Seattle’s Late Slumlord Millionaire

Seattle’s prince of litigation and squalor left a surprisingly lucrative legacy for his would-be heirs to fight over.

In 2001, cranky Chris Demopolis told a reporter that "the courts are killing me." It seemed the hyperbole expected of a slumlord whose name has graced almost 200 lawsuits, sometimes as plaintiff, mostly as defendant.Seattle's aging prince of litigation, partial to cowboy hats and wrap-around sunglasses, owed weighty sums in legal judgments, fees, and fines related to many of his eyesore properties around town, and was being besieged by process servers. Acting sometimes as his own attorney, the contentious Demopolis was a moving target for lawyers and judges—once suing some of the latter for illegally smoking in their King County Courthouse chambers.He eventually took refuge from bill collectors and process servers in his leaky, rundown home near Green Lake, refusing to answer any knock on the door. He bragged that he'd successfully avoided service in one lawsuit 24 times.But on Oct. 4, 2004, someone banged so long and hard that Demopolis, 81 and in poor health, got worked up, flung open the door, saw a process server standing there with court papers in hand, and died."On the spot, from a massive coronary," his friend and former business partner John Wyss said last week. "I guess he hadn't been exaggerating."Turns out he wasn't blowing smoke about his personal wealth either. A member of a Greek family that once ran a marine equipment business in Anacortes, Demopolis began seriously buying up properties in the 1970s. He wasn't fond of maintaining or improving them, however; he was the only resident in a shabby 11-unit cottage-style apartment complex he owned on Linden Avenue North, and had to cook in another unit because his oven didn't work.It was hard to believe he might be rich. But he was—although due to his haphazard record keeping, he didn't know how rich.Now we know: According to estate papers reviewed last week at Skagit County Superior Court in Mount Vernon, Seattle's hermit-like slumlord was worth at least $6 million and counting. And counting has been the problem.The lifelong bachelor died without a will or any kind of reliable asset list. His Anacortes heirs successfully petitioned to become estate representatives, and began searching and sorting out Demopolis' assets in 2005. They have turned up about 100 parcels of Seattle and Western Washington real estate in his name with an assessed value of $5.4 million, including the blighted, million-dollar Green Lake property and expensive land on Mercer Island.There could be more. But as his brother Themo Demopoulos (who uses the original family surname spelling) and sister Billie McKee, both of Anacortes, state in court papers, Demopolis' records were "in extreme disarray and contained very little information about decedent's assets and financial status." The family also turned up $794,000 in cash, though documents don't reveal if the money was in banks or elsewhere. (The heirs and their attorney did not respond to calls and e-mails for this story.)It's an impressive personal fortune for someone who wouldn't even get his oven fixed. But it also turns out that Demopolis wouldn't pay for a lot of things: His postmortem debts and obligations amount to almost half the estate's value, records show. Legal claims, including a list of unpaid City of Seattle bills for tearing down some of his rotted properties, come to more than $1.2 million. (Typically when Demopolis lost a legal judgment, he stalled, papered the courts with appeals, then evaded payment as long as possible, running up thousands of dollars in interest.) Estate and other taxes due total another $1.7 million. And court files indicate he owes back personal income tax to the IRS, but no amount is specified.Many claims and taxes have been paid, some are pending, and others have been rejected by Demopolis' brother and sister, including a $250,000 claim made by Wyss, who helped Demopolis try to repair some of his buildings and who says the money is owed through a partnership in some of the properties. Trouble is, Wyss has only scraps of paper to that effect. What documents Demopolis did keep were scattered throughout the Green Lake apartments, where the pair had an office, Wyss says. That building has since been razed; the heirs sold the site to condo developers for $1.7 million in 2006, using the proceeds to pay some of their brother's debts."It looks like I'll probably have to go to trial this summer," says Wyss.Other estate claims on file include interest-bearing legal judgments dating back to the 1990s for attorney fees, property settlements, and abatement costs. The City of Seattle's claims come to $160,000, according to a court accounting. The debts were accrued by Demopolis from 1993 through 2002, including a $40,000 abatement tab for the razing of one of his homes on Franklin Avenue East.Demopolis once told Seattle Weekly ("The Courts Are Killing Me," July 19, 2001) that of the 95 King County court cases he was involved in, he'd lost most of them—at one point, 40 in a row, he said. A statewide computer search today turns up 199 civil cases involving him. Some of the briefs in those cases were handwritten by Demopolis; others he personally argued in court.Because of his reputation, in 2001 Demopolis said many attorneys considered him a plague and wouldn't work for him. One of the last who did "had his office in the back seat of his car." Some judges never forgave Demopolis after he spitefully sued them in the 1990s for smoking in chambers, which ran contrary to courthouse rules, he complained. "You tell a judge today you're suing Demopolis," he said, "and the judge will say, 'For how much? It's Demopolis. Don't you want more?'"There's no telling how successful Demopolis might have been had he paid his bills and tended his assets. Yet redemption wasn't in his plans, Demopolis said. His legal strategy was to die, leave his money to charity, and let the "sharks"—attorneys—sort it out.Considering his past record in law and life, two out of three ain't bad.randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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