- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Two sisters faced with repaying the federal government $100,000 after their “dead” father turned up alive — 47 years later — received some welcome news in the waning hours of 2018.

Lynne Grensted Thurston, 61, said a Social Security Administration agent notified her Monday that her share of the bill and the share owed by her sister, 63-year-old Beth Grensted, had been forgiven.

“We were already sitting down to dinner, and she [the agent] called to say she was leaving the office, but, ‘I wanted to let you know that the decision has been made,’” Mrs. Thurston told The Washington Times. “‘It’s completely erased for you and your sister.’”

Mrs. Thurston, a gardener who lives in McMinnville, Oregon, could hardly believe it.

“I was just so overwhelmed. It was hard to even process,” she said. “I called my sister and said, ‘I need you to sit down,’ and she was just blown away. It’s been such a long process. So many people have been praying.”

In June 2016, the sisters were hit with a bombshell: Their father, Douglas Grensted, who had been declared legally dead after disappearing on a hunting trip in 1968, actually had faked his death to run off with his mistress to Arizona. He died there in December 2015. Not only that, but the SSA ordered the sisters and their mother to repay about $100,000 in survivors’ benefits. Mrs. Thurston, who was 11 when her father vanished, was billed about $12,000; her sister Beth, who was 13, owed $10,000, and their mother, Barbara Grensted, received a bill for $87,000.

They filed for waivers, arguing that they were victims of a fraud perpetrated by Grensted, a mortician who stole the identity of a man whose funeral he had overseen — Richard Morley of Grover City, California, now Grover Beach.

While the sums owed by the sisters have been forgiven, Mrs. Thurston said her mother’s $87,000 tab is still under review. Barbara Grensted died in September at the age of 89.

An administrative law judge ruled that Mrs. Grensted could repay the amount in increments of $10 per month until her death, after which the debt would be erased. When she died two months later, however, the judge reversed his ruling, ordering the full amount to be paid by her estate.

The sisters feared that they could lose the home in Mount Hermon, California, where their mother and Beth Grensted, who never married, had lived for 47 years. The ruling is under review by an appeals council in Falls Church, Virginia.

“We have reason to believe that they’re working on it actively now,” said Mrs. Thurston. “They had said initially it could take three months to two years for the council to see it, but they’ve already contacted our attorney for some additional information, so that tells me they have it on their table and they’re actively working on it.”

The $87,000 bill could also be reassigned to the sisters, but Mrs. Thurston said the agent told her such a scenario was unlikely.

“The way it works is if they choose not to forgive my mom’s [share], they could decide to reassign it to my sister or myself,” said Mrs. Thurston. “But she [the agent] said, ‘If that happens, and I can’t see that it would, but if it does, call me and I will take care of it.’”

Social Security spokeswoman Ann Mohageri declined to comment on the agency’s actions, citing privacy restrictions.

The resolution came after the sisters’ plight drew national attention following reports in The Washington Times and other media outlets.

The sisters said they would have been hard-pressed to repay such a sum. Miss Grensted works part-time, and Mrs. Thurston broke her leg six months ago and has been unable to return to her job tending the gardens of elderly people.

“Oh, my goodness. It was just a complete, overwhelming relief,” said Mrs. Thurston. “It’s been two-and-a-half years that this has been hanging over my sister and myself.”

Their father’s deception took an emotional toll on the family. For years, the Grensted girls would run to the door whenever the bell rang, hoping their dad had finally returned.

Their mother never remarried, unable to discount the possibility that her husband might still be alive and suffering from amnesia, even after a search involving the FBI and National Guard turned up nothing. He was declared legally dead in 1978.

After his fraud was uncovered by federal authorities in May 2015, Mr. Grensted never reached out to his wife or daughters before his actual death seven months later at age 87.

“We never dreamed that he was alive because they had search parties, my mom hired a tracing company — it was really extensive,” Mrs. Thurston said. “And not a word. His parents died without ever knowing he was alive.”

His ability to maintain the illusion of his death for nearly five decades is part of what makes the Grensted case so unusual.

“It’s hard to imagine someone making that kind of life change and never turning back,” said Mrs. Thurston. “I read a book about death fraud, and they said it’s very, very rare. I think he never would have confessed if he hadn’t gotten caught.”


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