In her will, a mother seeks justice beyond grave

When her daughter vanished, she turned to the Temple Terrace police and then left them $500,000 in property.

Published September 23, 2007

TEMPLE TERRACE - The Police Department in this small city is set to receive a surprise inheritance.

Its benefactor: the deceased 92-year-old mother of Sandra Hamby Prince, the social worker whom Temple Terrace detectives have been trying to locate since New Year's 2006.

Dovie Moore Hamby of Boone, N.C., willed property valued at more than $500,000 to the Police Department before her death March 11 at Watauga Medical Center, according to court records.

For a police agency with an annual budget of $7.1-million, the contribution is, in the words of the city's spokesman, "astonishing."

One potential snag, however, is the fact that two of the three willed parcels are half-owned by Hamby and half by Prince, according to property records.

That means as much as $101,900 could be up for grabs by the man Prince named as her sole beneficiary - the same man Temple Terrace call a "person of interest" in her disappearance.

Prince, Hamby's only child, vanished some time after Dec. 30, 2005.

Detectives found blood in her car trunk. ATM surveillance video showed a man with cloth covering his face attempting to take money from her bank accounts.

Ever since, Detectives Michael Pridemore and Darrin Berberat have tried to piece together what led to her disappearance.

Intensely private, Prince is unmarried and has no children and no siblings.

But, according to police, she willed her estate, valued at at least $2.8-million, to Earl C. Pippin III - her boyfriend of five years and the man detectives have named as a "person of interest" in the case.

Pippin, 53, unsuccessfully petitioned the court recently to be allowed to view Prince's sealed will.

Her mother's will throws another question mark into just how much Pippin could receive. State law presumes a missing person is dead after five years, at which point the person's will can be executed as if they are confirmed dead. Pippin has declined interviews with the Times.

More than 30 years ago, Prince co-founded the successful Agency for Community Treatment Services, a drug treatment center. She would have celebrated her 61st birthday just days after her mother's death.

Before Hamby died, friends say, she developed a deep respect for the lead detectives on her daughter's case.

"They showed themselves to be true gentlemen to her," said Theresa Mosteller, 51, the executor of Hamby's will.

Hamby described to friend Susan Horton how the police would "carry me to the attorney, carry me to the police station." She raved about how thoroughly they combed her daughter's residence to look for evidence.

The personal relationship Hamby developed with Pridemore became a source of motivation for investigators. The department estimates it has spent about $40,000 on the case, not including salaries.

Pridemore said in January that he wanted to give the grieving mother the answers she needed about Prince's whereabouts before she died.

He attended her funeral in North Carolina, saying her death strengthened his resolve.

When Hamby changed her will to make Temple Terrace police her beneficiary instead of her daughter, Mosteller said, she did it with the firm belief that her daughter was dead.

"She knew she would never see her again in this life," Mosteller said.

The closest she could get to bequeathing her belongings to her daughter was, she said, to will it to the people charged with finding her. And she believed they would.

"I have a gift for judging people's character," Horton remembers Hamby telling her. "I can tell who is genuine and who is not."

While she determined the Temple Terrace detectives were the former, it didn't erase the frustration that, in almost two years, there have been no arrests and few major public breaks.

Temple Terrace spokesman Michael Dunn said city attorneys will seek to liquidate the property Hamby left to the agency once it becomes available.

And while the ultimate decision of how to use the dollars will be left to the Temple Terrace City Council, the unusual gift is earmarked for police.

The Prince investigation, Dunn said, is likely to take high priority.

Mosteller, who was present with Hamby in her final days, said the strong-minded Christian with the manner of a Southern belle held her hand and told her with all certainty that she knew where she was headed:

"She said she was going off to be with Sandra."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 813 226-3383 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.