BARNSTABLE — A judge in Barnstable Probate Court has denied an attempt by Margaret Roach Watts and her brother, James Roach, to redetermine who should inherit the estate of Sherrill Watkins, who died in March 2022 without a will, leaving the Roach family’s Conwell Street property in Provincetown as part of his estate.
The estate had gone to Katherine Smith Terrell and her brother, Edward Lawrence Smith, in July 2022 by Probate Court decree. But Watts and Roach came forward in March 2023 and filed affidavits of objection this past summer, claiming that Terrell and Smith had incorrectly identified themselves as Watkins’s sole heirs.
While Judge Angela Ordoñez denied their petition to start a second probate of the estate following a hearing on Oct. 27, Watts and Roach can still pursue their claim that Terrell and Smith acted fraudulently when they declared their connection to Watkins and inherited his estate.
In her denial, Ordoñez wrote that the fraud claim was a separate issue and suggested that it start with DNA testing of all four parties involved.
Watts said this week that she and Roach have not yet decided on their next steps.
During last year’s probate of the estate, Terrell and Smith claimed they were sole heirs as the children of Sherrill Watkins’s only brother, Peril Peter Watkins Jr., who worked in Boston as a tennis instructor and died in 1976 at 39.
Sherrill Watkins himself had no children.
By the time Watts and Roach challenged the original probate decree, it had been in place for nearly a year, and the Conwell Street property had been sold to a developer for $2.5 million.
At the hearing before Judge Ordoñez, a lawyer for Terrell argued that the court’s decree in July 2022 had been final, and therefore the filings made by Watts and Roach were too late.
Attorney Gillian Szlachetka Dubay, on behalf of Watts and Roach, argued that the formal probate decree was based on a fraudulent claim and “purposeful misrepresentation.” Peril Peter Watkins, she said, is not listed as the father of either Terrell or Smith on their birth certificates.
Terrell’s attorney said documentation supporting her and her brother’s connection to Watkins had been provided to a New York court, where a parallel probate case was filed for Watkins’s assets in that state. Watkins had been living in New York at the time of his death.
Those supporting documents were supplied to the Independent by attorney Anthony Panebianco, who represents Edward Lawrence Smith.
Susan Smith was the mother of Terrell and Smith. The supporting documents include an affidavit, based on information from family members and filed in the New York court, stating that Susan and her husband, Emmett, had been separated by the time the children were born and that Peril was Terrell and Smith’s biological father.
Another affidavit from a family member stated that Watkins Jr. had three children with Susan Smith: Katherine, Edward, and Gregory, who died in infancy.
The material included a handwritten 1976 statement by Ethel Louise and Peril Watkins Sr. saying their son was the father of Katherine. The statement was written following their son’s death to support an application from Susan Smith to secure survivor benefits for her two young children.
“Government records dating back to 1976 demonstrate their lineage,” said Panebianco in an email. “Accordingly, we believe that the respective courts in New York and Massachusetts have appropriately determined that Katherine and Edward are the sole and rightful heirs, and we see no reason these findings should be disturbed.”
Development Goes Forward
Developer Thomas Tannariello divided 24 Conwell St. into four lots shortly after purchasing it. The Roach family home and some rental cottages are located on two of the lots. Tannariello is applying for permits to build a duplex with two two-bedroom units connected by a breezeway on one of the two vacant lots.
The other vacant lot, which abuts the Hamilton Cemetery, has a family burial plot in its northwest corner. Several Roach family members, including the original landowners, Alexander Sr., his wife, Margaret, and some of their six children, are buried there. The gravesite is marked with one headstone, which bears the names Roach and Watkins, and four flat grave markers for three of the original Roaches’ six children and for their mother.
More family members have likely also been buried there, based on death certificates and obituaries, among them Ethel Louise and her husband, Peril Peter Watkins, and their son, Peril Peter Jr. Many of those are cremated remains.
A ground-penetrating survey to determine the location of the burials was arranged by Tannariello sometime after he bought the property to ensure that the graves will not be disturbed by development on the land.
The lot was purchased by Michael Tamburro and Robert Tucker, who live in New York City and recently submitted a plan for a four-bedroom house there. The engineering design of the lot, recently submitted to the town, identifies the area with the grave markers along with an adjacent area marked with three flags identifying the location of one additional body found in the survey.
Tucker declined to comment when reached for this story.
Review of the development plan by town boards has not yet begun.