Widower fights late partner`s relatives for ownership of West Village brownstone

WEST VILLAGE, Manhattan – It was love that endured. Tom Doyle and his partner Bill Conwell called 69 Horatio St. home for 54 years.

"My life as I'm living here it almost seems as if Bill is still here," Doyle said.

Two years ago, at the age of 88, Cornwell died.

"They were deeply a couple," neighbor Liz Meryman said. "They were deeply invested in their lives together."

Doyle said he is still in denial over Bill's death.

Cornwell left all of his belongings including his West Village townhouse to Doyle. But the will was signed by just one person, not two, which is required by New York State law. And while they purchased rings six months before Cornwell's death. The couple never married.

"They lived as husband and husband before hay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court or legalized in New York," Arthur Scwartz, Cornwell's lawyer said. "But they lived as a married couple would live."

And now Cornwell's nieces and nephews claim they should inherit the building. They are trying to sell it for $7 million, which could leave the 84-year-old Doyle with no place to go.

"I'm disappointed in the fact that another human being would take advantage of a situation and an individual at a time like this," Doyle said.

Doyle's neighbor and Scwartz have taken the case pro bono through his public interest law foundation, Advocates for Justice.

"The first move we are going to get in court is to get an injunction against any sale and I think that a court will grant that so as to not pull the rug out of Doyle's feet," Scwartz said.

Cornwell's relatives did not offer Doyle a deal to live here for the next five years, plus $250,000 in cash. But longtime neighbors hope Doyle wins his case in surrogates court.

"It's a terrible story for a wonderful man, a wonderful couple who have been part of the neighborhood forever," Meryman said.