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Jackie Levitz officially declared dead in Fla.

[02/23/01] DELRAY BEACH, Fla. Millionaire Jacqueline Levitz, a furniture store heiress who disappeared from her Vicksburg home in 1995, has been officially declared dead, according to a Florida newspaper.

Levitz was discovered missing Nov. 20, 1995, after family members found the door open to her red brick home overlooking the Mississippi River off Warrenton Road. Inside, there were signs of a struggle broken fingernails, blood on the floor and on a mattress that had been flipped to hide the stains.

The 62-year-old Levitz had moved to Vicksburg five weeks earlier, leaving behind her glamorous life as a socialite in Palm Beach, Fla., to be closer to her family in Northeast Louisiana.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said the new development would not affect his department.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the criminal part of the investigation,” Pace said. “The declaration of death by the Florida court is a civil procedure to facilitate the handling of her estate.”

He said that since there was not enough evidence at the time of her disappearance nor since then to say that a death occurred from a criminal standpoint, it is still, technically, a missing person case and that it remains open.

“As recently as last week we followed up some new leads that, unfortunately, did not pan out,” Pace said.

The Palm Beach Post reported Thursday that at the request of Levitz’ sister, Tiki Shivers, a Palm Beach County Circuit judge declared her dead as of Nov. 18.

“I wouldn’t say there was complete lack of hope, but as each year passed by, realistically, the family recognized that she’s probably not alive,” the family’s lawyer, Robert Marschall, said Wednesday.

Police and the FBI has no leads in Levitz’s disappearance, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Under Florida state law, survivors may file for such a ruling five years after someone’s disappearance, and the order means the family may now begin distributing Levitz’s estate, which had been reported at $4 million.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Gary Vonhof also named Shivers, and Levitz’s son from a previous marriage, Walter W. Bolton III, as representatives.

Shivers had fought an effort in 1997 by Northern Trust Bank of Florida to declare her sister dead so her assets could be divided among Ralph Levitz’s grandchildren. The bank oversees a trust fund Ralph Levitz set up for Jacqueline Levitz.

“It was really hard to turn loose at that time,” Shivers told the Palm Beach newspaper Wednesday. “We’ve reconciled ourselves to the fact that she’s not coming back, so let’s move on.”

Levitz’s will, filed in 1988, and a supplement filed in October 1993, listed among her personal items a Rolls-Royce, 25-carat and 10.3-carat diamond rings, and three fur coats.

Marschall said some of her items were already gone by the time Levitz disappeared but would not give details or provide the value of the listed items.

Marschall could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Jacqueline Levitz’s estate includes the trust fund and property in Florida, California, Maryland and Louisiana. In Vicksburg, the Riverwood Place home was sold by the family in November, the Palm Beach Post says.