Now her 41-year-old son, Heinrich, manages the place. Last week, Buettner had only $20 in her personal checking account, Heinrich says. The Noble Apartment account had a paltry $17.
Both Fulves and Buettner say the motel has "gone to hell" since Heinrich took it over about a year ago. Fulves says she's afraid to venture into the courtyard at night. There are too many beer-infused disputes. "This used to be the Garden of Eden," Fulves says. Buettner shakes her head in agreement. "Now it's the Garden of Doom!"
The way Buettner tells her story, everything was fine until long-time friends Erich and Susan Medenbach referred a stranger to her in August 2000, a man in need of a place to stay, a man who pitched in to help in lieu of rent.
Paul J. Edwards impresses people. Tall at six feet two, erudite, and self-assured, Edwards acts with the single-minded conviction of someone who has an unwavering faith in himself. He introduces himself as a professional tennis instructor and retired psychologist who entered international finance as a second career. He keeps his weight at 230-250 pounds with daily rounds of tennis. His straight black hair is now tinged with gray, but he has a full head of it. And then there are those eyes, sky blue and penetrating, set into a broad face with skin tanned the honey tone of heart pine.
Erich Medenbach, who owned a foreign-auto shop before retiring, had worked on Edwards's Renault in the 1990s. In the summer of 2000, Edwards told the Medenbachs that he had to move from his rental home because the landlord planned to live there. The Medenbachs suggested Edwards move into the Noble Apartments for a month while he looked for a new place. In return for rent, he could help Buettner.
In August 2000, the 56-year-old Czech native set up house in one-bedroom, second-story apartment 16. His mother, Eliska, who had been living with him, returned temporarily to the Czech Republic.
Buettner liked Edwards right away. Despite his advanced degrees and international connections, he wasn't afraid of work. He did laundry, made beds, took out the garbage, distributed mail, and cleaned Buettner's house in Pompano Beach. He ferried her to breakfast in the morning and to feed her pet cats at the Pompano house in the afternoon. In return, Buettner cooked for him and gave him gifts.
As their friendship grew, Edwards delved into the motel's books. He took the title of manager. One month stretched into two, then three, then four. When Buettner suffered two strokes in January 2001, Edwards became her nurse. Nothing seemed too much for him. Edwards bathed Buettner and helped her dress. He supervised her diet. He dispensed her medications and administered her insulin shots. In a telephone conversation, he told Heinrich, "I'm taking care of your mother like a baby."
But behind the Good Samaritan schtick, Paul Edwards apparently had more-sinister motives. Although he refused payment for his services, Edwards opened five credit-card accounts in Luise Buettner's name and racked up more than $30,000 in bills, according to receipts provided by the Buettners. That allowed Edwards to get by while he worked on a bigger plan, they contend. The Buettners say Paul Edwards wanted control of Luise Buettner's life. He wanted the motel. He planned to pocket at least $1 million when it sold. He boasted that he had a buyer for the property. And he planned to move into the Pompano Beach house with his mother and his 17-year-old son -- after remodeling it.
He almost pulled it off.
Edwards dialed 911 after he discovered Buettner unconscious January 29, 2001. Her breathing was labored, guttural. She had lapsed into a diabetic coma. When she rebounded after her blood sugar was stabilized, Edwards pressured her to sign a power of attorney to him. She refused. He became angry. By February, accusations had replaced affinity. On February 15, Buettner reported her Chevy Blazer stolen when Edwards took it without permission. He was arrested for grand-theft auto the next day. After his arrest, Edwards abandoned Buettner and the Noble.
In March 2001, Fort Lauderdale police issued a warrant for Edwards's arrest on felony charges of financial exploitation of the elderly. He disappeared.
Today, Buettner disdains the man to whom she entrusted her motel, her health, and her friendship. And she is proud that somehow she outfoxed her alleged predator. "He doesn't own anything," she pronounces derisively in her thick German accent. "He doesn't even own a shithouse."
From a box of papers and 16 computer disks Edwards left behind at the Noble Apartments, New Times has pieced together a disturbing picture of Buettner's self-appointed benefactor. Court records and other material add to that image. His troubles trace at least to 1988 and involve allegations of financial fraud and violence against women. Edwards did not respond to an e-mail requesting an interview.
