Little princess

Jeremiah Heaton, who has three children, recently trekked across the Egyptian desert to a small, mountainous region between Egypt and Sudan called Bir Tawil. The area, about 800 square miles, is claimed by neither Sudan nor Egypt, the result of land disputes dating back more than 100 years. Since then, there have been several online claimants to the property, but Heaton believes his physical journey to the site, where he planted a flag designed by his children, means he rightfully can claim it.

And call his 7-year-old daughter Princess Emily, the fulfillment of a promise he made months earlier. “Over the winter, Emily and I were playing, and she has a fixation on princesses. She asked me, in all seriousness, if she’d be a real princess someday,” Heaton said. “And I said she would.” He said he started researching what it would take for him to become a king, so Emily could be a princess.

As it turns out, Bir Tawil is among the last pieces of unclaimed land on earth. Heaton, who works in the mining industry and unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012, got permission from the Egyptian government to travel through the country to the Bir Tawil region.

“It’s beautiful there,” Heaton said. “It’s an arid desert in Northeastern Africa. Bedouins roam the area; the population is actually zero.” In June, he took the 14-hour caravan journey through the desert, in time to plant the flag of the Heaton kingdom — blue with the seal and stars representing members of the family — in Bir Tawil soil.

When Heaton got home, he and his wife, Kelly, got their daughter a princess crown, and asked family members to address her as Princess Emily. “It’s cool,” said Emily, who sleeps in a custom-made castle bed fit for royalty. She added that as princess she wants to make sure children in the region have food. “That’s definitely a concern in that part of the world,” Heaton said. “We discussed what we could do as a nation to help.”

Heaton named the land the Kingdom of North Sudan, after consulting with his children. “I do intend to pursue formal recognition with African nations,” Heaton said, adding that getting Sudan and Egypt to recognize the kingdom would be the first step. That’s basically what will have to happen for Heaton to have any legal claim to sovereignty, said Shelia Carapico, professor of political science and international studies at the University of Richmond.

She said it’s not plausible for someone to plant a flag and say they have political control over the land without legal recognition from neighboring countries, the United Nations or other groups. In addition, she said, it’s not known whether people have ownership of the land, regardless of whether the property is part of a political nation.

“I feel confident in the claim we’ve made,” Heaton said. “That’s the exact same process that has been done for thousands of years. The exception is this nation was claimed for love.” Heaton said his children, Emily, Justin and Caleb, will be the drivers for what happens with the new nation. “If we can turn North Sudan into an agricultural hub for the area … a lot of technology has gone into agriculture and water,” he said. “These are the things [the kids] are concerned with.”

Heaton has ordered letterhead with the country’s seal and one of his sons created a serving tray at camp with the flag on it. “They are really getting into the idea,” Heaton said of his children. “I think the idea of a nation with a clear purpose of helping other people … I think that’ll be well-received and we’ll get recognition from other nations to partner with.”

But the main intent, he said, was to show his daughter that he would follow through on the promise he made. “I think there’s a lot of love in the world,” Heaton said. “I want my children to know I will do absolutely anything for them.”


Millionaire lived like a hermit

George Konnight lived like a hermit when he could have lived like a millionaire.

Ramapo police Tuesday identified the 79-year-old man found dead outside his rural house as Konnight, who had lived alone since his sister’s recent death on what once was the family farm.

Despite having few possessions and a home with no indoor plumbing or heating, Konnight had banked $3 million from the sale of about 31.5 acres of his family’s property in northern Ramapo to a New Jersey company, JIEM Properties, in November. His sister, Alice, was listed as the seller.

Konnight’s skeletal remains were found at 11:52 a.m. Friday in the woods on his property off West Maple Avenue near Smolley Drive and Viola Park, Ramapo Detective Lt. Mark Emma said.

“He lived a very simple life, hermit-like,” Emma said. “He had his attorney and another man looking in on him now and again. He was alone.”

The Rockland Medical Examiner’s Office is doing an autopsy to determine Konnight’s cause of death, but it is not considered suspicious. Emma theorized he most likely died of a medical condition as he walked the property. He said Konnight often walked through the woods to the road, and sometimes traveled by taxi.

“He’d wander through the paths and woods,” Emma said. “It looks like he cut his own firewood. He had one light. The house was in disarray. People could have thought the house may have been abandoned.”

Thomas O’Connell, a Pearl River-based lawyer who worked with the family on and off for the last 15 years, said the family had owned as many as 200 acres of land in the area. He said Konnight and his sisters, Alice and Anna, lived in the home since childhood and had never held real jobs. They lived “off the grid,” periodically selling portions of the property to stay afloat — just as their parents had done, O’Connell said.

Though they had no true expenses, the most recent sale was made, in large part, to pay off more than $130,000 in taxes owed on the property, O’Connell said.

“They wanted to stay where they were because they enjoyed their bucolic lifestyle, being isolated and surrounded by trees with deer running through the yard,” O’Connell said, later adding, “Their only overhead was taxes. They didn’t have a lawyer helping them out. They didn’t want to get involved with the government. They just couldn’t keep up with the taxes.”

O’Connell said he had tried to get Konnight a reverse mortgage, but ran into trouble because the home lacked both plumbing and heating. He was, however, able to get Konnight a cellphone and health insurance, which had recently led the 79-year-old to his first doctor’s visit in decades.

“The guy had everything to live for. Under the Affordable Care Act, he was able to get insurance so I had just gotten him an insurance card,” O’Connell said. “He had just gotten a clean bill of health. I brought him to the doctor in May for the first time since he was 12 years old and had his tonsils taken out.”

O’Connell said Konnight had never been to a dentist and that authorities would have had trouble identifying him with dental records. He said police did not allow him to see Konnight’s remains, but showed him a picture of a cane found at the scene that he believes belonged to the man.

Eugene Erickson, 82, a neighbor since 1956 who had gone to school with Konnight and one of his two sisters, said he knew the family but they didn’t socialize or speak much. Konnight and his siblings attended the old Brick Church School.

“They lived like recluses,” Erickson said. “Nobody knew them. They lived by themselves. I’d say hello to George and maybe got a wave. You never got much in return as far as answers from him.”

Erickson, who is active with Rockland Detachment Marine Corps League, said Konnight’s brother served with the Marines but died in a car accident on Route 202 while home on leave in the early 1960s. O’Connell said Konnight’s sisters had both died in the last two years after suffering heart attacks.

Erickson said he also remembers Konnight’s parents — Sam and Anna — and how the father would drive a gas-guzzling tractor into Spring Valley.

Konnight and his sisters were tight-lipped when it came to family members, recalled Beverly Moore, 75, a Suffern resident who said she’s a distant cousin.

Moore said the families date to the American Revolution. She said she hadn’t seen Konnight or his siblings since a funeral of her grandfather in 1973; she did not know the two sisters had died or that George had died on Friday.

“They ran a farm,” Moore said. “They kept to themselves. They didn’t ask anyone for anything, as far as I know.”

Moore recalled visiting the Konnight farm as a girl. Her parents would drive up West Maple Avenue to the two pillars in front of the road leading to the house. The house was far off the road back in the woods and there always were props or tree limbs blocking the dirt road, she said.

“You’d scream for them to let them know you were there and they’d come out on the porch, sometimes,” she recalled. “We never made it to the house.”

“They didn’t have many friends or even a telephone,” Moore said. “I used to get calls asking about them. I told the caller they had to mail them a letter.”