"Her husband, Joseph, a radiologist, had a bad heart since he was 11 and was destined for an early death, in 1977....Diane Wells came home to Central Park West in 1989, when she was 36, calling from somewhere she did not name and saying she was out of money, Mrs. Cheney would testify....After Ms. Wells moved back in, the mother and daughter, who did not work, each had her own locked room facing a short hallway that led to a book-lined foyer....Their mother had given James and Jennifer, both single and in their 40s, hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Manhattan apartments, Diane Wells wrote. “Fear of what will happen to me,” she wrote. “Worse because of no money to live, + see you getting old + it upsets and scares me.” From the mid-1990s on, numerous million-dollar insurance policies were purchased on Mrs. Cheney’s life, arranged for by Ms. Wells but paid for by Mrs. Cheney with premiums of $45,000 and up that strained even a trust-fund budget. They named Ms. Wells as the sole beneficiary. James Cheney said in court filings that Diane convinced their mother she would need the money to pay the apartment maintenance and other costs of staying there after Mrs. Cheney died.

"Lawyers for Ms. Wells have said the claims against her were lies invented by James and fed to his mother because he wanted the apartment for himself. In January 1999, Mrs. Cheney spoke by phone to Richard Laurie, a cousin in South Africa and a former president of the Johannesburg stock exchange. He looked after her $12 million trust. As he often did, like some Cheney-family Greek chorus, the cousin wrote soon after, summarizing the high points: a plan she had described to him to give Diane half of the apartment and full ownership upon her death made no sense and would cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

“'If you intend to beggar yourself to satisfy Diane’s importunities,' he wrote, 'it’s your funeral.' Mrs. Cheney wrote to the building management around that time that Ms. Wells should be listed as co-owner of the apartment. Phone calls from 9B to Mr. Laurie and others could be gloomy. Her mail was being opened and Diane had spit at her, Mrs. Cheney was quoted as saying in a phone call. 'She did hit me, you know.'

"James Cheney later discovered more than 25 cassette recordings, labeled by Ms. Wells, his lawyers said. There had been a tape recorder hidden in an empty bedroom that captured Mrs. Cheney’s calls, they said. 'She told me she hears everything I say to anybody,' Mrs. Cheney said, according to the lawyers. She was not making decisions anymore.'“Diane’s kind of the boss now,' Mrs. Cheney is quoted as saying....In July 2002, Mr. Laurie wrote again from Johannesburg: 'I was shocked to hear from you, that Diane keeps shouting at you, ‘Why don’t you die?’

"....As in so many New York apartments, family milestones were marked in 9B. Diane Wells was arrested there on June 23, 2005, on a misdemeanor assault charge. Under a court order, she moved out, and a year later, went on trial. James Cheney had the place fixed up. Ms. Wells was convicted of assault and sentenced to 60 days on Rikers Island. On April 26, 2007, Joyce Cheney died of cancer in Apartment 9B....The next month, Ms. Wells was arrested on a charge of solicitation of murder. On the day her brother had refused her entry into the apartment, court filings say, she asked the car-service driver several times whether he knew anyone she could hire to kill her brother. She denied the charge. A year later, the prosecutors dropped the charges, saying they could not prove the case. This March, an appeals court overturned the assault conviction, ruling that the judge at Ms. Wells’s assault trial had instructed the jury improperly. Manhattan prosecutors said this month that they intended to retry the case. The other trial, over who owns the Cheney family apartment, is scheduled to begin Sept. 21 before Judge Kristin Booth Glen. It was filed in 2005 by James Cheney and his mother to contest Diane Wells’s claims of being an owner of Apartment 9B, arguing that she got it through coercion while, essentially, imprisoning her mother there."