Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kellers and Their Millions

Divorce Follows

Two things were clear by the summer of 2000: Divorce was inevitable, and the breakup would not be civil.

The endgame of the relationship began with an ugly confrontation at the Virginia farm.

During an argument, Keller told Rose that her days [were] numbered. She took it as a threat on her life. Keller said he was referring to the marriage. But Rose fled in apparent terror, driving through the night with Fredchen back to Florida, weeping most of the way during a long cellphone conversation with her sister, Angelika.

On Aug. 7, 2000, soon after she got home, Rose filed for divorce in Palm Beach County Family Court. She also sought a temporary injunction against her husband, claiming episodes of domestic violence.

Judge Jack Cook denied the domestic violence injunction, ruling that Rose had failed to present evidence of abuse.

That court skirmish set the tone for what was to come.

Fred Keller was among the most litigious businessmen in Palm Beach County. Keller Trust was the plaintiff in nearly 200 civil and small claims cases since 1982. Although he earned $100,000 a month in rental income from his buildings, Keller could obsess over pennies.

For 16 years he pursued a $2,225 debt from a former girlfriend, who finally ended the case by dying. In that case and many others, Keller paid far more in legal fees than he earned in the settlement or judgment.

Half of his lawsuits concern nonpayment of rent, in one case less than $300. But there were many other more exotic cases. He sued one of his adult sons over a joint venture. And he sued a writer who backed out after he had hired her to do a book about another one of his personal obsessions: That Israels treatment of Palestinians was akin to Germanys annihilation of Jews.

He would litigate over a dollar, one attorney who worked for Keller told the Palm Beach Post. It was a matter of principle, and he was going to win at all costs.

As much as $36 million was at stake in his divorce.

Keller spent his life creating a financial kingdom that he ruled with a Napoleonic single-mindedness. No detail was too small.

"If he said 8 o'clock, he didn't mean two minutes before," one Keller Trust employee told the paper. "He didn't mean five minutes after."

He would sue over a buck. How far might the shrewd ruler go to defend his hard-earned personal fortune?

 

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