By Katie Honan
ROCKAWAY PARK — Leslie Mahoney got the call some time in November 2011 from her friend, Karen Mary Connors, who everybody called “KC.”
Connors had been sick with cancer and was headed to the hospital, but it wasn’t serious, she told Mahoney. They chatted briefly, talking about the upcoming holidays until Connors said she had to go.
“Her last words to me were, ‘here’s my ride,'” Mahoney, 67, who lives in Belle Harbor, said. Mahoney never heard from Connors again, and assumed she had moved down to her house in Miami Beach — where Connors had always joked she’d go if she was sick because at least it was warm.
But Connors — an eccentric, funny woman who would often split time between Rockaway and Florida — died Nov 18, 2011 inside Peninsula Hospital Center, which closed soon after her death, according to city records.
Although Connors had considerable assets, she didn’t have any heirs, and she was buried on the city’s Potter’s Field on Hart Island, plot #354.
But prosecutors said her death remained a mystery to her neighbors for years — in large part due to the scheming of Donata Rea, 53, who the Queens District Attorney’s office says siphoned approximately $1.3 million from Connors’ estate by pretending Connors was still very much alive.
Not everyone believed her, including Tina Lopez, who — in the narrow degrees of separation that tie together nearly everyone who lives in Rockaway — signed an agreement with Rea to rent an apartment at 178 Beach 120th St. in December 2013 that, unbeknownst to her, actually belonged to Connors.
Lopez had been living in that apartment with her two daughters for about a month when Connors’ old friend, Mahoney, came by for a visit. Lopez had known Connors years before from their work in real estate — but she hadn’t known where she lived.
Mahoney said the minute “I went to that house and saw Tina was there, I knew something was wrong.”
But when they asked Rea, who also goes by Donna, where to find Connors, Rea told them she was taking care of her at a nursing home in Florida, they said.
“Everyone spoke to Donna. Donna said, ‘she’s in a nursing home in Florida,'” Lopez said.
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