Sherman Hemsley Still Unburied in El Paso

The body of The Jeffersons star is caught up in an estate dispute between a longtime friend in Texas and a man who claims to be his brother in Philadelphia.
Sat September 1, 2012 12:44 am
Isaac Sutton/Ebony Collection via AP Images)

Many people were surprised to learn that actor Sherman Hemsley ( All in the Family, the Jeffersons, Amen ), who died in late July  of cancer, had been a resident of El Paso for many years. 

He still is.

A will left by the Philadelphia-born actor, who quietly relocated to the Valley of the Sun from California at the end of his career, has been disputed by a man who claims to be his brother, leaving both the estate and Hemsley's remains in limbo. The actor's body continues to be stored in the freezer of a local funeral home.

As Aaron Bracamontes of the El Paso Times  reported:

Hemsley's estate was left to Flora Isela Enchinton, 56, after he died on July 24 of lung cancer in El Paso.

However, a Philadelphia man named Richard Thornton is challenging the will, claiming he is the Hemsley's brother and rightful beneficiary.

Enchinton and Hemsley were best friends and business partners, she said. One time in the hospital, Hemsley told doctors that she was his next of kin, she said.

"We lived together and traveled together," Enchinton said. "This was more than just business partners. He was my brother and my best friend."

An earlier story  by the Times' Daniel Borunda cited neighbors who said Hemsley lived alone. 

Borunda wrote that Hemsley "had lived in El Paso off and on for more than 10 years before moving to the city full time. Hemsley, who was involved in local charitable causes, said in a previous interview that he liked El Paso's "peacefulness" compared with Los Angeles.

He also quoted a neighbor, Dave Eller, who confessed he called the actor "George," (as in George Jefferson). "He said, 'It happens all the time,'" Eller said.

Enchinton told Bracamontes that Hemsley moved to El Paso with a another business partner, a man named Kenny Johnston, and that the three of them have lived together for the past sixteen years. At some point the 72-year-old Johnston suffered a stroke. 

"The three of us took care of each other," she said. Hemsley "was someone close to me. He was a large part of my life."

Enchinton said she had never met or heard of Thornton over the 20 years she knew Hemsley or 16 years she lived with him.

The story was first reported by the El Paso ABC affiliate KVIA ( click for video ) earlier this week.

There had already been a hint of trouble when a memorial for Hemsley that had been announced in Philadelphia got cancelled, as the Philly TV station WCAU  reported at the time. 

NBC10 talked with a man who says he is Hemsley's cousin, who was supposed to lead the service. He tells us it was canceled because his relationship to the actor is being questioned.

"They called up the church, made accusations against me, they're attacking my character," Rev. Michael Wells tells NBC10. "I am related to Sherman Hemsley."

According to Bracamontes, "a hearing has been set for late September and Judge Patricia Chew wants to reach a decision in 30 days."

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