Originally from Prague, Pavel Josef Placek, who later changed his name to Paul Joseph Edwards, lived in Canada before moving to Florida in 1979. In court documents and conversation with the Buettners and others, the Czech native frequently referred to his work as a psychotherapist and psychologist for the Broward County Sexual Assault Treatment Center, where he said he counseled rape victims, children, and prisoners from 1979 until 1981. The Broward County Human Resources Department, though, has no record of him. In court documents, he also says he ran a private psychological service until 1987. Although Edwards did register the company Lauderdale Psychological Services in 1985 with Broward County, the state Division of Corporations does not list the business. Additionally, the state, which began requiring psychologists to be licensed in 1961, has no record of him.
Placek married Theresa Edwards, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, in 1982. The couple had a son three years later, and in 1987, Placek changed his name to Edwards. When the couple divorced in 1988, he received a car and a condo the couple owned in Oakland Park. He agreed to pay child support of $400 a month and $35,000 in credit-card debt. Since that time, Paul Edwards has been involved in his son's life sporadically.
After their divorce, Theresa Edwards says, she has watched plan after plan, promise after promise, and dream after dream go wrong. Sometimes, Theresa says, she has wondered if her ex-husband suffers from bipolar disorder. In court documents filed in October 1991, she complained that he reneged on promises he made at their divorce. She paid $6000 to keep the Oakland Park condo out of foreclosure as well as $4900 to SunTrust Bank to avoid a lawsuit over credit-card debt. Other creditors were threatening action, Theresa Edwards says. In addition, Paul was behind in child-support payments by more than $10,000.
In a spasm of remorse, Paul vowed to the court in November 1991 that he would pay $9000 before the close of the year. He even suggested punishment should he fail: "the debtor of the said money is to be executed with AIDS in the Broward County Jail. So help him God," he wrote in his response to the complaint.
Although he didn't have a full-time job, Paul Edwards had found a calling of sorts in the late 1980s, caring for an elderly disabled man, also a Czech native. Anthony Mach assigned Edwards power of attorney in January 1987, when the retired office clerk was 81 years of age. After his divorce, Edwards moved into Mach's apartment. Theresa Edwards remembers how gentle her former husband was with Mach. He bathed and fed him, she says. To her, Paul described it as a father-son relationship. "He does have a very sensitive side to him," Theresa says.
At the time Edwards took over Mach's affairs, the elderly Czech had paid off a Fort Lauderdale apartment that today is appraised at $145,120. He quitclaimed the property to Edwards in 1988 (although Mach would retain control until his death). According to Broward County records, Edwards and Mach then took out a $50,000 loan on the property in 1988 and a $55,000 loan in 1989. In 1990, the then-84-year-old Mach remarried. His chosen: Paul Edwards's mother, Eliska, then age 68. When Mach signed his name granting power of attorney to Edwards, Eliska served as a witness, and Mach's handwriting wobbled. When Mach signed the marriage certificate, he was unable to find the line on the page and scrawled parts of his name sideways on the signature line.
In October 1991, the same month that Theresa Edwards filed her complaint with the court, Edwards remarried. This wife was also a local attorney. Paul Edwards's marriage to Kathryn Ann Keating lasted from October 1991 to June 17, 1993. Keating could not be reached for comment.
On September 22, 1992, Mach died in the Czech Republic. By that time, the banks had foreclosed on Mach's property for lack of payment. After Mach's death, Edwards's mother began receiving a $500-per-month Social Security check as Mach's widow.
On September 13, 1994, Paul Edwards married again. In March 1996, Carol Ann Ready sought a divorce from Edwards "based on repeated deceitfulness, lack of financial support and verbal abuse," she wrote the court. Ready also sought a domestic-violence restraining order against her husband. The day after she broached the subject of divorce, Ready wrote, Edwards threatened her, "in front of my mother, he said that 'he is trained by the KGB to use his hands to kill' and plans to kill me.... I believe he plans to kill me."
In a response to Ready's complaint, dated May 7, 1996, Edwards characterized his bride as jealous, deluded, and unable to control her bodily functions. He alleged Ready assaulted him in a jealous rage after an ex-girlfriend telephoned. Edwards said that Ready jumped on him as he sat in a recliner in the condominium the couple shared and "grabbed my neck and tried to twist my head in an effort to break my neck...." Then, he said, she "urinated on me, which she always does when she is excited." He added: "She once managed to urinate in my face just to disturb a special moment between us." A judge issued a restraining order and granted a no-contest divorce on April 25, 1996.
Allegations of violence trailed Edwards into his next relationship. A year to the month after his divorce from Ready, Edwards met Susan Pasos at the Bimini Boatyard in Fort Lauderdale, according to a bizarre narrative of the relationship contained on a computer diskette that Edwards left at Buettner's motel. The document's purpose seems to be to absolve Edwards of responsibility for any physical injuries Pasos suffered during the relationship. It is not signed.
