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The War for Ted Ammon's Children


Making provisions for her death, Generosa has designated their British nanny, Kathryn Mayne, as the children’s standby guardian. In response, Sandi Williams has filed a petition for custody of the twins, offering as evidence a bombshell psychologist’s report that makes Generosa out to be a psychopath.

But this is not the only new front in the Ammon war. Two weeks ago, the case of the murder of Ted Ammon, mulled over for so long by both real and armchair detectives, was finally brought before a Long Island grand jury.

On a bookshelf in her ranch house in Huntsville, Sandi keeps a few mementos of her brother: his dime-store reading glasses; accolades from Bucknell, his alma mater, to which he had donated $15 million, and from Jazz at Lincoln Center, where he was named chairman the spring before his death; and snapshot after snapshot of Ted and her family with the twins.

Sandi hasn’t seen Alexa or Grego in almost two years. A week after their father’s murder, they sat with her at Ted’s memorial service in Alice Tully Hall, listening as one speaker, Mark Angelson, Ted’s business partner, locked eyes with them and said, “This is a confusing time for you guys, but don’t be confused about this—your father was a wonderful human being. You were the most important things in his life. He would fight to the end for the people he loved.” Sandi, using two different intermediaries, had requested that Generosa stay away from the memorial—though, in a conciliatory gesture, she also let Generosa know which entrance to use to avoid paparazzi in case she did come. She didn’t.

A few weeks later, Sandi called Generosa and was smacked with a ten-minute tirade—about how Sandi should apologize, about how Generosa was broke, about how the co-executor of Ted’s estate, J.P. Morgan Chase bank, was trying to deny her access to Ted’s money until the conclusion of the murder investigation. When Sandi asked to see Alexa and Grego, Generosa refused, snapping: “You can’t just have lunch with the children like nothing’s happened.”

“Believe me, Generosa,” Sandi replied. “I know something’s happened.”

The judge ordered the children to have cell phones so they could speak with their father, but Generosa convinced them that the phones would cause cancer.

Sandi had no way to reach them; even their e-mail accounts had been changed. She searched for a means to sue for custody and found herself in a Catch-22: Because police had not named Generosa and Dan as suspects, Sandi would have to prove in court that Generosa was an unfit parent without saying what so many were whispering—that Generosa was involved in their father’s murder. This spring, when her lawyers learned that Generosa appointed the nanny guardian, Sandi found the opening she needed.

Now Generosa’s lawyers are gearing up for a court battle. “Ms. Williams was not close to the children,” claims Dowd. “Gee, she’s saying their mother might have been involved in their father’s death? If you were the mother, would you expose the kids to this woman?”

Sandi is a 55-year-old grandmother who has raised three children in Huntsville. She’d like to raise two more. Of course, she knows that when their mother dies, the children stand to inherit millions, but Sandi is focused on re-creating Ted’s suburban childhood for Alexa and Grego. She and her husband Bob, 56, a doctor who also dabbles in real estate, have the kids’ teenage years plotted out, right down to spots in a local private school, the Alabama youth tennis league, and the youth group of the Presbyterian church where Sandi teaches Sunday school. “I think they’ve been uprooted so many times they don’t have roots anywhere,” Sandi explains, sitting with Bob in their tan-carpeted sunken living room. “I think it might be advantageous for them to live in a place where there are none of these crazy memories. You know, it might be good for them to have a fresh start.”

That’s the carrot. The stick, of course, is what she and her husband are saying—for the first time publicly, and potentially under oath in a custody or murder trial—about Ted’s fears in his final weeks.

“We begged him to get a guard,” says Bob.

“His colleagues did, too,” adds Sandi.

“I had a chat with him on the phone not long before he was murdered, and it was just clear to me she was not stable at all,” Bob remembers. “He was afraid she was gonna kill him. It was obvious he was aware it was a possibility.”

