A house divided

Bogus deed filed after court issued ruling on disputed church land

The Joplin Globe/January 2001
By Max McCoy

Nevada, Mo. -- A decades-old dispute over a few hundred acres of church land in northeastern Vernon County continues to smolder, according to courthouse records.

The feud, between rival congregations led by Dan Gayman and his brother Duane Gayman, is over a 411-acre tract of land near Schell City where their father and others founded a separatist church colony in the 1940s.

A deed filed 22 years ago at the recorder of deeds' office purports to give ownership to the Church of Israel, but in fact the document is bogus.

The "warranty deed" claims to transfer ownership to the Church of Our Christian Heritage (now the Church of Israel), and was witnessed by notary Margie H. Goble on Aug. 1, 1979. It is signed by Dan Gayman's mother, Lucy E. Gayman Ijams, and by Mary B. Smith, another widow of an original church colony member.

The problem is: The 411 acres already had been given to Duane Gayman's congregation by the court during a court battle in 1973. Neither Ijams nor Smith legally had any interest in the property.

"These two ladies, being so disappointed in the court's decision, took it upon themselves to file this cloud," said 63-year-old Dan Gayman. "You know, I hadn't seen this before today, and I really didn't know what it meant."

Doug Shupe, Vernon County recorder of deeds, said it is not illegal to file such deeds, although Missouri made it a felony to file bogus liens a few years ago in response to the "common law court" movement. The document has no legal weight, he said, but it would pose a question for abstract companies attempting to trace ownership of the property.

The result, Shupe said, is that it might be impossible to sell the property or obtain a loan on it until the "cloud" is removed.

The 1973 court decree was never recorded, he said, although that is only a formality; the decree would carry the same weight today as when it was issued 28 years ago.

Ijams, now in her 80s, agreed with Dan Gayman's explanation. Smith, the other woman who signed the deed, is still living, but she is ill and was unavailable to answer questions.

When asked whether he would agree that Duane Gayman's Church of Christ is legally the owner of the property, Dan Gayman hedged.

"Now that this cloud is in, I couldn't say," he said. "I have my mother's feelings to consider."

Duane Gayman could not be reached for comment.

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