Dated September 15, 1998, the statement provides a doubtful description of how Pasos was injured. In one incident, for instance, it states that she fell down and hit her head on a glass table. Police arrested Edwards on a charge of domestic violence on September 10, 1998, at the couple's home in Boca Raton. Accompanying the statement is a second narrative, apparently by Edwards (though also unsigned), detailing his debt to Pasos: $10,000 in credit-card bills, $3781 in furniture purchased from Rooms to Go, stolen Social Security payments, and food stamps. Edwards acknowledges he failed to buy Pasos a $145,000 car he promised her and a $340,000 house. To settle the matter, Edwards agreed to pay Pasos $100,000.
At the close of his inventory, Edwards gives himself an out. An addendum reads: "Dictated by Susan Pasos to Paul Edwards on Tuesday, September 15, 1998, at 10 p.m., under the threat that if he would not type everything exactly as she said it, she would call police and tell them that Paul assaulted her and tried to kill her."
Theresa Edwards still harbors affection for her ex-husband. She cautions that the domestic-violence complaints against him may stem from bitterness. "He may have been depressed at times at the way his life was going, and I know he has a checkered past," Theresa says. "But I've known him a lot longer than most people, and I've never known him to be violent."
In May 1999, Paul Edwards's troubles worsened. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission levied a civil judgment in Colorado against him for a banking scheme advertised over the Internet. Through his company, HDG Investment Corp., Edwards pledged a whopping 20-to-1 return in 30 days from bank-to-bank loans and trade transactions, according to an SEC press release. The SEC says Edwards harvested $305,000 with what the agency characterizes as "complete fabrications."
The Buettners had problems before Paul Edwards entered Luise's life in August 2000. She hadn't seen her son Heinrich in years because he was on the run from an ex-girlfriend.
Heinrich Buettner is bitter at 42 years of age. He says he was in his prime 16 years ago at age 25 -- polyester shirt unbuttoned to his breastbone, gold chains flashing from his neck, black hair feathered back like John Travolta in his disco days, cruising the Fort Lauderdale strip in a Corvette paid for by his mom. It was in 1985 that he met 16-year-old runaway Susan Seigler. They never married, and she ended the relationship four years and three daughters later, leaving the couple's home while Heinrich slept. His life, he says, fell apart.
Although Buettner doted on Heinrich's children, she and Seigler didn't get along. "I never liked her," Luise Buettner says. When the couple was together, Luise Buettner paid the electric, water, and cable bills as well as the mortgage so that Heinrich and Susan could set up house in the Pompano home. "He was in love -- what could I do?" Buettner asks.
Susan, who changed her last name to Cerny after marrying David Cerny in 1995, has filed several lawsuits against the Buettners, including one that accuses Luise and Heinrich of hiding assets so that Heinrich can avoid paying child support for Angel, 15, Amanda, 13, and Ashlei, 10. That chilled the relationship between Luise and Susan. They couldn't talk without arguing, Cerny says.
In addition to running the motel "like clockwork," as he said on several occasions, Edwards was soon involved in trying to patch the rift between the Buettners and Cerny. He wanted to reunite Buettner with her grandchildren. Just before Christmas 2000, Edwards drove Luise to Cerny's Hollywood home with presents for the kids. "This is my chauffeur," Cerny recalls Buettner saying when she introduced him.
A few weeks later, they returned. Edwards offered to give the girls tennis lessons. Edwards had been certified as a professional-level tennis instructor by the United States Professional Tennis Association from 1985 until 1992. Angel, Amanda, and Ashlei climbed into Buettner's Volvo, and Edwards drove the bunch to a tennis shop, where Buettner bought tennis outfits, shoes, and rackets.
Twice a week thereafter, Edwards would drop by Cerny's home for lessons at a nearby court. He persuaded Buettner to lease a red Chevy Blazer to carry all the gear. Sometimes, Buettner would come along. Edwards liked the three girls, whom he pronounced "well-behaved, polite, and very intelligent." At one point, he even mentioned he might adopt them. "Why would I let you do that?" Cerny recalls telling him. "They're my kids!"
In addition to his adoption offer, Edwards told Buettner he would like to marry her. "What would you want with an old grandmother!" she remembers crying out. She was flattered, even though she thought the suggestion ludicrous.
