A con man may have faked his own suicide.
Like much of the American South, the state of Tennessee is dotted with majestic estates. Ellen McClung Berry lived in one of them. Known as Berrymount, it was perched on a mountaintop outside Knoxville, a city founded by her great-great grandfather. Arthur Ballard was Ellen McClung Berry’s friend:
One of the people who came to the mountain back in 1978 was Dan Tondevold, a mysterious man who claimed to be from Denmark. He had corresponded with Ellen Berry for 15 years, but the true nature of their relationship was unclear. Sometimes, the 85-year-old Ellen said Tondevold was her godson. Other times, she said that he had been a friend of her late son, Hugh. Arthur Ballard said he didn’t completely trust him:
Marcia Robinson was Mrs. Berry’s former aide:
And it was a role that needed to be filled. Ellen Berry’s only child was her son, Hugh. At the age of 18, Hugh killed his grandmother in a rage over his inheritance. A judge ruled that Hugh Berry was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Rumor had it that Hugh was given a lobotomy and then sent to live in Mexico, where he died. When her husband passed away 27 years later, in February of 1978, Ellen was left all alone.
Almost too conveniently, the mysterious stranger from Denmark stepped in to fill the void in Ellen Berry’s life. Dan moved into her guesthouse and quickly took over the operation of her estate. Ellen signed anything Tondevold put in front of her. In fact, according to Arthur Ballard, in April of 1982, she granted him power of attorney:
In 1984, Dan talked Ellen into taking a winter vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. Before they left, he secretly placed a classified ad for a chauffeur. The ad requested only men who were single and asked that applicants submit a photograph.
At the end of their four months in Charleston, Ellen and Dan made plans to return home. She and a female companion would take a flight, while Tondevold drove the Mercedes back to Berrymount.
When they arrived home on March 31 st , 1985, there was no sign of the Mercedes, or of Dan Tondevold. The telephone and all the other utilities at Berrymount had been cut off. When she checked with her accountant, she learned that the bank was planning to foreclose on the house and that her checking and savings accounts had been drained. Seemingly over night, Ellen Berry was virtually bankrupt. Tondevold had even borrowed almost $85,000 against Berrymount. For the first time in her life, Ellen had a mortgage to pay. And for the first time in her life, she had no way to pay it.
Meanwhile, Tondevold was one hundred miles south of Charleston at an exclusive resort, living in high style on Fripp Island, South Carolina. After he ran up huge bills on Ellen Berry’s credit cards, he was told by the front desk that all the cards were over their limit.
The next day, a handwritten suicide note and will were found in his suite. Two weeks later, in a swampy, deserted area of Fripp Island, a man’s body was found. He had apparently shot himself in the left temple.
An antique gun, which belonged to Ellen Berry, was found a few inches from the body. The dead man carried no identification, but he did carry Ellen Berry’s credit cards. The body was partially decomposed, but the coroner brought in a resort security guard to identify it. He identified the man as Tondevold.
Tondevold’s death was ruled a suicide. The body was immediately cremated, just as he had requested in his will. But, according to Officer Dean Smith, the police aren’t sure that the man found in the swamp was Dan Tondevold:
Arthur Ballard is also suspicious:
A month after the cremation, Arthur Ballard found a copy of Tondevold’s classified ad for a chauffeur:
Ballard is convinced that Tondevold remained in South Carolina not to hire a chauffeur, but to find a victim:
The authorities still believed that Tondevold committed suicide. Yet, there was a shadow of doubt which sparked a disturbing theory. Curt Copeland is the coroner of Beaufort County, South Carolina:
No one really knew who Dan Tondevold was or where he came from. Then, a search of Ellen Berry’s papers turned up his resume. It listed his hometown as Las Vegas, Nevada.
A yearbook from Las Vegas High School proved, that in 1951, Dan Tondevold was a member of the senior class and president of the Thespian Club. The rumor that Dan Tondevold and Hugh Berry were the same person was finally put to rest.
Ellen McClung Berry lived out her final years in a small apartment near Knoxville. No one knows exactly how much money she lost to Dan Tondevold, but estimates run into the millions. Authorities believe he may have transferred the money to accounts in France or Denmark.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season four with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.SUBMIT A TIP
Was any DNA saved from the body found that could be tested now for identification? I am a cousin of his from his mother’s side of the family.
