When Gloria Barron went to a hospital's intensive care unit two years ago, she expected to see her husband who had suffered a massive heart attack.
What she found was another woman claiming to be Thomas Barron's wife, a son who thought Gloria Barron's presence upset the dying man and a hospital staff willing to let the son sort it all out.
And the makings of a $1-million lawsuit.
Gloria Barron, 53, of Anaheim claimed that she was emotionally damaged after the intensive care staffs of two hospitals refused to allow her to see her dying husband. Humana Hospital West Anaheim and Anaheim Memorial Hospital, which both treated Thomas Barron between July 17 and July 23, 1984, when he died at age 57, are defendants.
"All I could do was stand on the outside and look in," Barron said Wednesday. "It was terrifying and humiliating and degrading."
Negotiations to settle the case before trial were unsuccessful last week.
Thomas Barron died without a will, according to Gloria Barron's lawyer, Edi M.O. Faal.
"After he was admitted, all these women started showing up claiming they were his wife," said S. Henslee Smith, a lawyer who tried to arbitrate the dispute earlier this year.
"Family members showed up. They had this big group of people there and then in walks Gloria, who believes she's validly married to the guy," Smith said.
At both hospitals, Barron's eldest son, David, was placed in charge.
"I got the impression the situation was just uncontrollable, all these women claiming to be his wife, all wanting to visit him. The hospital appointed David the family spokesman, to keep them out of the squabbles and coordinate the visits."
Based on interviews with David and three "wives," Smith compiled a list of contenders:
- Gloria Barron, who participated in a marriage ceremony with Thomas Barron in Las Vegas in 1981.
In the suit, Faal, her lawyer, claimed that his client at one point brought her marriage certificate to one of the hospitals in an attempt to prove her status.
- Angie Orsuga, a partner of Thomas Barron in his auto repossession business in Los Angeles County, who claimed to be his "common-law wife," Smith said.
"As of about March of 1982, Thomas stopped spending the night with Angie, but he gave her a phone number where he could be reached," Smith said.
- Carol, whom Thomas married in 1960 in Las Vegas. They separated 10 years later, but no final divorce was granted until 1984, according to Smith.
Faal said Carol had five children by Thomas Barron, and they all came to the hospital.
- Smith said two other women, Rowena and Mildred, also claimed to be Thomas Barron's wives. David, who is not the son of any of these women, also "named about eight other women who showed up at the hospital as his (Thomas Barron's) girlfriends," Smith said,
"It's the wackiest case I ever heard in my life," he said.
"David said at the arbitration hearing that his father had so many girlfriends in his life that he could not begin to count them," Faal said.
With Angie as partner and son David as an employee, he ran a firm that repossessed automobiles called Autobar Enterprises in Los Angeles County. But Gloria Barron did not pursue any claims on the business.
"Gloria decided not to fight, since it would be expensive, and they said the partnership was in debt," Faal said. "All the books and records were in their hands."
Faal said there were "rumors" that Barron had mining interests in Canada, but Faal could find no evidence of the interests and concluded that Barron was not a wealthy man.
Smith said David claimed that when Gloria Barron was allowed to visit Thomas Barron early in his two-week hospital stay, he became agitated and would regress.
In the lawsuit, Gloria Barron alleged that employees of both hospitals "denied her access to her late husband" and at Humana, hospital personnel "mocked" her and told her "that she was not Thomas Barron's wife."
She had checked Thomas Barron into the hospital when he complained of chest pains, and she should have been accepted as the wife unless something was proved otherwise, Faal said.
Both hospitals deny any liability in the incident, according to the court file.
Gloria Barron said the "turmoil" of the experience was surfacing again with the trial tentatively set for early November in Orange County Superior Court.
"I couldn't go in and tell my husband what was going on," Gloria Barron said. "He was fighting for his life. He needed every chance he could get."
Asked about Thomas Barron's earlier marriage to Carol, Gloria Barron said, "All I know is I cared for him and we were very happy."