ST. LOUIS — When Black Lives Matter protesters marched up Kingshighway on June 28 and turned through an iron gate into the magnificent private street of Portland Place, they encountered a couple who have for years, nearly constantly, sued other people and ordered people off their property.
Personal-injury attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey became instant national figures when they intercepted protesters marching past their marble-faced palazzo at One Portland Place, aimed guns at them and demanded they get out.
Americans saw the story they wanted to see. Some saw respected professionals fearing for their safety, reasonably exercising their Second Amendment rights to defend their home from violent trespassers. Others saw an overwrought, older affluent couple, recklessly pointing their weapons and asserting their white privilege.
But public records and interviews reveal a fuller picture than emerged two weeks ago. They show the McCloskeys are almost always in conflict with others, typically over control of private property, what people can do on that property, and whose job it is to make sure they do it.
They filed a lawsuit in 1988 to obtain their house, a castle built for Adolphus Busch’s daughter and her husband during St. Louis’ brief run as a world-class city in the early 20th century. At the McCloskeys’ property in Franklin County, they have sued neighbors for making changes to a gravel road and twice in just over two years evicted tenants from a modular home on their property.
Mark McCloskey sued a former employer for wrongful termination and his sister, father and his father’s caretaker for defamation.
The McCloskeys have filed at least two “quiet title” suits asserting squatter’s rights on land they’ve occupied openly and hostilely — their terms — and claimed as their own. In an ongoing suit against Portland Place trustees in 2017, the McCloskeys say they are entitled to a 1,143-square-foot triangle of lawn in front of property that is set aside as common ground in the neighborhood’s indenture.
It was that patch of green protesters saw when they filed through the gate. Mark McCloskey said in an affidavit that he has defended the patch before by pointing a gun at a neighbor who had tried to cut through it.
The McCloskeys have filed many other lawsuits. They sued a man who sold them a Maserati they claimed was supposed to come with a box of hard-to-find parts. In one trip to the courthouse in November 1996, Mark McCloskey filed two lawsuits, one against a dog breeder whom he said sold him a German shepherd without papers and the other against the Central West End Association for using a photo of their house in a brochure for a house tour after the McCloskeys had told them not to.
“I guess we were saving gas,” he would quip in a deposition in another case about why he filed two lawsuits at once.
Mark McCloskey has run off trustees trying to make repairs to the wall surrounding his property, insisting that he and his wife own it. In 2013, he destroyed bee hives placed just outside of the mansion’s northern wall by the neighboring Jewish Central Reform Congregation and left a note saying he did it, and if the mess wasn’t cleaned up quickly he would seek a restraining order and attorneys fees. The congregation had planned to harvest the honey and pick apples from trees on its property for Rosh Hashanah.
“The children were crying in school,” Rabbi Susan Talve said. “It was part of our curriculum.”
Moreover, the McCloskeys have constantly sought to force their neighborhood trustees to maintain the exclusivity of Portland Place, accusing them of selectively enforcing the written rules for living in the neighborhood, known as the trust agreement.
They filed a lawsuit in St. Louis circuit court to try to force the trustees to enforce the neighborhood rules as written. The McCloskeys dismissed the claim, but the judge would not let them refile an amended version because it “failed to allege a justiciable controversy.”
The McCloskeys appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court to try to make the judge allow them to refile their case, but the effort failed.
One of the rules prohibited unmarried people from living together. Several neighbors said it was because the McCloskeys didn’t want gay couples living on the block. The trustees voted to impeach Patricia McCloskey as a trustee in 1992 when she fought an effort to change the trust indenture, accusing her of being anti-gay.
Mark McCloskey clarified in a deposition much later that the trust agreement barred unmarried people living together, regardless of their sexuality.
“Certain people on Portland Place, for political reasons, wanted to make it a gay issue,” he said.
The former Portland Place trustee who was ordered off the trustee property said he had nothing good to say about the couple. “They’ve always been part of the problem, never part of the solution,” Robert Dolgin said.
Albert Watkins, a lawyer representing the couple, questioned the relevance of any story delving into the McCloskeys’ litigation history and asked the newspaper to submit written questions. The Post-Dispatch sent questions; Watkins didn’t answer them. Watkins invited a reporter to come to his office to view a document in which McCloskey discussed his litigation history but said a reporter could not have a copy nor take notes from it. Watkins later declined to allow a reporter to interview his clients under the newspaper’s condition that the interview be recorded.
