Tycoon leaves $800M to young widow - but is she a bigamist?
11/16/2015 11:49 am PST
Gerald Kessler was a pioneer of natural supplements, and when he died he left his massive fortune to his much younger new wife.
Kessler's family discovered a secret from her past. Now it's blown up into an explosive legal fight.
Meadow Williams has become one of the richest women in America. How did this woman from Tennessee with a long credit of D-list movies make her $800-million fortune? She married in to it -- or did she?
The Hollywood actress married the vitamin tycoon multi-millionaire 31 years her senior. She walked away with the family fortune after his death.
It's the stuff movies are made of, but this is a real-life family feud over his estate, and his heirs are talking exclusively to Crime Watch Daily.
Meadow Williams, 49, is an actress whose real name is Melanie Kay Williams.
She hit the marriage lottery when her 80-year-old husband, Gerald Kessler died a few months ago.
You've probably never seen most of Meadow's movies, and likely never heard of Kessler -- but you most certainly know his products. In the 1970s, when everyone was getting "back to nature," Gerald Kessler was a pioneer in the vitamin and natural supplement industry.
Gerald made his fortune by creating the company Natural Organics, which produces Nature's Plus vitamins and Spiru-Tein protein shakes. Natural Organics is located in Melville, New York, and is worth an estimated $500 million.
Gerald Kessler's heirs say they put their blood, sweat and tears in this family business, and they want it back.
The Kesslers have never talked publicly about Gerald's red-hot romance -- until now.
Craig and Marshall Kessler are just two of the eight Kessler children and grandchildren suing Meadow Williams, claiming she took their inheritance.
Meadow got most of the money, the mansions and the company. How did this country vixen who looks like she could be a spokesmodel for why you should always take your vitamins end up with Gerald's money? Love, she says.
And Gerald definitely had a reputation for loving the ladies.
"He had about four or five girlfriends that he was with for a significant amount of time and he never divorced my grandmother for them," said Marshall Kessler, Gerald's grandson.
In 2002 Gerald met Meadow. Meadow's attorney describes their love as "storybook," and says Meadow was completely devoted to Gerald. Gerald bought her a mansion in Malibu and started financing her movies.
"He provided a lot of money for her to get small film roles," said Marshall Kessler.
Gerald was producing more than vitamins -- he was now producing movies.
"He never made money on them but they had premieres that he paid for," said Marshall.
In 2010, after eight years together, Gerald and Meadow decided to get married. But first Gerald would have to finally divorce his wife of 55 years, Betty Kessler.
"They went to Las Vegas and got married," said Craig Kessler, Gerald's son.
The family says Gerald, who by now was in his 70s, became a reclusive newlywed. And they claim his new young wife did her best to keep them away.
It wasn't long after their vows that Gerald's health started failing.
"He was very forgetful. He had severe liver cirrhosis," said Marshall Kessler.
In 2013 Gerald made changes to his trust. At age 78, he shocked the family when he decided to leave most everything to Meadow.
By Thanksgiving of 2014 Gerald was seriously ill.
"We're saying Meadow neglected Gerald's needs and his care to the point his condition deteriorated to such dramatic degree," said David Callahan, the Kessler family attorney.
The Kesslers say Meadow worked even harder to keep them away. The family filed a lawsuit accusing her of elder abuse.
Meadow claims she was Gerald's primary caretaker, and in a sworn declaration the new Mrs. Kessler says she was "utterly and completely devoted" to Gerald. But the Kesslers say she wasn't around much when Gerald was in the hospital.
After months in the hospital, Gerald Kessler died in March 2015 from complications of cirrhosis of the liver.
"Meadow pretended to be the grieving widow," said Craig Kessler.
"Gerald died unmarried," said attorney David Callahan.
How could that be?
Kessler died at 80, and his beautiful young bride, just 49, got it all. Now Gerald Kessler's heirs want to take his company back.
Nashville attorney David Callahan was hired by Gerald Kessler's children and grandchildren to get what they say is their $800-million inheritance back. And Callahan uncovered a secret landmine that could blow everything sky-high.
Despite their marriage certificate, Gerald Kessler and Meadow Williams may have never been married in the eyes of the law.
"She committed bigamy by pretending she wasn't married, and married my grandfather," said Marshall Kessler, Gerald's grandson.
"There was no divorce decree," said Callahan.
Callahan claims Meadow was acting single, but never divorced her first husband. He says Meadow was legally married to another man when she said "I do" to Gerald Kessler. Could that mean the new matriarch of the Kessler family and fortune is a bigamist?
Court records obtained by Crime Watch Daily show that Meadow filed for divorce from Mark Spadafino in Los Angeles in 1994. But Callahan claims the divorce was never finalized.
But in the most shocking twist of all, Meadow and her legal team fired back with an explanation no one saw coming: They said Gerald "Knew there was no actual divorce decree. But he did not care; he wanted to marry Ms. Williams."
"Gerry Kessler would never do that in a million years, not if he was in his right mind," said son Craig Kessler. "He just spent a year divorcing my mother and getting his divorce, and he couldn't wait five days for her divorce. It makes no sense at all."
"Gerald called Meadow his wife in the trust," said attorney David Callahan.
It says it right there in Gerald Kessler's trust: "I am married to Meadow Williams."
While the parties slug it out in a Nevada court, Meadow is still in charge of all the assets as the trustee of Gerald's estate.
Grandson Marshall Kessler, who until recently worked at Natural Organics and still lives in the Kessler family home in Melville, says Meadow is playing hardball.
"My health insurance was cut off, I got fired from my job and they sent me an eviction letter to my house," said Marshall. "My entire family grew up in this house. This house means everything to me."
A judge halted the eviction, for now. The heirs did inherit some money, but they're risking it all by challenging the trust: Lose, and they get nothing.
"To rectify a wrong," said Craig Kessler. "What she has done is so outrageous that something needs to be done."
Crime Watch Daily asked to talk to Meadow but her attorney, Adam Streisand, told Crime Watch Daily she is not available. Streisand canceled his scheduled interview with us, but did issue this statement.
"The questions these plaintiffs have raised about Mr. Kessler's marriage are nothing but a smokescreen to obscure the fact that they are the only 'gold diggers' here. Mr. Kessler set up the trust in its current form in mid-2013, nearly two years before he died, and it's essentially the same as the trust he made in 2009 before he married Ms. Williams. While Ms. Williams is the largest beneficiary, Mr. Kessler also provided millions in that trust to certain grandchildren and $60 million in other trusts for the benefit of his family members - even ones with whom he had no relationship . But that wasn't enough."