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Isleworth killing: First wife called Ward dangerous
As divorce records go, the files on Bob and Janis Ward are fairly mundane.
They show two young people with relatively little property to complicate the proceedings. She got the Ethan Allen bookcase and the 1972 Toyota. He kept the house and most of the furniture. They split the silverware.
It's routine stuff, with one jagged exception: a claim by Janis Ward, absent in later filings, that her husband was dangerous.
"Defendant brings this complaint for divorce ... on the grounds of physical cruelty," her attorney wrote 32 years ago. "She is in fear of the plaintiff and asks that the plaintiff be restrained and enjoined from molesting or bringing harm to her."
Three decades later, those words echo in Central Florida.
James Robert Ward sits in the Orange County Jail, accused of shooting and killing his second wife, Diane Ward, 55.
The high-flying developer — a man who bought the Isleworth mansion once owned by Arnold Palmer — is being held without bail after calling 911 Monday night and telling a dispatcher, "I just shot my wife ... she's dead."
Investigators aren't saying exactly what they think happened inside the 8,800-square-foot home in one of Metro Orlando's most exclusive communities. Diane Ward was shot in the head, according to investigative reports. Deputies collected a .45-caliber gun from the home but have not said whether it is the gun used in the shooting. Ward suggested to deputies that his wife was trying to kill herself, according to Sheriff's Office documents.
Highflier is laid lowWhat's not in question is that Ward's life is unraveling in breathtaking fashion.
A few years ago, he was buying million-dollar homes and building an empire of high-end communities throughout the Southeast. He led one of Atlanta's 10 fastest-growing companies, calling the shots from the fifth floor of a glass-and-steel building nestled in a leafy suburb north of downtown.
Land Resource LLC, the company he founded in 1997, had increased revenue by almost 237 percent from 2003 to 2005, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Its staff had grown by almost 80percent, and twice its communities had been selected by HGTV as the site of its "Dream Home."
It was the height of the building boom, and, by all appearances, Ward, 61, was plenty comfortable riding the bubble.
"Bob's extensive experience and leadership," his company's Web site boasted, "continues to shape the diverse collection of property concepts that has made Land Resource one of the most successful master-planned community developers in the nation."
How it imploded depends on whom you ask. The lawyer representing Ward in a civil suit blames the housing crash. Elizabeth Green argues the credit freeze made it difficult for Ward's customers to get mortgages. With no mortgages, sales dried up. With no sales, the company lacked money to build the roads, water-treatment systems and power grids it had promised.
"What happened to the company," Green said last week, "is really the same story over and over."
But the bond company suing Ward says he had plenty of cash. Instead of using it to improve his properties, the plaintiffs contend, Ward funneled it to his family.
Court records say he poured money into trust funds for his two daughters. They allege the Wards paid off more than $2.5million in loans. And they say the couple bought at least 10 luxury cars, including a $140,000 Mercedes.
Bond Safeguard lawyers claim that during the spending spree, Ward knew "his various companies were beginning to fail."
Land Resource declared bankruptcy in 2008, a year after Ward moved his company to Orlando. At the time, he scolded reluctant lenders in an e-mail to TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution.
"It just doesn't seem fair that the banks can put us into bankruptcy because of their failure to lend and then get a federal bailout," he wrote, "but then chase me personally and ruin a very good company."
'Sweet as anything'Many of the people who know Ward have been reluctant to say anything publicly about his former company or him. Privately, they describe Ward as smart, levelheaded, funny and a tough negotiator.
Diane Ward, said a longtime acquaintance, was "always as sweet as anything. Just very, very nice."
The Wards married in 1986 — his second marriage, her third in six years, according to public records. Diane had grown up in Rockledge, where her parents owned an Italian restaurant, and married her first husband right out of high school.
Bob and Diane raised two daughters. Mallory and Sarah grew up in suburban Atlanta, graduated from a prestigious prep school, The Galloway School, and enjoyed their family's growing financial status. Mallory attends The George Washington University in Washinton, D.C. Sarah Ward, a champion hunter/jumper horse rider, recently joined the University of South Carolina's equestrian team.
Acquaintances of the Wards said the parents maintained Sarah's expensive passion for horses.
In July, Robert Ward e-mailed an old girlfriend with news of Sarah's achievements, attaching an article Sarah had written for a national equestrian magazine.
"Kids are just great, aren't they?" Ward wrote. "I could not be more proud ... she consistently is the best in the country."
It was through Sarah that Ward got involved with Chastain Horse Park, a nonprofit equestrian center north of Atlanta that offers a therapeutic-riding program for children with physical and mental disabilities. Ward served as a board member the past two years, according to President Amy Lance.
"He's seen what it can do," Lance said. "He's been enormously enthusiastic about how it can help children."
Tumultuous pastThat doesn't surprise Dianne McClintock Callahan. She dated Ward for about five years in the 1980s and is one of the few people talking publicly about him.
She says he was a charming and generous man who wrestled with bouts of jealous rage and possessiveness — especially when he was drinking. She claims he once punched a hole in a wall because she was 30 minutes late for a party and, after they broke up, had her arrested for "stealing" a dog he had gotten her as a gift.
The two split up in 1984, she says, after he pointed a gun at her and hit her with a bedpost. In court papers, Ward denied that and said Callahan was the one hitting him.
Several months ago, Callahan had lunch with Ward after he found her through the Internet. She said he talked about his bankruptcy and claimed his wife was spending too much money. Another Atlanta acquaintance of his said she had heard similar complaints.
Callahan, who has talked with Orange County Sheriff's Office investigators, said Ward seemed genuinely remorseful about the way their relationship ended. But when she learned that Ward's first wife — who died in a car wreck 30 years ago — once accused him of "physical cruelty," she didn't flinch.
"So something happened with her, something happened with me and now the wife is dead," Callahan said. "Are you seeing a pattern here?"
Ward's defense lawyer, Kirk Kirkconnell, did not respond to several phone and e-mail messages.
The Ward case — the first homicide in Isleworth that sheriff's officials can remember — has stunned this enclave of the rich and, in some cases, famous. Shaquille O'Neal has a home there, as do Grant Hill, Tiger Woods and fellow pro golfers Mark O'Meara, Charles Howell III, Stuart Appleby and LPGA star Paula Creamer.
"I wouldn't exactly call it excitement," Woods told CBSsports.com when asked about the Isleworth shooting last week. Woods acknowledged he had met Bob Ward but would not elaborate.
Like TV crime dramaA less-famous Isleworth resident, Michael Flaskey, has not spoken publicly about the Wards. Flaskey was CEO of Land Resource when it filed for bankruptcy. He lives down the street from the Wards. Attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful. No one answered the door at his home Friday.
Nor did anyone answer at a two-story house registered to Diane Ward about 450miles away, in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs. But there was a sign of condolence.
Someone placed a bouquet of fresh roses in a vase on the front walkway.
Just beyond Isleworth's gates and its ever-heightened security, neighbors have found the case's mix of violence, wealth and financial collapse an intoxicating topic. Throw in a couple of good-looking actors and you have the ingredients of a TV crime drama.
"If this [death] was in MetroWest or some other place," retired Hidden Valley resident Jack O'Connor said, "it would never get this much attention."
Sarah Lundy, Bianca Prieto, Walter Pacheco, Susan Jacobson and Kevin P. Connolly of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Jim Stratton can be reached at 407-420-5379 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Anthony Colarossi can be reached at email@example.com or 352-742-5934.