BURLINGTON, Iowa -- When his son was born during the Great Depression, Wilfred F. Rice was adamant that he grow up to be well-educated and refined, appreciating the finer things in life.
He sent him to boarding school, then to Notre Dame. After seasoning in the Air Force, the son earned a law degree at Georgetown and was hired by a prestigious Chicago law firm.
Smooth and smart, Wilfred F. Rice Jr. made an impression on Dorothy Schramm when they met at a social function after he arrived in Burlington around 1993.
"He didn't seem particularly well-to-do, but he was certainly well-spoken and well-educated," recalls Sieglinde Martin, Schramm's daughter.
He was well-disguised, too.
Using the name Robert Lawrence Murphy, he and Schramm became friends. By 1995, he had moved in with the 86-year-old widow.
Worth more than $3 million, she lived in a mansion overlooking the Mississippi River that was filled with Picassos and other art treasures.
In July, the charade ended. Authorities charged the man they thought was Murphy with theft for allegedly bilking Schramm, 91, out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Two weeks later, another surprise -- he told them his name was really Wilfred F. Rice Jr., age 68.
Rice declined comment when reached at his Burlington apartment. He referred questions to his attorney, who did not return calls.
Authorities believe Rice targeted Schramm when he arrived in Burlington and knew knew her husband's family had owned the J.S. Schramm Co. store, a downtown fixture for more than 150 years.
Rice told people in Burlington he had been an attorney in Chicago but had to quit because of health problems. He had flown fighter jets for the Air Force in the 1950s, he said. His wife had died in a plane crash.
Some of Rice's story is fact, some fiction.
His brother, John Rice, 72, reached at his home in San Diego, was stunned by the allegations. He said he had not seen or spoken with his brother since their father's funeral about 10 years ago.
"All of a sudden, there was this whiff, this puff of smoke, and suddenly he was not there anymore," John Rice said. "Our family is a particularly closely knit one -- except for Wilfred."
Wilfred F. Rice Jr. was born May 25, 1932, in Auburn, Ind. His father was an artist for a calendar manufacturer.
Both Wilfred and John were sent away to boarding schools.
"Our parents were pro-education. They felt you couldn't get it in the small community we were living in," John Rice said.
Wilfred graduated with honors from a high school in Prairie du Chien, Wis., and from Notre Dame.
He earned his law degree from Georgetown in 1958 following a brief stint in the Air Force. John Rice said his brother did not fly jets.
Wilfred met his wife, Rita, at an air base in Texas. They divorced after about 15 years, John Rice said, and she lives somewhere in the Northwest.
The couple had two daughters, although John Rice lost touch a long time ago.
After earning his law license in 1959, Wilfred Rice joined the Chicago law firm of Sayfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson.
"He did employer and labor relations at both the trial and appellate level. It was a very sizable firm -- some would describe it as a 'silk stocking' firm," said James Grogan, chief counsel of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois.
Wilfred Rice opened his own office in 1981, practicing labor law.
In 1992, he was censured by the Illinois Supreme Court after two women, Linda Ericson and Marilyn Hogan, said he failed to file routine paperwork in an appeal of their wrongful firing case.
When the appeal was dismissed, Wilfred Rice lied to them and said it was still pending, according to a report from Grogan's office. The women can no longer appeal because a deadline lapsed.
Rice, who had no malpractice insurance, then disappeared so suddenly that some thought he had died, colleagues recalled.
"When he left Chicago, he sold his condominium on the Gold Coast -- hundreds of thousands of dollars. So what happened to that money?" asked Michael Lefkow, the Chicago attorney who represented the two women in suing Rice for malpractice.
Rice resurfaced in Burlington under Murphy's name and a different Social Security number.
In 1995, about the time he was befriending Schramm, a judge in Cook County, Ill., ruled that Rice owed Ericson and Hogan more than $600,000 in a malpractice judgment.
Rice also is being sued by Schramm's daughters, Sieglinde Martin of North Andover, Mass., and Kristina Chandler of Lakeville, Conn. They allege Rice stole at least $139,700 from their mother.
Rice has been out of jail on $20,000 bond but is under strict supervision, including electronic monitoring. He is scheduled for trial Nov. 28 on a felony charge of first-degree theft, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
It is not certain if Schramm will testify. Her daughter said she has not fully recovered from the shock.
"It upset her terribly, just as it would for anybody," Martin said. "She was duped."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.