N.Y. socialite found dead in mansion

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. (USA TODAY)  -- Lois Colley, 83, wife of millionaire McDonald's franchise owner Eugene Colley, died from blunt force trauma to the head Monday afternoon at the couple's home, state police said.

Police said Colley's body was found by a caretaker in the laundry room of the home, part of the couple's 300-acre hilltop estate known as Windswept Farm.

Police have been in touch with Eugene Colley, who was not home at the time, and do not consider him a suspect, state police said. There was no sign of forced entry. All that appeared missing from the home was a small fire extinguisher, but police would not speculate whether that was used to kill Lois Colley.

Colley was known to have spoken with someone at about 3 p.m., narrowing the period of time when she was killed, police said.

The caretaker spotted her at about 5 p.m. and notified a relative of hers who called 911. A town police officer was the first to respond and Colley was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators have conducted numerous interviews and the caretaker is not considered a suspect, state police Lt. Paul DeQuarto said at a news conference in Hawthorne, N.Y.

"This is very early on in the fact-finding phase," said DeQuarto, who is with the state police's Bureau of Criminal Investigation. "We are using state and local resources in the investigation."

The property, which contains several houses and barns, is just down the road from town police headquarters. The buildings are set far back on the sprawling lot and are not visible from the road. A lone police officer in an SUV sat in front of the property's long driveway Tuesday morning.

It was the first homicide in the town in four years.

Colley was an active volunteer and socialite who was dedicated to her family. Her husband made his fortune building an empire of roughly 100 McDonald's restaurants. The couple contributed to numerous local causes, including the North Salem Open Land Foundation and the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

"They've been part of the North Salem community for a long time. They're a very close family," North Salem town historian Susan Thompson said, noting that Eugene Colley and the couple's four grown sons -- Bruce, 62, Bryan, 60, Cornelius, known as Neil, 55, and Dean -- ride horses and that Lois did as well.

The family made headlines in 2003 after Bruce Colley's affair with Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, led to the Cuomos' divorce.

The family is heavily involved in local fox hunting, and Lois Colley was a constant presence. "She goes to every hunting event," Thompson said. "It isn't a hunt without her there."

Thompson said she never heard anyone say an unkind word about Lois Colley, who also played golf and was a member of the Waccabuc Country Club.

Regarding the homicide investigation, Thompson said, "People are just stunned."

Before his rise in the McDonald's business, Eugene Colley, known as Gene, owned a bakery in Brewster, said Cynthia Curtis, chair of the North Salem Planning Board. Gene and Lois Colley lived in Brewster before buying Battery Farm in North Salem and then Windswept Farm.

Lois Colley was a longtime member of the Brewster-Carmel Garden Club.

The family business, The Colley Group, is based in Croton Falls. Neighbors and workers at other nearby businesses said they see Gene Colley walking to the office, and said that Lois Colley was "always very nice" when she passed them on the street.

The last homicide in North Salem was on June 2, 2011, when Epifanio Medina, a marijuana dealer, was abducted in Passaic, N.J.,  driven to the woods, robbed of jewelry and beaten to death. A Florida man was convicted of murder, and another man and a woman were convicted of lesser roles.

 


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