A Hays wife and husband who died in a homicide-suicide Aug. 20 figured in the investigation into a late millionaire’s will and codicil. Earl O. Field’s contested codicil written less than a month before he died in 2013 did not name Kathy or Steve Little as beneficiaries. However, the Littles signed the codicil as witnesses.
The codicil shifted the main beneficiary of the $20.6-million estate from the Fort Hays State University Foundation to Field’s part-time bookkeeper and caretaker, Wanda Oborny. The FHSU Foundation’s legal team is leading a challenge of the codicil’s authenticity. Litigation began in 2013 and mushroomed. An Ellis County District Court trial is set for early 2016.
Coroner reports for the Littles indicate a federal grand jury is looking at the case, too.
Married in 1972, the Littles raised three children and lived in a north Hays home carrying an overall value of $234,400.
Steve Little, 64, was a fleet and commercial vehicle specialist with the Lewis dealership. Kathy Little, 62, was a homemaker and co-owner of Romantic Keepsakes and Little’s Antiques with her husband, according to their obituary. She and Oborny were friends and members of Hays High School’s class of 1971.
On Aug. 20, family members called Kathy Little, and she “indicated she would call back, but she did not call back,” according to district coroner Dr. Lyle Noordhoek’s autopsy reports.
The Hays Police Department was notified and went to the residence. Neither the Littles nor their white Lincoln was there. The bodies of the couple were discovered in their car about 9 p.m. Aug. 21 at Webster Reservoir, approximately 50 miles from Hays. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism made the discovery, according to coroner reports.
According to Noordhoek, Kathy Little, sitting in the passenger seat, died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Steve Little, in the driver’s seat, died from a self-inflicted shot to the chest.
Noordhoek’s report for each Little stated: “Information off-scene indicates that an FBI warrant was served for a grand jury mid-September 2015.”
A judge issues a warrant for arrest, and the use of the word warrant in the coroner’s reports struck Hutchinson attorney Matthew Bretz as “strange language.”
“I think that it means that FBI agents issued a grand jury subpoena,” Bretz said. “That would require witnesses to show up to testify before the grand jury, or to produce documents or other evidence for the grand jury.”
Efforts Friday to reach Noordhoek to elaborate on his reports were unsuccessful.
Jim Cross, public information officer for U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, said he could not confirm or deny any information about a federal grand jury.
The Littles’ oldest child, Michael Little, said neither he nor his siblings would comment. Don C. Staab, Hays attorney for the Littles, also would not comment.
Because of subpoenas issued in the Field estate case for some of the Littles’ phone records, email traffic, and financial records including past income-tax returns and credit-card billings, data has been gathered.
The Littles, too, gave depositions describing how the 98-year-old Field signed the one-page typed codicil Jan. 22, 2013, in Steve Little’s office at the Lewis dealership.
“He did it right in front of your eyes?” an attorney questioned Kathy Little.
“Right in front of us,” she said.
Field signed first, followed by Steve Little and then Kathy Little.
Field put the document “back in his pocket,” Steve Little said.
“I walked him out into the showroom, opened the door for him so he can get outside,” Steve Little said.
“And he got himself in his car?”
“And drove away?”
“Right,” he said.
Now it’s the Littles’ estate in transition.
“It is necessary to sell the personal property to pay debts, taxes and expenses of administration,” stated the court order for sale of the couple’s personal property at public auction.
On Sept. 17, Carr Auction and Real Estate Inc., Larned, sold some household goods, tools and collectibles belonging to the couple. More of the Littles’ personal property will be offered for sale Sept. 24, said a Carr spokeswoman.
The Littles drew up their wills in 2009. Their three children — Michael in Olathe; Corey Little, Anderson, S.C.; and Liza Sorrels, Hays — are the beneficiaries.
The Littles designated certain gifts for each child. Almost all the items were guns or rifles, some handed down from prior generations. The exceptions were Kathy Little’s gifts to her daughter. She bequeathed “all my jewelry and cabinet” and “all my dolls and doll cabinet” to her.
Besides their children, all married, the Littles were survived by four grandchildren. Another grandchild was on the way at the time of their deaths.
There was no public service for the couple. Mourners were encouraged to sign a book at the funeral home.
Approximately 100 people offered condolences on the funeral home’s online guestbook. Most chose the option of lighting “a candle” and posting their names. Among those lighting a candle for the Littles were Wanda Oborny and her husband, Paul Oborny.
In April 2013, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss assigned former Reno County District Judge William “Buck” Lyle Jr., a senior judge, to hear the Earl O. Field estate court case in Ellis County District Court.
Because of the size and complexity of the estate — including farm operations in western Kansas — Lyle wanted an institution managing the assets while litigation was pending. First National Bank of Hutchinson was named special administrator to pay the bills and manage the assets.
Hutchinson attorney Dan Forker Jr., of Forker, Suter, Robinson and Bell LLC, is counsel for the special administrator.
In 2014, First National Bank of Hutchinson, through Forker, requested court permission to sell Field’s condominium and personal property. The court consented. The real estate, listed for $250,00, sold for approximately $270,000.
The Littles’ home has not been sold.