The House That Bill Built

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"He was relentless when he got hold of something like that," Wilkin says. "But had he lost, he would have moved on."

By December 1996, Bill Bigoney had reached that particular point in his relationship with Margaret. That month, he had an attorney draft a divorce petition charging that "the Wife has dissipated and wasted marital assets by shopping excessively... despite the objection of the Husband." His lawyer advised Bill to wait until after the holidays to serve Margaret with the papers.

1996 changed David Bigoney's life forever. In February, Connie died after suffering through terminal cancer. Saddled with a full course load and the loss of his mother, David was overwhelmed and exhausted when the year-end break in classes came ten months later. Spending the holiday alone in Tallahassee sounded depressing, so when Bill called him home, he jumped at the chance.

"I was happy to come down," David says. "My dad was stressed. He was having problems with his wife, and it had gotten to a boiling point. He said he could really use the comfort."

Arriving in Fort Lauderdale, David walked into a volatile situation.

"Within a couple of hours," he recalls, "she was rambling and arguing and [getting] in his face about something. It was bad. She was not in control of herself, and he didn't even argue back — it was pointless."

On Christmas Eve, Bill and Margaret drove to the West Hollywood office of Dr. Joel Klass, a psychiatrist who had been seeing Margaret since September. Bill occasionally accompanied her to these Tuesday-night sessions. Klass told police she came to him with two main concerns — a crippling case of PMS and a simmering annoyance with David. Notes from October sessions show she complained that her husband's allegiance was to David, not to her, and that David was "untrustworthy." She also accused David of going through her possessions, and she wanted a lock for her bedroom door.

The age difference was a factor, says Margaret's mother, Maxine Alles, who was herself almost ten years younger than the man who married her daughter.

With a deep sigh, Alles says, "He was never unkind to me in any way, but his treatment of my daughter was demoralizing at best."

Margaret grew up an animal lover, delighted in the abundant wildlife on the Bigoney property, and fed and fretted over a small army of raccoons that lived near the water. "And she loved the house," Alles says. "I think she fell in love with the house first." The relationship constituted a strange match to Margaret's mother. "She was a very loving person, and he was more of a cold person, I would say. She had a good heart, but when provoked, she could let her temper go."

Alles acknowledges she keeps letters that hint at deeper family troubles but explains they're to remain secret forever.

"Genius usually has its bad side," she explains, "and a lot of people who knew Bill did consider him a control freak." But the real story, she allows, "is so much more complex. And rather than reveal extremely private information, it's much better to let those very toothy dogs lie."

During a late-November meeting with psychiatrist Klass, Bill discussed selling some of the real estate he owned. He was 75 and wanted to liquidate assets. Margaret refused to sign documents allowing the sale of one home to the Wilkins, saying that the price was far "below the appraised value." At her next visit, though, Margaret announced that she'd put her signature on the paperwork, allowing the transaction to go through.

The ante of tension was upped again with David's visit. On December 17, she complained that David received the bulk of Bill's attention. During that final meeting of December 24, she railed against the "two alpha males" who were "critical of everything she [did]." Bill protested, accusing Margaret of doing nothing around the house, and according to Klass' notes, then revealed that not only had he consulted an attorney but that he hinted at divorce.

At that point, Klass says: "She became enraged. But there was never any reference to homicide or suicide. She said, 'You're not going to do anything without me!' and she was furious."

Christmas was spent separately, Margaret visiting her mother in Victoria Park and Bill and David eating dinner at the Wilkins' home. David thinks back to a snapshot that was taken around the table that evening. "You can see the stress and the agony on my father's face," he says.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton