On trust, betrayal and punishment
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the story of Jack Curtin-Hill. The second and last part will be published Sunday.
They traveled to Nepal together and everywhere else. Some friends called him her shadow. He organized her parties, took care of her finances and other issues to make her life easier.
First she gave him a job. Later, she helped him open an antique shop and then, she adopted him. He gave her his youth in service – 26 years. She gave him her full trust – 26 years.
But he ended up betraying her and breaking her heart, her friends say. He then left town leaving a trail of questions behind him. The most important: why?
The story of longtime Vail resident Blanche “Christy” Hill, 88, and her adopted son, Jack Curtin-Hill, 56, is one of trust, love, betrayal and bank schemes. In October, Curtin-Hill, who now lives in Denver, admitted in federal court to stealing about $1 million from Hill – a former fashion model who has lived in Vail for more than 35 years. Curtin-Hill also admitted to committing tax and bank fraud.
“In my 40 years in Vail, this was the most unexpected thing I’ve ever seen happen here,” says Sheika Gramshammer, a friend of Christy Hill of 40 years. Hill is a godmother to Gramshammer’s daughter.
“It was a surprise for everybody,” Gramshammer said. “I think he loved her and admired her very much and vice versa.”
Teak Simonton, who for 17 years was a general manager for Curtin-Hill Sports – Curtin-Hill’s store in Vail – says Christy Hill was devastated after she discovered what was going on.
“She trusted him as anyone would trust their son,” says Simonton, who now is the Eagle County clerk and recorder.
Longtime Vail resident Tom Steinberg, who has known Blanche Hill for 38 years, says Curtin-Hill’s indictment came as a surprise.
“It’s very sad what happened,” Steinberg says. “(Curtin-Hill) was always active in the community. He was always interested in the town activities. He even sat on the liquor license board.”
What still stood of Curtin-Hill’s reputation collapsed on Oct. 21, when Curtin-Hill pleaded guilty to stealing $919,000 from his adoptive mother. The same day, Curtin-Hill also pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Denver to bank fraud and making false statements in a tax return.
Curtin-Hill was arrested in July after a federal grand jury returned a 15-count indictment charging him with bank fraud, making false statements on tax returns and failure to file a tax return. He faces possible prison time when he is sentenced, Jan. 16.
“There was nothing negative to say about him,” Gramshammer says. “We were all shocked. Nobody understood what triggered this. I don’t think he knows why he did it.”
Who is Jack Curtin-Hill?
Jack Curtin-Hill was born and raised in Springfield, Ill., where he attended a private Catholic high school. He then enrolled at the University of Denver. He came to Vail in 1969 and started working as a property manager for Bill Bishop, who became a good friend and later introduced him to Christy Hill.
“It’s a sad situation,” says Bishop, who was the first person to know of the adoption. “I didn’t have a clue.”
Curtin-Hill started working for Christy Hill in the 1970s as a property manager. For 26 years, Curtin-Hill maintained his adoptive mother’s personal financial records, even before she adopted him in 1981. His duties included the preparation of monthly reconciliations of her accounts at FirstBank. Curtin-Hill also had signature authority over many of her financial accounts. Christy Hill added Curtin-Hill to her FirstBank account in 1975 as a co-owner of the account and co-signer.
“She put full trust in him,” Bishop says. “It would have seemed that he had a pretty good life.”
Hill, formerly known as Blanche Hauserman while she was married to Vail pioneer Dick Hauserman in the 1960s, appeared several times on the cover of Life magazine in the 1940s. She later married Cortland Hill, a descendant of James Jerome Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railroad, and changed her name to Christy Hill. Cortland Hill died of cancer in the 1980s.
“She’s very wealthy, but I don’t know her net worth,” Steinberg said.
“She’s very smart and energetic.”
A source who asked to remain unnamed says Christy Hill, who never had children of her own, didn’t get along with her stepchildren from her marriage to Hill.
“I think she loved (Curtin-Hill),” the source says. “And she needed someone to take care of her.”
Michael Skuble, who used to work out with Curtin-Hill at the Vail Athletic Club, says he can see why Christy Hill adopted Jack Curtin-Hill.
“For all the good traits he had,” says Skuble, who has lived in the Vail Valley for 25 years. “He was a very nice and loving man, very low key. I was very surprised with what happened. His character in no way was revealing what was in his heart.”
The indictment says that while serving as his adoptive mother’s personal secretary and bookkeeper from Aug. 14, 1995 through Sept. 4, 1998, Curtin-Hill defrauded FirstBank of Vail, obtaining assets, securities and other property belonging to Hill under the custody and control of the bank.
The indictment also says Curtain-Hill forged Hill’s signature on stock certificates representing approximately 435 shares worth about $1.2 million. Approximately $919,000 of the more than $1 million in stock sale proceeds were allegedly diverted to other accounts under his control and used for his personal benefit.
James Wilkins, an assistant vice president with FirstBank in Vail said he couldn’t comment on the case because of customer confideniality and the legal situation.
“She was very, very hurt by what happened,” Gramshammer says. “She first got angry, and then hurt. She filed a lawsuit against him, but she dismissed it.”
In February 1999, Hill filed a lawsuit against her adoptive son, accusing him of stealing hundred of thousands of dollars. The lawsuit, also against FirstBank, was dismissed in October 1999.
“It would appear like he had a double life,” Bishop says. “That’s what I discovered.”
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.