Ownership and entitlement
By filing so many lawsuits, the McCloskeys opened a large window onto their values and ambitions. Their lawsuits center on obtaining land, keeping people off of it, and forcing people to follow rules or make good on agreements. Sometimes the suits are about collecting damages for harm done to them.
Mark McCloskey’s first taste of ownership may have been on his 20th birthday, in 1976. A card from his parents, Bruce and Lois “Carol” McCloskey, would much later become an exhibit in a lawsuit against his father and his father’s trust.
The card said: “You are now the sole & only owner of 5 acres of the Phelps County Farm. Papers to follow. This is on the river — Luck! Happy Birthday! Mom + Dad.”
He also got a small box of earth from the family’s 240-acre property to make it official.
His parents divorced in 1985. Bruce McCloskey never filed proper documents with Phelps County to transfer the title. When Mark McCloskey inquired with the Phelps County assessor in 1997, he got a letter indicating that what his father had filed was “not a legal conveyance of land.”
Mark McCloskey would not let real estate slip through his fingers again.
In a May 2019 deposition in his ongoing lawsuit against Portland Place trustees, he explained how he and his wife came to own their home: through a lawsuit.
The couple met when they were at Southern Methodist University law school. After graduating in 1985, his first job was with a law firm in Dallas. They moved back to St. Louis in 1986. He got a job at Thompson Mitchell, now known as Thompson Coburn.
He testified his mother obtained his childhood home in Country Life Acres in the divorce. He and his wife acquired it from her when she couldn’t afford to take care of it.
“When we first moved up to town, I drove Pattie through Portland and Westmoreland, and I said, ‘You know, any time you’d like to, we can flip the country house out at Country Life Acres and buy a big townhouse here,’” he testified. “And she said, ‘OK, let’s do it now.’”
Mark McCloskey said his tax lawyer at the Lewis Rice law firm told him One Portland Place had just been sold. “I said, ‘I don’t think it’s been sold. I would have heard about it.’”
The mansion had fallen into disrepair. The prior owner had heated it by using 48 kerosene heaters, according to a 2018 St. Louis Magazine feature that profiled the McCloskeys’ long and expensive restoration.
McCloskey testified they bid on the house and signed a deal that would give them “right of last look” at any other contracts. He got a call indicating they could buy the house if they got the cash together by the next morning, but then found out Lewis Rice had arranged to sell it to someone else.
“I get to my office at about 4 o’clock in the morning. Pattie and I draft a lawsuit and file it when the courthouse opens, the (temporary restraining order) to prevent the sale. We set up a table at wherever Lewis and Rice was in those days and served every partner on the way in and served the president of Boatmen’s Bank when he went to work the next day.”
They ended up settling with the other buyer for an undisclosed amount and bought One Portland Place for $595,000, according to city property records.
The afternoon he sued Lewis Rice, he said, he got called into the managing partner’s office at Thompson Mitchell. The partners were not happy he had sued Lewis Rice.
“He said, ‘We’re going to ask for your resignation,’” McCloskey recalled.
He filed a lawsuit against Thompson Mitchell for wrongful termination. One of the partners was Thomas Eagleton, a Democrat who had just returned to St. Louis after three terms in the U.S. Senate.
“I figured I’d sue him first,” McCloskey testified. “I thought it would be fun.”
But he said the courts “didn’t think much” of his claim. He dismissed the suit against Thompson Mitchell in 1990. A judge dismissed the Lewis Rice suit the following year for lack of prosecution.
The couple’s possession of their mansion was “a fun story,” he testified. “I tell it frequently, usually with … a little more detail and more humor.”
Mark McCloskey’s relationship with his family deteriorated. He would claim years later that his father, starting in 1989, “became obsessed” with the idea that his son had become wealthy by “swindling” the assets his mother got in the divorce. He says the idea was put there by his sister, Patricia Richards, of Virginia.
In 1994, Mark McCloskey wrote a letter to his father about his “niggardly attitude” toward the 5 acres in Phelps County he had promised in the birthday card.
“The property is essentially worthless, it just struck me as bizarre that you would deny the existence of such a gift …,” he wrote. “I spent several months of my life living out of a tent and building a log cabin there.”
His father largely wrote him out of the will in 2008, sparking a family feud that would last eight years.
In March 2013, in Phelps County, Mark McCloskey sued his father and his father’s trust over the gift. The birthday card and earth, he claimed, were sufficient title because they met the legal definition of “livery of seisin,” a ceremony performed in medieval England for the conveyance of land.
