The fate of Sherman Hemsley's body, which is now being claimed by three
people, could be decided next week in an El Paso courtroom as a probate judge
is expected to name the proper beneficiary.
The body of the actor, who became famous for his role in the sitcom "The Jeffersons," has been kept frozen in an East El Paso funeral home since July, when he died.
The body is to stay there until a civil lawsuit between Flora Isela Enchinton Bernal, who is Hemsley's listed beneficiary, and Richard Thornton, a Philadelphia man claiming to be his brother, is settled.
The dispute is to go before Judge Patricia Chew at 9 a.m. Monday in Probate Court No. 1.
Hemsley, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, died of lung cancer on July 24 at his home in East El Paso in the 11400 block of Tom Ulozas Drive.
A month earlier, on June 23, he had signed a will leaving his estate to Enchinton and naming her the executrix of the will.
Enchinton could not be reached for comment for this article. But in a previous interview, Enchinton said she and Hemsley were best friends and business partners.
She managed him for about 20 years, but one of the times he was in the hospital, Hemsley told doctors that she was his next of kin, she said.
"We lived together and traveled together," Enchinton said in an August interview with the El Paso Times. "This was more than just business partners. He was my brother and my best friend."
In late August, Thornton's lawyer, Mark Davis, filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the will, which caused the funeral home to hold his body until the dispute is settled.
Thornton could not be reached for comment, and his lawyer Davis did not return a message seeking comment.
Another man has also come forward to dispute the will.
Robert Wells, who said his mother's grandmother was the sister of Hemsley's mother, said neither Enchinton Bernal nor Thornton should be the beneficiary.
Wells said his mother, who he said was like a sister to Hemsley, should be the proper next of kin and the one to decide what happens to his estate and body.
"I really question the will because it looks that strange he signed it a month before he died," said Wells, who also lives in Philadelphia. "I never knew a Mr. Thornton, and my family knows nothing about him.
"You got two people in court going over Sherman's estate. They want to bury the body and go to court and get the money."
Wells said he had met Enchinton on a few occasions. Wellis said that he spoke with Enchinton on June 1 and that she never told him Hemsley was dying.
"That concerns me because he was sick and dying and he put a will together," Wells said. "It's pitiful for one, because she is telling people she never heard from his family."
Enchinton never made that claim to the El Paso Times but was paraphrased by The Associated Press as saying Hemsley never mentioned family members.
But she did respond to Thornton's lawsuit.
"I can understand people who lived with him having a say" in his funeral, Enchinton said to the Times. "But people who come out of nowhere and who don't know anything about his life to come out and try to say what should be done with him."
Because of the pending court hearing, Enchinton said she could not be specific.
"I have high respect for the court system in El Paso," she said. "And I believe justice will prevail."
Wells said Enchinton has plans to cremate Hemsley's body, but he wants to bury the actor.
"He has a burial plot for him and his mother here in Phi ladelphia," Wells said. "We just want to make sure he is laid to rest properly."
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