Not everyone saw Edwards as the guardian angel Buettner perceived. "I smelled a rat, right from the start," Candy Fulves declared during a visit to Buettner's apartment several weeks before her recent death. Edwards and Fulves didn't get along. She told people she suspected Edwards might have connections to the Russian mob. He said Fulves was mentally ill and should be hospitalized, Fulves reports.
Fulves, who arose well before dawn, said she often watched Paul sneaking home in the wee hours. He would tiptoe into Buettner's apartment and lie down on the day bed. When Buettner awoke, Edwards would be sleeping soundly. "Look at him," Buettner would say. "Isn't he wonderful? He was up all night watching for me."
No matter what criticism Fulves leveled at Edwards, Buettner dismissed it. The friends weren't as close after Edwards came on the scene. During one dispute, Fulves said, Edwards threatened her. Buettner did nothing. "He said he was going to kill me, and Luise didn't even come to my defense!" Fulves complained.
When Buettner suffered two strokes in January 2001, Edwards telephoned Cerny. She brought Angel, Amanda, and Ashlei to see their grandmother. At the hospital, Cerny says, Edwards asked her to step outside. He explained that Buettner's near-death experience had made her think about providing for her grandchildren. The year before, she had written a will leaving all of her possessions to Heinrich. Now, she wanted to change things.
Edwards explained that Buettner would place $200,000 for each grandchild into a trust. Cerny promised to ask her lawyer to work up a settlement agreement that would absolve Heinrich of the child-support claim, which at the time totaled about $30,000. The idea made sense to Cerny. "Luise loves those children," she says. "And they love her."
Heinrich knew nothing of this talk or of his mother's stroke. He didn't find out about the stroke until he received a letter dated January 28, 2001, purportedly dictated to Edwards by Buettner. "The fact that you didn't call me tells me something about your feelings toward me, but I realize you are a free man in a free world." Later in the letter, Buettner explained she planned to renovate the Pompano Beach home and wanted Heinrich to remove his belongings.
Heinrich was flabbergasted. He left several messages for Edwards, signature diatribes, in which he demanded to know why Edwards hadn't notified him of his mother's condition.
On January 29, Edwards entered Buettner's apartment and found her unconscious. He telephoned 911, and an ambulance rushed Buettner to the hospital. She had lapsed into a diabetic coma. Although she appeared near death, once her blood sugar was stabilized, Buettner quickly rebounded. Later that same day, Edwards drove her home. On the way, Buettner says, he pressed her to sign over power of attorney to him. With that document, Edwards could legally sign Buettner's checks, manage her affairs, and make decisions if she were incapable. Buettner refused to sign, even when Edwards parked the car at the office of a notary public. "I said, why are we stopping here?" Buettner recalls. "Oh, he got very mad at me then. He called me a Nazi."
Heinrich Buettner and Paul Edwards didn't speak until February 5. Heinrich tape-recorded the conversation.
"I want to know if we can meet tomorrow morning," Edwards began. "The reason I ask this is because at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the courthouse downtown, the state and all kinds of agencies are meeting to decide what charges to bring against you. The SEC, the IRS, the FBI, and the State of Florida, and they have over 60 charges against you." Edwards explained that Cerny had provided damning information about Heinrich related to the child-support claim. If Heinrich didn't act, Edwards told him, he faced serious jail time.
But Edwards had a solution. He said the authorities had given him power to negotiate. If Heinrich agreed to sign the $650,000 settlement agreement with Susan Cerny, all charges would be dropped. That confused Heinrich. "I don't see what one has to do with the other," he said.
In addition to the $650,000 settlement, Edwards said Luise Buettner had agreed to sell the motel. She would then move into the Pompano Beach home with Edwards, Edwards's mother, an ex-girlfriend, and Paul's son (whose mother, Theresa Edwards, asked not be named in this story). If Heinrich refused to agree to the arrangement, Paul said he would be leaving the motel. "I'll leave you to tell your mother why I'm gone," he threatened.
That wasn't the only angle Edwards was working. On the evening of February 12, 2001, at Christopher's, a popular nightspot for Fort Lauderdale singles of a certain age, Paul wooed 34-year-old Monica Palmero with tales of his degrees and purported wealth. He told her he owned the Noble Apartments and planned to sell. On Valentine's Day, two days after meeting, the pair married.
Perhaps it was jealousy, maybe some other emotion, but when Edwards pulled up in the Blazer with Palmero on February 15, Buettner became enraged. She was picking her way through the courtyard in her wheelchair when Paul arrived.