In 2016, a special judge ruled against him, writing that “Exhibit 1 attached to the petition is a birthday card, not a deed” and that it was too late to claim ownership of part of the farm. The archaic legal claim, the judge ruled “does not operate as a matter of law to transfer title to real property.”
Mark McCloskey filed a defamation case against his father and sister in 2011, dismissed it in 2012, and refiled it in 2013. By the time of the final filing, Bruce McCloskey was living in a memory care unit in Ballwin; he died in 2014.
Mark McCloskey said his sister had spread rumors that he had held their mother hostage on Portland Place, denied her medical care, made her sleep on an iron cot soaked in urine, and plied her with alcohol until she died. He also said she claimed he was connected to organized crime, had tried to arrange for a contract killing of his sister, and had stolen 42 pounds of gold from his father.
He claimed his elderly father believed these things because he had lost his faculties, and repeated the falsehoods in public, damaging his reputation. He claimed the will was based on “insane delusions” and his sister’s undue influence.
Patricia Richards declined to comment.
He made similar allegations against his father’s longtime caretaker in a separate defamation suit, which he later dismissed.
Weeks after Bruce McCloskey’s death, Patricia McCloskey sent a letter to the law firm handling his estate stating that any attempt to distribute the inheritance would likely be challenged in court.
Mark McCloskey dismissed the defamation case, but he sued his sister and his two brothers and their father’s trust again in 2016, accusing all of them of “tortious interference” for pressing their father to cut him out of an inheritance.
The siblings settled with their father’s trust paying Mark McCloskey $400,000, with all of them agreeing to drop all claims and never have contact with Mark McCloskey again.
Trouble on Portland
The lawsuit between the McCloskeys and the Portland trustees was the latest flare-up in a fight that has been going on almost since they moved in.
In 2002, the Portland Place Association sued to foreclose on the McCloskeys’ house because they were refusing to pay dues. Mark McCloskey would later say in a deposition that he and his wife had refused because the trustees “weren’t doing something, which was their obligation under the Trust Agreement.”
The lawyer questioning him asked: Was it possible the issue was the trustees were allowing a gay couple to live there?
Mark McCloskey said he didn’t know. “I know there has been an ongoing issue about the definition of single family in Missouri law, and that the (agreement) calling for exclusively single family residences wouldn’t allow, technically, unmarried heterosexual people to live on Portland Place. … I know that certain people on Portland Place, for political purposes, wanted to make it a gay issue.”
While taking a deposition of Portland Place trustee Daniel Ladenberger on Jan. 17, 2019, Mark McCloskey insisted it wasn’t up to trustees to decide what rules to enforce. Rules can’t be changed without 75% of the voters approving, he said.
“Do you recognize that part of the duty of a trustee is to protect the rights of the minority; to enforce the trust agreement even if a majority but less than 75% of the people would like to do away with those provisions … even if it’s only 26% of the people who wish to have a provision enforced?”
After the McCloskeys bought their home on Portland Place, they built a 10-foot wall closing it off from Kingshighway, replacing a wall that would have allowed people to come through. In 2004, Dolgin wrote the McCloskeys a letter noting it had come to the trustees’ attention that the McCloskeys had hired a contractor to do tuck pointing on the wall.
“No individual resident is authorized to do work on Portland Place property without the permission of the trustees,” Dolgin wrote.
Mark McCloskey responded that he would no more ask permission to perform work on the wall than he would on his house. “Before you glibly throw around such statements in the future, produce some authority to verify it or be prepared to spend Portland Place Association money in defending a suit for slander of title. This isn’t a game, and we aren’t children.”
Watkins, the lawyer representing the couple, is a friend of theirs and former neighbor who sued the Portland Place trustees in 2010 with a claim that he had tried to get them to take down a sick oak tree which later fell and damaged his property. Watkins lost and was ordered to pay the trustees court costs of $52,000.
A rocky road
The McCloskeys own a large property in Franklin County and have had conflicts with neighbors who access their homes by a gravel road cutting across the McCloskeys’ acreage.
In 2013, Mark McCloskey saw a gravel truck on the road preparing to “grade and ditch” the road, and the couple, without notice to their neighbors, sought and obtained a temporary restraining order against them in Franklin County circuit court.