Ted Ammon had the gift of making an extraordinary life seem ordinary. He’d go shooting in Scotland and skiing in the French Alps and stop off for dinner in London in between—“always three and a half to six minutes late,” as his friend Wynton Marsalis puts it. But he also wore only one good belt, which he took with him to each of his homes, and regularly mismatched his clothes. On the way to see Bill Clinton to solicit support for Jazz at Lincoln Center, he discovered his tie and shirt had pizza stains. “My sense was he’d been immersed in the business world for so long, he had a little-boy wonder about all the things he could do in his life if he had the time to do it,” says a woman who dated him the last summer of his life.

Brought up in East Aurora, New York, twenty minutes outside Buffalo, Robert Theodore Ammon vaulted from a Beaver Cleaver childhood—dinner at 6:30 p.m., baseball and swim meets, church on Sunday—into the financial big leagues. A much-envied photographic memory was of some use; so was a relentlessly competitive spirit. “Everything always had to be a competition, from the time he was in the third grade,” Sandi says. “Except with me, because I wouldn’t compete with him.”

He entered Bank of America’s executive-training program straight out of Bucknell. There he met Randee Day, another member of the program, and the two married in 1973 and moved to England. “I think he was always about ten steps ahead of everybody,” remembers Day, who says their parting in 1982 was amicable. He studied on his own to become a solicitor while living in England and passed the New York bar the first time without ever taking a law-school class. One friend remembers him being so focused that he kept perfectly composed during a business deal even as he learned that his father had died.

In 1983, after his law firm finished work on a deal with KKR, he jumped ship to the LBO firm. “He came up with a deal a minute,” one colleague from the company remembers. “One we joked about was buying the Postal Service.” Like others at KKR, he became a multimillionaire from the fabled RJR Nabisco deal. He made good use of his toys, but until his final years, some friends say, he wasn’t accustomed to being this rich. On occasion, he’d be imperious; at other times, distant. “He wasn’t a complete person,” says one colleague who considered Ted a friend. “There was a chunk of him missing. He’d sort of disappear on you. You’d be talking with him, and suddenly he’d drop out of sight for a few days.” While jazz had been a lifelong passion of Ted’s, some of his friends remarked that they didn’t even know he liked it until they heard Ted had become chair of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Ted married Generosa in part because she seemed to fill some of his gaps. “He liked having a wife who handled all the details, down to the last teacup,” a friend says. “And I think her sarcasm and her snarkiness were appealing to him. She didn’t care who you were—you could be a judge or the queen of England. I think he might have thought it was funny and appealing, until it turned on him.”

Like her children, Generosa Rand Ammon Pelosi was an orphan. She told friends that she never knew her father, an Italian soldier who was a one-night stand, and that her mother died of cancer when she was 10. Generosa and an older sister then lived with adoptive parents in California, but she told friends that the sister died in a car crash when Generosa was 17, leaving her alone. One friend remembers Generosa saying she was neglected and abused. “The way she overcame it,” the friend says, “was she became very focused on her art.”

After graduating from the University of California at Irvine in 1981, she moved to New York to be an artist—using found industrial objects—and paid the bills by working as an apartment-rental agent. One of her clients was Ted Ammon. By the time they married in 1986, friends say, her artistic ambitions had fizzled. “She told me she wanted to concentrate on her husband and his business and all the things that Upper East Side wives and mothers had to do,” says one friend. “I found that strange. I know wives and mothers who had enough to do without concentrating on their husband’s jobs.” Generosa’s medium had, in effect, changed—from sculpture to elaborate parties and tastefully decorated homes showcasing an ambitious contemporary-art collection.

Generosa went through several painful years trying to have children, resorting to in vitro fertilization, though some remember her ambivalence on the subject. “She would be quick to tell you she was an orphan and went from orphanage to orphanage and that’s why she didn’t like kids,” says one friend of Ted’s. “It surprised me that she wanted children.” But in Alexa and Gregory, Generosa found two children she could save from her own fate. Generosa and Ted traveled several times to see them in a Ukrainian orphanage before the adoption came through; Sandi and Bob remember them calling in a panic with news that Alexa was in the hospital with what was thought to be hepatitis (it turned out to be tuberculosis). “Oh, bring her home,” Bob said with a laugh. "If you’re gonna have sick kids, you might as well get started now.”

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