Are you kidding, the coroner Curt Copeland cremated him too quick to think about. I don’t know what they did with his ashes (and if you had them, would it be possible to get dna from them”, or his belongings. I know he didn’t pay the coroner off, but the hasty way this was handled blows my mind. He should have taken photos, and retrieved dna from the corpse. I mean a guard that caught a glance of him, you just can’t take that for the gospel truth when so much is at stake. Do you know how he became acquainted with Miss Berry, or why he didn’t have a SSN? Thanks for any help.
Well, what did to Ms Berry is despicable, but he probably also commited murder, which is worst. How was a security guard the one identifing him ? And then he was cremated? I mean, what about notifying next of kin? Is there people who have a missing person in their entourage that would fit that description?
Don’t they test dead bodies to identify them? I don’t understand why it’s a question of whether this dead body is Tondevold’s.
This guy had a long time to plan and work on his victim before making his move. It could be explained as a lonely old emotionally drained lady in need of companionship and he took over. What strikes you is two things. 1. His correspondence with her started not long after her sons disappearance or supposed death from pneumonia (although she thought it was suicide) his body was never returned to her. 2. It was said he looked very like her son, he may have changed a lot over the years, but I don’t believe the moment she looked in his eyes she would not have recognised her own son.
He’s never likely to be found. Today he would be 86 years old. He may not even be alive. Obviously this was not his real name or he’s managed to change it and lived a life as someone else, which he could do very easily with that kinda money.
Yes, I do believe that con man Daniel Tondevold faked his own death. The dead body was obviously (to me) that of a real person, as I seriously don’t think cops would waste their time investigating a life-sized doll. However, I believe the dead man in question was one of the guys who applied to be a chauffeur.
This all sounds very creepy, however I think the guy faked his own death and went about the process of assuming a new identity somewhere. Whether or not he is still alive today is a good question, but still I think he faked his own death to get away with this despicable crime. If he is still alive I hope he is eventually caught and made to answer for what he did to this poor lady.
I’m sure he has passed away since this happened. I was 23 when I worked there and I’m 55 now. I’m sure he went n to live a life of luxury with some young man. He had an affection for very young boys.
So the guy was a pedo. Go figure.
I need boots
I thought I saw the same person at a grocery store sur he looked like in his 50’s so maybe it isn’t him. They should make an age progression for him because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t look the same since his about 80.
If Mr. Daniel Tondevold is still living, he’s about 83 years old, which is almost as old as the lady, Miss. Ellen Berry, whose money & house he stole. Miss. Berry had to leave that beautiful house because of him. If Mr. Daniel still alive and well, then he should live the remainder of his life in jail, as he might’ve (not really sure) killed his look-alike “chauffeur”.
It is important that Dan Tondevold be found & in accordance with Sharia law eliminated.This would send a clear message doing this to an elderly woman or man to the degree he did makes this a crime that should justify the worst punishment imaginable instantly with no compassion.It is my sincere hope when he is found all evidence of his fate is erased from memory for the world to experience true closure.
I worked in a hotel he frequented in Charleston. He would stay several times a year and spend money like crazy, always bringing expensive gifts from the Polo store or Neiman-Marcus for the hotel staff and taking his local acquaintances out nightly to the most expensive restaurants and clubs. He would drive through town in the large beautiful brown mid-1960s Mercedes sedan, with the dog in the passenger seat hanging his head out the window. He just seemed like a charming, eccentric, wealthy man. He brought Ms. Berry and her companion to town and she was a nice old lady, but just before they left he cashed a couple large checks with us that bounced, and that was the last we heard until we found out about the alleged suicide while trying to contact someone in Tennessee about the checks.
I worked for Ms Berry while Dan lived in the guest house. This was 1983-85. So much went on during that time but it is as if it were yesterday. Dan did not commit suicide but he did commit murder. The man he killed was from Knoxville Tn. I saw him briefly one afternoon, when I returned from the local library. For those who are still following this, his dog was what I called a Winnie dog. His name was Lord Chippendale! Yes he would have killed his dog because his mind would have told him that nobody could or would love him as he did.
Dan is/was my great-uncle. I remembered hearing stories (not these of course) from my grandmother (Dona Tondevold) and my mother growing up. Then this aired. It completely changed the stories I had heard. Crazy!
I also worked for Ms. Berry and had the pleasure of meeting Dan Tondevold. Creepy is the least of it.
I would love to talk with you about working there. I’ve always lived in Strawberry Plains and been curious for years about the story. My aunts told me when I was young about Ellen and the story.