Whatever Happened to Margaret? The Final Days of the Iconic Owner of Boise's Hollywood Market 

Mystery, legal questions surround the last days of Margaret Lawrence

Margaret Lawrence's passing was not going to go unnoticed. During the last moments of her life at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center on June 22, a sudden cold front pushed through a stifling curtain of heat that had draped across the Treasure Valley. Within a few hours, a wave of thunder shook the Boise Foothills and lightning ripped the sky. Many of Lawrence's friends who had not received official word of her passing said they knew--or at least sensed--that Margaret was gone when the storm erupted. In fact, some acquaintances said they were unaware of the severity of Lawrence's hospitalization, but suspected that she had few days remaining after the Hollywood Market on Eighth Street was unexpectedly closed just six weeks prior.

What happened between May 9, when the iconic Boise North End market was shuttered, and June 22 remains unknown to many. Dozens of North Enders told BW that they were told Lawrence had become ill. Some guessed that she hurt herself in an accident, and most said that her age, 95, had finally taken its toll. But individuals who said they knew Lawrence best said up until May 9, she was still operating the market, seven days a week, much like she had for decades.

Eccentric? Yes. Colorful? Absolutely. But incompetent?

"She was sharp as a tack," said John Weber, who knew Lawrence for more than 50 years.

"She hadn't lost her mind," said Alan Derr, veteran Boise attorney who counted Lawrence as a former client and close friend.

Each person BW spoke with conceded that Lawrence struggled with mobility and had difficulty making change at the store; however, Derr, Weber and many more close friends of Margaret said her mental capacity was no less than it had been years before.

But in court documents obtained by BW, petitioner Reed Hansen claimed that Lawrence "suffered from mental confusion," "an inability to appreciate her mental circumstances" and could not "effectively communicate to others her mental or physical needs." In the two-and-a-half page petition, Lawrence was labeled "incapacitated" no fewer than 12 times. "An emergency exists," read the petition. "No other person appears to have authority and willingness to act in the circumstances."

The petition was accepted on April 25 by Idaho Magistrate Christopher Bieter (brother of Boise Mayor Dave Bieter) and a temporary guardian was appointed to oversee Lawrence's personal and professional affairs. The order was to remain temporary until a public hearing on July 19, but after Lawrence's death, the hearing was canceled.

The court order set in motion a series of events that led to the closure of the Hollywood Market on May 9, followed by Lawrence's admission to an assisted living facility and two trips to a psychiatric hospital before being transferred to St. Luke's, where she died.

Reed Hansen is the owner and president of Impact Directories, publishers of white- and yellow-page phone books throughout the Treasure Valley, as well as communities in Washington. Hansen is also a member and faith-leader in the Warm Springs Avenue Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I was a bishop of a ward that Danny was in," Hansen said, describing the relationship with Margaret Lawrence's son, Daniel. "I go back farther with Danny than with Margaret."

Danny, 62, has cerebral palsy.

"He has mobility problems," said Hansen. "But I think he's capable of handling his own affairs to some degree."

Danny walks with short, shuffling half-steps and almost always has a smile. He spends his time visiting with friends at the LDS chapel or at the Hollywood Market. In fact, Danny made sure to attend a candlelight vigil outside the store on June 25, where he swapped remembrances with many of his mother's former customers and friends.

"Margaret took very good care of Danny over the years," said Hansen. "But maybe she was too careful in protecting him. She was pretty controlling. She kind of managed his life to the point where he didn't get too much of a chance to really blossom."

Hansen said that eight years ago, Margaret asked him to serve as an adviser to Danny after she passed away.

"I sat in on all of their financial meetings," said Hansen. "She accumulated a fair amount of resources so that Danny would have money when she was gone."

While Margaret and Danny lived simply, her estate is considerable. Everyone BW spoke to said Margaret owned a minimum of nine and as many as 11 properties in addition to the Hollywood Market. Most of the properties were rental homes, including at least one duplex and one triplex in Boise. Additionally, Margaret was well-known for her thrift.

