Diary of 'incest' rips SA family apart
In November 2005 a South African-born United States citizen, Lauren Mummy (37), was trampled to death by an elephant in a Limpopo game park.
A diary she left behind – discovered in a dusty bag 18 months later, with claims of rape and incest – has triggered a feud between her South African and American families so bitter that it has taken a US appellate court to end it.
Last month, the California Court of Appeal ordered that Mummy's South African parents, Ivor and Joan Jacobson, be barred from visiting their grandchildren, aged nine and 13, for whom they are also co-trustees.
The judgment overturned a landmark ruling Jacobson had won for grandparents' visitation rights in California, breaking with US Supreme Court precedent which stated that parents can block access to grandparents without having to prove grounds for their objection.
Although stressing that "we make no judgment with respect to whether [Ivor Jacobson] is a substantial risk to … any children", Justice Patricia Benke said she relied partly on Lauren's diary for her ruling.
In her ruling, she included Lauren's contradictory claims that: "He raped me … I thought all fathers rape their daughters," and also "why have I made up all these lies? Why am I hurting my parents?"
The appeal was brought by Patrick Mummy (43) the father of Lauren's two daughters, whom the court called "Susan" and "Nancy".
In an effort to put an end to the "high-level conflict" between the families – which has reportedly featured 24 separate legal actions – Benke banned further litigation.
Jacobson (72) – formerly chief executive of the Trade and Industry Acceptance Corporation and a "very successful investment fund manager in South Africa" in the 1980s, according to the court – is now president of the Anglo-African Shipping Company of New York and lives in San Diego.
In the earlier case, a superior court judge had found that Mummy had unfairly accused Jacobson of past abuses out of "revenge" for having lost yet another battle with his father-in-law over his wife's R9-million life insurance policy.
In an interview in the US this week, Mummy told the Mail & Guardian: "It's been like some Hollywood movie script – this guy has spent almost $4-million taking me to court; we moved to another city to get away."
Jacobson dismissed all the abuse allegations against him as "totally false and heartbreakingly sad" and said the ruling was "a devastating occurrence". He said his legal costs had been "closer to $2-million."
One of three children, Lauren "experienced a fairly luxurious standard of living" in Johannesburg in the 1980s and hoped for a career in journalism.
Mummy said the highlight of Lauren's student reporting career was "when she interviewed Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at a rally in a big stadium, after Nelson Mandela's release".
Lauren began her diary in March 1993 and the court noted that she was treated for an eating disorder and borderline personality disorder at the time.
She moved to San Diego in 1995 to study psychology and married Mummy – a health industry entrepreneur and author – in 1997.
At Lauren's request, the Jacobsons moved to San Diego in 1999, where they would often act as principal caregivers to the two children while their parents worked.
Benke's judgment revealed that Lauren's visit to the Welgevonden Game Reserve was made to reset her unravelling life, in which she had become addicted to alcohol and the prescription medication Vicodin.
In 2009 a South African magistrate found that an untrained guide, Milton Mnguni, had wrongly allowed Lauren to take photographs within 37m of an elephant cow, which charged and crushed her. Mnguni (43) and the owners of the private park were convicted of culpable homicide.
Mummy said he was a party to an ongoing suit for civil damages.
He said that 18 months after his wife's death "I [opened] her old Nike bag and one of the first things that came out was this journal from the Cornell Medical Outpatient Centre. I read it and my blood froze."
In an entry dated April 15 1993, she wrote: "I mean, what is the big deal – (dad) raped me. It's just hands and penis and body. How could I tell him to stop? No one cared."
However, just two weeks later, Lauren appeared to retract everything: "I'm a liar. I'm an attention seeker so desperate for attention that I go around telling wicked lies about my parents."
Mummy told the M&G: "I called her therapist to ask if there was any validity to it and I was told there was. Obviously I had to act to protect my children from that point."
Lauren's 2005 group therapist told Mummy that Lauren had confirmed her diary claims in group sessions.
However, Mummy had already signed an agreement with Ivor that the Jacobsons could control Lauren's R9-million life insurance payout as trustees for the children, if Ivor was able to recover the money.
The Insurer, MetLife, initially contested the claim due to unpaid instalments, but Ivor negotiated the release of the full amount.
Mummy – newly enraged by the diary claims – launched a legal challenge which resulted in such a blizzard of litigation that, by 2008, MetLife stated to court: "MetLife cannot determine whether the proceeds are payable to Patrick, Ivor, Joan, (Susan) or (Nancy) – it has no interest in the controversy between the defendants."
Joan won the tussle as a third litigant.
This week, Ivor alleged: "This entire saga – which beggars belief – is about [the Mummys'] revenge at not getting the money they wanted and which we are now safely holding in trust for the children."
Incredibly, the feud turned nastier.
Mummy's lawyers required that Ivor submit to a "psychosexual evaluation", which was supposed to include "phallometry assessing arousal pattern", which can involve the use of an inflatable cuff on the penis and other measures to determine a subject's sexual interest in pictures shown to him. The results were inconclusive.
Ivor said: "The three tests they used on me are used only for convicted sex felons – the indignity was appalling."
However, Benke stated that, while the evaluations were under way, Ivor asked an "attorney service" to investigate Mummy's new wife, digging up a confidential evaluation from her previous divorce.
Benke marvelled: "Although the evaluation was labelled "confidential," [Ivor's] counsel reviewed it and discovered that [Mummy's new wife] had herself been molested as a child by her stepfather."
One lower court found that this history had unduly influenced Mummy to jump to conclusions and added: "Patrick's concerns about Ivor [are] not rational."
This week, Ivor insisted that the confidential report was unearthed "completely by accident". A court-appointed psychologist, Dr Clark Clipson, found "no substantial risk of sexual abuse" with Ivor, which helped him win visitation rights in the superior court.
Ivor claimed this victory – which had forced Mummy, over his fierce objections, to allow unsupervised weekend visitation to the Jacobsons and also 10 days over summer – had set a "legal precedent for grandparents around California".
Michael Kelly, a professor of family law at the University of San Diego, said the superior court's ruling was "very unusual", but said it had not supplanted the supreme court precedent, set by the Troxel v Granville case in 2000.
Kelly said of the Jacobson case: "It is very rare for grandparents to override a parental decision; it must have taken a lot for that judge to have stepped outside of sync with Troxel."
But Benke found that Mummy's rights, as a fit parent, to decide who posed risks to his children overrode all else.
Kelly said Benke's ruling was "in line" with the supreme court.
Mummy said: "I acknowledge the possibility" that Lauren's abuse claims from the grave were false – "but I don't believe it".
He said: "Ivor is manipulative. Now he says the children will be robbed of their South African heritage. We speak about [Lauren] every day and I will take them to South Africa when they're older. After six years of this nightmare, hopefully we can move on."
An emotional Ivor told the M&G: "No one disputes that my late daughter made those sad, retracted statements during a very troubled time in her life. I made a promise to Lauren that we would protect and care for her children. And now …"
Joan said they were allowed no physical or telephone contact with their grandchildren and that birthday gifts had been returned.
She said: "[The ruling] brought back all the terror of the last six years and the tragedy to know that we will never see [Susan] and [Nancy] again."