ROCKAWAY PARK — Karen Connors has finally been laid to rest in a single cemetery plot, marked by a plastic sign, between two other flat headstones — after spending years in a mass grave at the Hart Island potter's field.
While it's not the same cemetery as her parents, St. Charles in Farmingdale, Long Island is closer than the grave for indigent or unclaimed New Yorkers where she was buried in May 2012, six months after she died, despite owning property and having thousands of dollars in the bank.
The re-burial was arranged by the Queens Public Administrator's office, which has had control of her estate after it was wrested from Donna Rea, who prosecutors say spearheaded a posthumous estate fraud case in which she illegally transferred property and assets from Connors to herself after falsifying a power of attorney document purportedly signed by the dead woman.
A week after her burial, a memorial mass was held at St. Francis de Sales, nine blocks from where Connors lived on Beach 120th Street in Rockaway Park before her death in November 2011 of a heart attack, at 63.
Fr. William Sweeney, who gave the mass, asked churchgoers from the morning's 9 a.m. mass if they could stay, fearing there would be an empty church.
Around two dozen people were in the pews as Sweeney gave Connors what he hoped was a "good sendoff."
He admitted it was unusual to memorialize someone who had died so many years before. But he still felt it was necessary to give her the proper mass, learning about her from friends.
"Somebody told me she was one of the most unique, funny, wonderful individuals they had ever known," he said at the mass.
He chose the readings carefully, reflecting on the circumstances around her death, and what happened in the years after.
"I was thinking, 'What you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me,'" he told DNAinfo.
Tragedy "brings out the best in people and it brings out the worst in people," he said, declining to address the allegations against Rea.
"It's a very thin line of what's the best and the worst. What we hope for is the spirit will lead us in the right way."
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It's not clear how Rea knew Connors was dead or came up with the plan to profit from her unclaimed assets. But prosecutors said in June 2013, she forged a power of attorney statement making her the fiduciary of the estate. With that, she began taking over Connors' properties here and in Florida, and applied for funding through the city's Build It Back program, the DA says.
Rea rented one of Connors' homes on Beach 120th Street, netting thousands of dollars each month. And her scheme even crossed state lines — laying claim to the profits of Connors' two Miami Beach condos that were sold for $200,000 in a foreclosure sale in 2013, after the condo attempted to contact her for months to pay outstanding fees.
"We spent a lot of money tracking her down," the management office's lawyer, Richard Kroop, told DNAinfo.
In August 2013, Rea collected the more than $180,000 that Connors was owed after the sale, using the bogus power of attorney document, prosecutors said. "Karen Connors" filed a claim — after her death — to demand the Miami-Dade County's Clerk Office turn over the proceeds, records show.
Rea's scam caught up to her this winter, when she was arrested and charged with fraud, grand larceny, possession of a forged instruments and other charges. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Her lawyer has maintained Rea didn't know Connors was dead, but he's declined to answer where she thought Connors was or why she told the tenants who rented Connors' homes in Rockaway that she was taking care of Connors in Florida.
For Sweeney, his focus was on celebrating Connors' life.
"What we do today is we come together to make something right," he said at mass.