"What are you doing in my car?" Buettner recalls shouting at Palmero.
"This is my husband's car and my husband's motel, and you don't have anything to say about it" was Palmero's reply, according to Buettner. Monica Palmero could not be reached for comment.
When Edwards drove off, Buettner reported the Blazer stolen. The following day, he told her he had driven it into a lake. That same day, police stopped him in the SUV a few blocks from the Noble Apartments. He had three credit cards in his pockets that he had taken out in Luise Buettner's name and $5000 in cash he claimed he had saved from his work at the Noble. Buettner says Edwards refused payment from her for his labor.
On February 23, Palmero filed for an annulment of the marriage, saying it had been "induced by false representations" and that the "parties never consummated the marriage." The annulment was granted.
Palmero provided the Buettners with several nasty e-mails Edwards typed to her after bailing out of jail in which he referred to her as "a stupid and uneducated girl" and threatened to turn the Swiss native in to the INS. "Luise got mad at you because she was in love with me and she thought that me being married to you, I would leave her," Edwards wrote. "No, I would not because I had a buyer for the hotel with two million dollars and she (Luise) told me if the place sold I would get one million bucks. And if I would get money, I would share it with you if only I would not find out that you are such [a] lying female."
Buettner says Edwards fabricated the claim she would give him $1 million to sell the Noble.
Edwards asked Heinrich's ex-girlfriend, Susan Cerny, to post the $1000 bond to bail him from jail. Cerny was surprised that the man who claimed he was an international financier wouldn't have $1000, but she figured the grand-theft auto charge was Heinrich's work. For several weeks after posting bond, Edwards lived in the Cerny home.
Edwards pleaded no contest to the auto-theft charge last October, and adjudication was withheld. But his troubles only worsened.
When Buettner was hospitalized in January 2001, a nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale had overheard Edwards demanding that Buettner sign her name to documents. The nurse had called the elderly-abuse hotline, and the state Department of Children and Families initiated an investigation. The cops obtained a warrant for Edwards in March of this year on third-degree felony charges of exploiting the elderly. The warrant was based on $10,000-$15,000 in illicit credit-card charges, a Fort Lauderdale detective says.
Recently, an FBI agent told the Buettners and a Fort Lauderdale police investigator that he wanted to speak to Edwards as a favor to the Czech government -- something about an investment fraud case in the Czech Republic.
Authorities have not been able to locate Edwards, though New Timeshas obtained correspondence listing his current address as 503 NE 18th St. in Boca Raton.
In July 2001, Cerny filed the much-discussed settlement agreement in Broward County Circuit Court. It was purportedly signed by Luise Buettner on January 30, the day after the elderly woman had lapsed into a diabetic coma. Cerny says that she signed it January 30 and that Edwards returned it to her with Buettner's signature in the weeks after his release from jail. The document awards Cerny $650,000 to settle the child-support claim she filed against Heinrich in 1993 (the same amount Edwards had mentioned on the recorded tape). Buettner says she never signed such a settlement.
In December, Buettner went to court without an attorney to tell Judge J. Leonard Fleet that the document was forged. Despite her protests, Fleet ruled in Cerny's favor. On January 31, 2002, the Broward Sheriff's Office slapped a notice on the motel, seizing it to pay the $650,000 debt.
Although Fort Lauderdale attorney Eric Stettin managed to persuade Judge Fleet to stay the order, Buettner is still fighting to prove that the signature on the document is not hers. Indeed, two handwriting experts -- from Florida Handwriting Consultant and Boca Handwriting Experts Inc. -- back up Buettner's claim.
The companies compared Luise Buettner's signature on canceled checks to the one on the agreement. Anthony McAloney of Florida Handwriting Consultant says the signature on the settlement was probably written by the same person who signed Luise Buettner's name on a check dated January 9, 2001, to Florida Power & Light. At the time, Paul Edwards was signing Luise Buettner's name on checks, the Buettners say. One hint the settlement was forged: The clumsy attempt to duplicate the way Luise Buettner makes the r in her last name. The forger signed Buettner with an American-style r and then added another r more like the German r that Buettner uses to sign her name. "Obviously, they were trying to correct a mistake," McAloney says.
Cerny believes she will ultimately prove that Buettner signed the settlement. She thinks Buettner is retreating under pressure from Heinrich. Buettner points to the document as one more example of Edwards's handiwork. "He thought I was going to die," Buettner says, shaking her head at the thought of what might have happened if she weren't around to dispute the signature. "Well, I surprised him, didn't I?"