Forged Documents And The Heir Hunter Behind Them

As with any profession, there are people who are excellent examples of how to work and be, and there are others who are less savoury characters, and the heir hunting profession is no different. In 1999 in New York, one of these less savoury heir hunters decided to do a little extra work to get what he wanted.

In 1999, Polish immigrant Halina Czechowska died from a heart attached. She had lived in New York’s East Village for 30 years, and yet hardly knew a soul. But when further investigation was mounted, it turned out that she had an estate worth over $250,000. However, she had no known heirs, and she had not left a will. For almost 10 years, her estate was left to gather dust, the details put into an unclaimed funds account.

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Until Vadim Tevelev made an appearance in 2008. He was the owner of a lab on Staten Island, and one of his many sidelines was finding heirs to unclaimed estates. In 2008, Tevelev went to court claiming to represent a long lost niece of Ms Czechowska’s, who was currently living in Moscow, Russia. There was plenty of evidence to show that this was the case, but before any kind of payout was made (including a percentage to Tevelev himself), something was noticed. The genealogical papers that he presented to the court were shown to be forgeries. Quite a problem for him.

However, what this turn of events also shows was who Halina Czechowska really was. Her actual name was Anna Portianko, and she was born in a tiny village in the Ukraine. This news was discovered when her great niece and nephew were clearing out a shed on their father’s property, and they found some old letters. The oldest was dated 1959, and was addressed to Anna/Halina’s mother. However, according to reports, her mother had not heard anything from her since 1942 when she was taken by Nazi troops and, at just 20 years old, was sent to a labour camp.

When the camps were liberated in 1945, Anna knew enough not to go back to the Ukraine where there would be nothing for her. Instead she made her way to a displaced person’s camp, and assumed the identity of a Polish national. This meant she did not have to be returned to her homeland (only those who were part of the Soviet territories had to do that). It is likely that this decision saved her life. Anna spent 12 years in England before heading to America in 1959, at which point she was finally able to write home. She pretended that she was Halina at first, a friend of Anna’s, because she did not want to get her family in trouble.

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Eventually she told them the truth.

However, the truth did not come to light for a long time as Anna’s sister and parents had died. The letters that the family members found set them on a journey to find Anna, but she had already passed away. They were, however, awarded her legacy. 

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