One of the defendants produced records of an easement indicating they could use the road. A legal battle dragged on for nearly two years, with one of the neighbors racking up $70,000 in legal bills and $9,000 in surveying costs.
That neighbor asked for sanctions against the McCloskeys for “committing a fraud” with their claim. The case settled with all parties paying their own costs.
In 2019, the McCloskeys sued another neighbor with a squatter’s rights claim to 0.41 acres that were fenced off incorrectly and had been maintained by McCloskey and previous owners even though they did not have a legal title to it.
“The Parcel has been continuously possessed by the Plaintiffs and their predecessors in title for a period far in excess of 10 years and such possession has been, in fact, hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and continuous,” the McCloskeys claimed. The suit is pending.
The McCloskeys also evicted two tenants from a modular home on their property in a period of just over two years. The first, a single woman with three children and her boyfriend, had lived there six months in January 2018 when the McCloskeys filed for eviction, claiming one rent check had bounced. The woman moved out and did not appear in court, and the McCloskeys got a $6,247 default judgment against the couple, which included attorneys fees and rent for the remaining months of the lease.
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch, the tenant denied she had missed a rent payment. She said she had showed up in court for the eviction hearing and that Mark McCloskey told her she had no chance of winning, so she left. She said she had no idea she owed them that much.
The second tenant signed a lease for $950 per month last November, and failed to pay rent in April and May. The McCloskeys filed an eviction suit on May 12 and Mark McCloskey filed an affidavit stating that he was not barred by federal law from evicting someone during the COVID-19 pandemic because the unit was not part of a federal housing rental program.
The tenant did not appear in court. A judge gave her until July 1 to clear out, and the McCloskeys got an $8,299 judgment against her for attorneys fees and the remainder of the lease.
A ruined life
While that tenant was clearing out, the McCloskeys had their encounter with protesters. “My life has been ruined,” Mark McCloskey told CNN host Chris Cuomo two days later, as he defended his actions.
On June 28, about 200 protesters filled the Maryland-Kingshighway intersection, chanting, “This is what community looks like … this is what democracy looks like.”
The group moved south to Lindell Boulevard and filled the intersection for several more minutes. “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
The protest moved north on Kingshighway again. At Portland Place, protester Derk Brown’s live feed shows he is one of the first protesters to pass through the iron gate held open by protester Tory Russell.
Although the McCloskeys have displayed photos of a crumpled gate as evidence the protesters broke it down, the feed shows the gate is intact. It was not clear when it was damaged.
The first few protesters who enter the private neighborhood swerve away from the McCloskey house to walk in the street.
Immediately, Brown’s feed captures Mark McCloskey under a massive portico on the east side of his mansion. “Hey!” he can be heard shouting. “Private neighborhood! Get the hell out of my neighborhood!”
None of the protesters are on his property — even the disputed triangle.
Brown zooms in on McCloskey, who is wearing a pink Brooks Brothers polo shirt, and narrates: “Y’all see? On my live feed … he got his rifle.”
Mark McCloskey shouts, “Get out! Get out! Get out! Private property!”
A chant builds: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Moments later, Patricia McCloskey can be seen in her front yard in her bare feet with a silver handgun, waving it at the protesters.
“We’re gonna move, calm down!” someone yells.
“Put that gun away,” someone else yells.
She comes closer to Brown, pointing the gun left and right. “Go!” she yells. “Go!”
One of the protesters yells, “We got kids in here! We got children!”
A chant builds: “Eat the rich!” She keeps pointing the gun.
“Why are you threatening?” someone asks.
“You need to calm down!” someone else says.
“Put your goddamn gun down!” someone yells.
“You’re a coward, bitch!” a woman yells.
“Nobody wants to hurt you,” another woman yells.
About 13 minutes go by with the McCloskeys on their front lawn in bare feet and protesters mocking them or asking them why they are threatening them with weapons.
The protest moves on to its destination: Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house.
Patricia McCloskey would later tell Fox News host Sean Hannity that protesters said “they were going to kill us … going to burn down the house, that they were going to be living in our house after I was dead. They pointed to different rooms and said that’s gonna be my bedroom, that’s gonna to be the living room and I’m gonna be taking a shower in that room ….”
Mark McCloskey said the flyer for the “riot” suggested that in addition to marching to Krewson’s house, marchers were planning “a special surprise — something extra.”
“That something extra was us,” Mark McCloskey said.
Joel Currier of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Attorney for Portland Place couple turns handgun over to police