"She probably saved 80 cents of every dollar she made," said Jason Haroian, who said Margaret was probably his best friend.

"I can tell you that back in the 1990s, Margaret negotiated a $1.3 million deal," said Weber. "She sold 360 acres of prime farmland out in Kuna to an investor. She wanted cash and she got it."

Derr, who also knew Margaret for more than 50 years, and occasionally served as her lawyer, remembered his friend and client as a tough negotiator.

"The last time I represented her, we had a big disagreement over some work I had done for her," said Derr. "And of course, she questioned how much she was willing to pay for it."

Derr confirmed that Margaret's sole focus in life was to make certain that Danny was taken care of, but said he was uncertain of how Hansen became a petitioner for Margaret's affairs.

"I'm not even going to speculate on that," said Derr. "Danny became a member of the LDS church, but Margaret was not a member of that church."

"In her will, Margaret had some things that said that if she became incapacitated, the bank would take control over her property," said Hansen. "I was involved in some of those meetings. Wells Fargo [executor of Margaret's will] wanted to have somebody there to protect her and help her physically and mentally."

Hansen's court petition for guardianship included a March 17 letter from Boise neurosurgeon Roy Frizzell, who said he knew Margaret for six years, declaring her to be "mentally incapacitated, unable to effectively manage or apply her estate to necessary ends."

The letter and the attached petition, approved by Bieter, changed everything for Margaret and Danny.

"Margaret told me many years ago that if they ever made her leave the store, she would die a short time later," said Derr. "That prediction certainly came true."

Whether Margaret had all of her faculties at the time of the court order was the subject of some debate.

"They said Margaret was having trouble making change," said Haroian. "Well, for goodness sake, she always had trouble making change. You know what it was? She was so trusting. She would allow customers to have tabs and she told them they could pay her later."

"For years, people always had questions about the store," said Derr. "I would get phone calls to check on her, but she hadn't lost her mind. In fact, she was always reading every day, and she was very well-informed. If she wasn't attending to a customer, she was reading."

Title 15, Chapter 5, Part 4 of Idaho Code addresses "protection of property of persons under disability and minors." The law states that "a protective order may be made in relation to the estate and affairs of a person if the court determines that 1) the person is unable to manage (his) property and affairs effectively for reasons such as mental illness ... and 2) the person has property which will be wasted or dissipated unless proper management is provided."

Following the court's approval of the petition in late April, a newly appointed guardian, Debbie Hansen (no relation to Reed) of Castle Rock Services, assigned a professional aide to oversee Margaret's affairs while working in the store. The aide began distributing a letter to customers who walked into the North End market, classifying a guardian as "a parent" and Margaret as "a minor child." The letter also threatened anyone interfering with the guardian's duties could "be construed as elder abuse and turned into law enforcement." BW tried to contact Debbie Hansen on multiple occasions but our calls went unreturned.

"A short time later, I walked into the store to see what was going on," said Weber. "And they handed me the letter. I asked, 'What is this?' And they said, 'This is Margaret's choice.' But that simply was not true."

Reed Hansen conceded that Margaret didn't like having someone "shadowing her."

"She didn't want anybody looking over her shoulder or telling her what she had to do," said Hansen. "No, she didn't like it at all."

Approximately one week later, in early May, Debbie Hansen asked Weber to help escort Margaret on a visit to the Willow Park assisted living facility on Milwaukee Street.

"Yeah, they thought that if I went with them, Margaret would be more amenable about going into a nursing home, but she was having none of it," said Weber. "They even tried to get her to sign some papers there, voluntarily admitting herself, but she refused. She was not happy."

Margaret knew something was up. She called a friend, Kathy Vawter, to drive her home from work a little early the evening of May 9.

"When we walked into the door of her home, Margaret turned to Danny and said, 'I don't really know what is going to happen tomorrow,'" said Vawter. "She was worried."

