Crime

Lawyer Susan Van Note faces trial in lake killings of millionaire dad, his girlfriend

Susan Van Note (photographed in 2012 outside the Clay County Courthouse) is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of her father, William Van Note, and his girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, at their Lake of the Ozarks vacation home. Susan Van Note is scheduled to go to trial in early February in Lebanon, Mo.
Susan Van Note (photographed in 2012 outside the Clay County Courthouse) is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of her father, William Van Note, and his girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, at their Lake of the Ozarks vacation home. Susan Van Note is scheduled to go to trial in early February in Lebanon, Mo. The Kansas City Star

On Monday morning in Lebanon, Mo., jury selection will begin for a double-murder trial that has filled motels and drawn national media to the small Ozarks town.

Susan Van Note is charged in a late-night attack with knife and gun on her millionaire father and his girlfriend. Prosecutors say she also forged her father’s signature to a document to have his hospital ventilator shut off four days after the home invasion on Oct. 2, 2010, at the couple’s waterfront house at Lake of the Ozarks.

Van Note, 48, is a Lee’s Summit lawyer who specialized in end-of-life matters.

She faces two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of William Van Note, 67, and Sharon Dickson, 59. Authorities say Susan Van Note wanted to get her hands on her father’s millions and was angry that he had named Dickson to receive the bulk of his estate.

The trial, expected to last two weeks, will take place at the Laclede County Courthouse. An earlier attempt to have the trial brought CBS’ “48 Hours” and NBC’s “Dateline” to Lebanon, pop 14,474.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Hayden has called a pool of 150 prospective jurors.

Dickson, who was stabbed and shot, died at the scene. William Van Note, a prominent Liberty businessman, suffered similar injuries and was taken to a hospital in Columbia. He died four days later after his daughter showed up with a durable power of attorney for health care and asked that the ventilator keeping him alive be shut off.

William Van Note’s signature was at the bottom of the document, which was dated 2009, but investigators determined that it had been created after the attack. Two persons who signed the document as witnesses admitted to investigators they had signed it at the request of Susan Van Note.

Van Note’s legal team is headed by Overland Park attorney Tom Bath.

Kevin Zoellner of the Missouri attorney general’s office leads the prosecution. Camden County Prosecutor Michael Gilley will assist.

The trial initially was set for June 2015, but Hayden declared a mistrial before the jury was even seated because potential jury members allegedly discussed the case during a lunch break.

A second attempt two months later ended when Van Note’s lawyers filed a motion challenging the admissibility of cell phone evidence.

Dickson’s son said this week through his attorney that the delays have obviously been upsetting to him and his family, but he “hopes that at long last justice will be done.”

The son, Andrew Dickson, has a wrongful death case pending against Susan Van Note in Camden County. He also is involved in a pending legal fight in Clay County over what should happen to William Van Note’s fortune should Susan Van Note be convicted.

At issue could be the so-called slayer rule, which prohibits people from benefiting from a murder they committed.

Court documents suggest prosecutors plan to use cellphone data to put Van Note in the vicinity of the murders. The information from AT&T Wireless showed that her cellphone pinged a transmission tower seven miles from her father’s home in Sunrise Beach, Mo. The call was made five minutes after her father called 911, court documents say.

Susan Van Note’s mother, Barbara Van Note, told investigators that her daughter was home in Lee’s Summit with her when the shootings occurred. Lee’s Summit is 119 miles from Sunrise Beach.

In 2005, Barbara Van Note went to prison for forging her own mother’s name to a power of attorney. She was ordered to repay $108,000 to a trust fund.

To obtain the phone records in the Susan Van Note case, investigators did not get a warrant but instead used a subpoena, which does not require probable cause. Bath argued that the step amounted to an unlawful shortcut and that because of the “unconstitutional search,” all cellphone evidence must be thrown out.

“Ms. Van Note held an expectation that merely carrying this tool of modern society would not expose her to the prying eye of the government into private affairs,” Bath wrote in his motion.

On Feb. 11, 2016, the defense motion to suppress was denied on the basis that investigators were seeking the location of the caller, not the content of the phone calls.

At the time of the killings, William Van Note and Dickson had been together about 20 years. Friends say the two had what seemed like a high school romance.

“He was ornery, and she made him laugh,” a woman said of the couple shortly after Susan Van Note was arrested.

Court documents say that William Van Note had a net worth in 2009 of nearly $8 million. After his death, Susan Van Note assumed the role of executor of the estate.

In September 2012, a grand jury indicted Susan Van Note for both murders and forgery. Investigators had seized her laptop from her Kansas City law office and found the power of attorney document for her father filed under the name of a woman who hired Van Note to prepare the same kind of document for her.

During questioning, she acknowledged a volatile relationship with her father. She said that when she was a teenager, “I was going to run him over with his boat, but then he stopped water skiing.”

A judge set bond at $1 million — an amount that typically keeps someone locked up, especially someone who had filed bankruptcy three years earlier.

But about three weeks after her arrest, someone showed up at the jail in Columbia with a cashier’s check for $1 million.

“She’s got more friends than I do,” Bath, her lawyer, said at the time.

At some point, Andrew Dickson asked a judge to remove Van Note as executor of the estate. A judge agreed and froze the assets.

Van Note’s replacement as executor, David Holdsworth, a Liberty lawyer, quickly filed a petition asking that she be ordered to return any estate property she had used for herself.

Van Note claimed she couldn’t because she had used the money to post her bond. She was found in contempt and sent back to jail.

She has since repaid some cash and has been free awaiting trial.

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182

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