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It’s 70 degrees on a January day in Atlanta, and a crowd at Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery is bidding on furs.
Fox, chinchilla, mink and lynx, coyote and rabbit and raccoon. They’re dyed purple, red, and teal. There is a pony hide coat with matching pants, and a gold lambskin jacket lined with fur. Women ask their friends to hold their purse while they take coats off the rack to throw on over their clothes. “We see a lot of full length mahogany mink coats, so the bright orange chinchilla with toggle closure just stole my heart,” says Ahlers & Ogletree’s director of marketing, Elizabeth Rickenbaker, of a Saks Fifth Avenue piece.
In addition to the furs, there are Chanel and Rolex and Baume et Mercier watches, and Chanel bag upon Chanel bag. And display cases full of jewelry in every color. Next to diamond bracelets, pins, rings, and studs that will sell for $14,000 are rubies, sapphires, opals, emeralds, and pearls. Couples peer through the glass while a security guard stands by.
The crowd is energetic, a mix of designers, dealers, consigners, and the curious. Olga Podeszwa is with her husband, Paul, who is carrying their seven-month-old toy poodle. She has her eye on a mink coat, but it doesn’t go up for bid until the last day of auction. “I am Russian. I know fur. Russian women would die for some of these coats,” she says.
This luxury estate is one of many at auction this three-day weekend, but the furs, jewels, and bags almost didn’t happen. That’s because Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed two motions two days beforehand: one to stop it, and one to put the proceeds in a trust to keep a man named Claud “Tex” McIver from touching them.
The furs, jewelry, and bags make up the estate of Diane McIver, his wife. He shot her in the back in their SUV in September 2016, and the case has only gotten more complicated as the weeks go by.
The McIvers were a power couple. He’s a labor and employment attorney known for his powerful Republican political connections, including his current position as vice chairman of the Georgia State Election Board. She was the president of US Enterprises, a collection of companies that includes Corey Airport Services, a company that handles advertising in airports. She had worked her way up from a part-time job in payroll at the age of 17 to the very top under the wing of well-known Atlanta businessman Billy Corey. Tex and Diane spent a lot of time on their ranch near Reynolds Plantation, where Diane could indulge her love of horses.
On September 25th, 2016, Diane and Tex McIver headed back to Atlanta after a weekend at their home in Putnam County. They ate dinner at LongHorn Steakhouse. A friend drove them home, which put Diane in the passenger seat of their SUV and Tex behind her. At one point, Tex asked Diane to retrieve a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in a plastic bag from the console. And then Tex shot Diane in the back. She was driven to Emory Hospital, where she died in surgery.
Beyond that, the details change depending on who you’re listening to — the family spokesman who invoked Black Lives Matter protesters and homeless people as motivations for taking out the gun; the husband, who once claimed the car hit a bump and the gun went off; the husband’s lawyer, who says Tex fell asleep and accidentally pulled the trigger when startled awake; the driver, who says Tex didn’t like the look of the neighborhood she drove through to avoid traffic and that the car was stopped when she heard the gunshot.
Police were quiet about the incident in its aftermath, saying it was “complicated.” The person driving the car, Dani Jo Carter, wasn’t named in the police report, and didn’t speak publicly until November. The spokesperson’s description of where the shooting occurred didn’t match up with the police report. Neither Tex nor Dani Jo called 911. Four hospitals are closer to the site of the accident than the one Dani Jo says Tex asked her to drive to. One of them, Grady, has the best trauma center in the city. The autopsy report suggests that the bullet that killed Diane may not have passed through anything, such as a car seat, before it hit her.
Tex has been very communicative with the press, as have his friends and associates. By all published accounts, he and Diane had a loving marriage. His lawyer even arranged for Tex to take a polygraph administered by a private contractor, the results of which were shared with 11Alive News. He passed. This information was released days after local media reported that a grand jury indicted Tex McIver in 1990 for aggravated assault, possession of a firearm in connection with a crime, and criminal damage to property after shooting at three teens in a Ford Mustang in his neighborhood. He settled the case privately.