Friends said the next day two men from the LDS church came to Margaret's home and asked to spend the day with Danny. Shortly thereafter, friends said someone escorted Margaret not to the assisted living facility, but to Boise Behavior, an acute mental health hospital for "psychiatric intervention and stabilization." A sign was put up on the door of the Hollywood Market: "Closed Due to Illness."

"I had stopped by the store to visit with her," remembered Derr. "And John Weber came running across the street and said he had some bad news. Margaret had been taken away."

"They just shut her off from the whole world," said Weber.

"She just disappeared," said Haroian. "Nobody knew where she went. We immediately started making calls."

Haroian, Weber and all of Margaret's friends were told that Boise Behavior did not allow visitors except for a "restricted list." In spite of their requests, friends were not able to see Margaret until approximately a week and a half later, when she was transferred to the Willow Park assisted living facility. By then, Debbie Hansen had Margaret's personal items and some furniture moved over to the nursing home, as well as Danny.

"Yes, Danny and Margaret were living together again, but this time at the home," said Haroian. "But at last, we could see her, and talk to her again."

Visits to Margaret at Willow Park were closely monitored. While she could receive visitors, an aide would never be further than a few feet away.

"The first thing I noticed was that they weren't letting her read the newspaper," said Haroian. "Well, anyone who knows Margaret knows that the news was a lifeline for her. But get a load of this: They told me that because of some injections that they were administering, her eyesight was failing and she couldn't read that well anymore. That was cruel."

Weber said Margaret's stay at Willow Park did not go well.

"I would get calls in the middle of the night," he said. "Once it was 2 in the morning, and Danny said, 'Come and get my mom. She wants out.' He even ended up calling the police, but of course, they couldn't do anything."

Reed Hansen eventually began cutting back Margaret's visits.

"Here's what the issue was," Hansen said. "Anytime Margaret would talk to anybody, it was a different story. There were people who were trying to push her one way or another and some people were trying to take advantage of her financially."

When asked if any of the visitors had a legal claim to Margaret's estate, Hansen said no.

"I can guarantee that they're not in the will," he said.

On June 10 while visiting Margaret at Willow Park, Vawter said she was encouraged by the home's administrator and Debbie Hansen to escort Margaret over to the home's dementia ward.

"I said, 'Why would I do that?' That was clearly not Margaret's wish," said Vawter. "In fact, Margaret would hold me close in a hug and whisper in my ear, 'Please get me a lawyer. Get me some help.'"

Vawter said she learned later that day, that Margaret had been transferred back to the Boise Behavior psychiatric facility for "observation," where once again visits would be restricted.

Haroian said he repeatedly tried to call Debbie Hansen to ask about Margaret's status. "I asked her, 'What is your goal here?'" said Haroian. "And she said, 'To have Margaret and Danny live happily ever after.'"

Margaret's physical condition was deteriorating. Less than a week later, she was admitted to St. Luke's.

"She really should have been back home," said Derr. "Her own prediction was coming true."

Derr said it was equally disappointing that friends could not see her."Which was a cruel thing, I think," he said.

When BW asked Derr to comment on how the law allowed the situation to progress the way it did, he said, "I could only surmise, and I hesitate to do that."

Margaret's obituary listed natural causes as the official reason of her passing, but friends said they think that she was vulnerable to illness and viruses in her multiple transfers, to Boise Behavior to Willow Park back to Boise Behavior, and finally to St. Luke's.

Hansen said he would not comment, on the record, regarding Margaret's cause of death, saying only there was "a multi-system failure."

Since his mother's death on June 22, Danny has decided that he would like to remain living at Willow Park. On June 25, he attended the candlelight vigil outside the store, and on June 29, he walked alongside his mother's casket at a funeral service at the Warm Springs LDS chapel before her burial at Morris Hill Cemetery.

Sitting near the back of the chapel were Haroian, Vawter and Weber. They listened to the music and a couple of brief remembrances during the service. They had few words but plenty of tears. They said they knew what most people in the chapel didn't know: Margaret's final days weren't in keeping with her wishes.

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