A Coeur d’Alene woman who has popped up – under several names – in probes of an old murder, a fatal small-plane crash and allegations of elder abuse pleaded guilty Monday morning to a charge of grand theft in Kootenai County 1st District Court.
Mary Jane Vann, 56, was barely audible in the high-ceilinged courtroom as she answered “guilty” to Judge Fred Gibler’s request for her plea to a felony charge that she stole two heirloom diamond rings from a former client at Fairwinds Retirement Community. Nearly two dozen people from Coeur d’Alene and Montana who say they have been victimized by Vann were in court Monday morning to hear the plea.
As the handcuffed Vann, fired nearly a year ago for running Fairwinds without an Idaho license, was led away by bailiffs she had to weave her way through this crowd in the narrow hallway. As she had done throughout the court appearance, Vann kept her head lowered to avoid hostile stares.
“She had to walk the gauntlet. That was cool,” said Mark Ellis, a police dispatcher from Spokane, who contends Vann drugged and manipulated a longtime family friend while that friend was a resident at Fairwinds.
Ellis was among a number of people who are accusing Vann of various misdeeds.
But the charge to which she pleaded guilty on Monday came to light through her own confession. The rings have not been recovered but Vann confessed earlier this spring to stealing the jewelry, and offered to pay $30,000 to one of the victim’s relatives.
Vann was the subject of both local and state criminal investigations a year ago. Coeur d’Alene police investigated her for allegedly drugging and gaining access to the bank accounts of at least one resident of Fairwinds. Charges have not been filed, but the allegations are being pursued in a lawsuit filed against Vann. The state Bureau of Occupational Licensing also had an investigation going, one that led to Vann losing her job at Fairwinds.
Others, such as Ellis and his mother Judy, have since made similar allegations that family members or friends were drugged, manipulated into giving Vann power of attorney and then robbed of savings or jewelry.
A half-dozen people who knew Vann as MJ Fors in Montana sent letters to Gibler with far darker accusations. Vann, they allege, was the main beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy taken out by Missoula firefighter Jerry Hurni shortly before Hurni died with another man in a plane crash near Anaconda, Mont., in 1987.
The policy, which left nothing but his firefighter’s pension to Hurni’s two daughters, was sold to Hurni shortly before the crash by Jim Fors, who was believed at the time to be Vann’s ex-husband. Kootenai County courthouse records show Fors and Vann apparently remarried, taking out a marriage license in Coeur d’Alene on June 1, 1991, shortly after the Hurni estate was settled. Jim Fors is believed to have been in Canada for the last decade.
In February, Vann was in Great Falls, Mont., testifying in a 40-year-old murder case that involved a man who had been her boyfriend when she was in high school.
In 1964, Vann – then known as Mary Klesh – told her boyfriend Alan Reavley that she was pregnant. Police believe the news prompted Reavley, one year out of Great Falls High, to rob the grocery store where he worked. He was fired. A short time later the owners, Jim and Lois Arrotta, were found stabbed to death inside the store, apparently after finding someone trying to get into the safe.
Reavley was briefly questioned by police in 1964 but cleared, and went on to become a respected civic figure in Great Falls, heading up the food bank. In 2001, detectives reopened the murder investigation and arrested Reavley after he met with Vann in a Great Falls hotel room. Vann, carrying a police microphone in her purse, tried to get Reavley to admit he stabbed the Arrottas.
Reavley maintained his innocence and, on Feb. 20, was found not guilty by a Montana judge.
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