Then came the announcement of the estate sale, in early December, of more than 2,000 of Diane McIver’s belongings. On display, furs, shoes, crystal, furniture, sunglasses, china, an American Girl doll (Samantha, of course), art, jewelry, belts and scarves, vintage Barbies, and Diane’s famous collection of hats.
The sale was pronounced by Atlanta society at large as tacky. No charges had been brought against the man who had killed her, accident or no, and he was giving interviews about his grief and selling her personal possessions in a warehouse.
On December 21st, Tex McIver was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony, and reckless conduct in the death of his wife. Prosecutors asked for $1 million bond. The judge issued $200,000. Tex bonded out, turned in his passport, and was outfitted with an ankle monitor. Tex’s friends and lawyer were quick to go to media outlets once more to paint a happy marriage and a broken man.
Weeks after, this auction, the second public sale of her things, took place, despite the efforts of the district attorney’s office.
Auctioning off the belongings of the deceased is a tricky business. “We are frequently in the position of helping families during a tough time,” says Robert Ahlers. “We are balancing the emotions of a family dealing with tragedy with doing our job, which is to get as much money as possible for these pieces.”
Five cataloguers and a jewelry expert did the work of appraising Diane McIver’s estate for auction, noting age, maker, condition, style, and market trends. Ahlers & Ogletree declined to disclose the total sales of the McIver estate, but Rickenbaker reports the overall sale grossed $1.1 million.
“Classic items and makers, especially when it comes to fashion, tend to hold their value best,” says Rickenbaker. “We have also found that more established and popular names in the American market perform better for us than the lesser known (although of equal quality and style) makers. As examples, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci tend to perform better at our auctions than Chloe and Miu Miu. That being said, unique or special items by popular makers can also garner a lot of attention.”
Media coverage is what drew in Atlanta resident Natasha Johnson. She attended the auction in search of fur jackets and Chanel bags after she saw it on the news. “It’s sad. I heard they’re auctioning off the priceless possessions of this woman to cover her husband’s legal fees. They should wait until after the trial. But where else could you find these fabulous items at this price?” she said. She bid unsuccessfully on a few bags, all of which went for their appraised value or higher.
“This is a strong in-house presence,” said Ahlers. “We also have thousands of bids online and on the phones from Australia, Dubai, New York, California, and here in Atlanta.”
Most serious in-house bidders came in pairs, whispering to each other. Online and phone bidders were represented by two separate banks of staffers in-house for the maximum amount of yelling and excitement. There is a fierce bidding war over a Jean de Botton painting, not of the McIver estate. People mill in and out of the room all day while auction staff heft giant pieces of art and furniture to the front.
Here’s what you can discover about Diane McIver from watching the items of her estate paraded through a room: She was not afraid of color, or of standing out in the crowd. She enjoyed nice things. She had a touch of whimsy and a good dash of drama.
“You can tell she was adventurous, that she took risks,” said Natasha Johnson. “She must have been spunky.”
By all accounts, she was. Corey Airport Services posted a Facebook tribute to her calling her “vivacious and spirited” as well as a passionate leader.
Her death notice described her as a “brilliant and inspiring force of nature” who lived life out loud and loved her husband, job, and godchildren. It goes on to say: “She inspired those around her by example, always insisting there was more weight to be lost and new ways to look good when in public.”
The day after the auction ended, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that US Enterprises sent Tex a letter claiming that Diane’s estate owes almost $1 million for a past loan. Tex’s spokesman has publicly regretted the deterioration of his relationship with Corey since Diane’s death. This claim could tie up her estate.
Diane’s will gave Tex the ranch and Buckhead condos, setting aside the rest in a trust administered by a lawyer from Corey Airport Services, a subsidiary of the company Diane ran. Tex claims the couple kept their finances separate, although he borrowed $350,000 from her in 2012. Repayment was due in 2014, but he got an extension through 2017. He admits that he still owed that amount.
Tex McIver has retired from his law firm but remains vice chairman of the state board of elections, despite being under criminal investigation. It is unclear whether he remains on the the advisory committee of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Gun Violence.
Robert Ahlers has hinted there may be more estate items up for bid in the future.
Update: April 27th, 2017
Tex McIver was charged with his wife’s murder, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.