For the 14th Christmas morning in a row, H. Beatty Chadwick will wake up behind bars on Thursday.

The former Main Line lawyer has spent nearly 14 years in the Delaware County jail for contempt of court - a U.S. record for time served on that charge.

Neither the passage of time nor a battle with cancer has won sympathy for Chadwick from judges who believe he hid $2.5 million after his wife began divorce proceedings against him.

After a hearing yesterday, Delaware County Court President Judge Joseph P. Cronin Jr. turned down Chadwick's latest request for Christmas furlough, declaring him "a significant risk of flight."

Had the court let him out for Christmas, Chadwick could have cut off his electronic-monitoring bracelet and used his money and contacts to fly off in a helicopter, his ex-wife's attorney, Albert Momjian, said.

"He is a devious person," Momjian contended.

Chadwick's lawyer, Michael J. Malloy, who said he had worked for Chadwick free of charge for the last few years, said the idea of a helicopter's waiting to whisk his client off was ludicrous.

"At this point, everything about this case is irrational," Malloy said in an interview.

"We're one step away from The X-Files at this point. . . . He's going to beam himself to another dimension."

The portrait of H. Beatty Chadwick depends on who is holding the brush.

To friends and supporters, Chadwick, 72, is a genteel and proud man stuck in jail without trial because his ex-wife wants money that doesn't exist.

But to his ex-wife, Barbara "Bobbie" Applegate, and the many judges who have heard his case, Chadwick is a stubborn and controlling man who would rather die in jail than give up a penny.

"He can get out tomorrow if he complies with the order," said Applegate, 54, now a painter in Bristol Mills, Maine. "If he dies in there, it is very sad for him."

Applegate, previously known as Barbara Jean Crowther Chadwick, met Chadwick when she was 21. Chadwick, then 39, was a successful lawyer with I.U. International Corp., parent company of two trucking agencies.

Applegate said she had doubts about the relationship but decided to stick with Chadwick when he told her he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"He said he had seven years to live," she said. "And I said, 'OK, I can't walk out on this guy.' "

They married in 1977 after a yearlong courtship.

Though Chadwick describes their 15-year marriage as placid and happy, Applegate said he controlled her life - from what she wore to when they had sex (7:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays) and how much toilet paper she could use (six sheets per visit).

Applegate even told a reporter for Philadelphia Magazine in 1994 that Chadwick pushed her down steps when she was pregnant, causing her to lose the child.

Chadwick, who has two sons from his first marriage, called the accusations lies. "That's terrible," he said of Applegate's contention of abuse. "She was never pregnant."

Applegate left Chadwick in September 1992. At a hearing in 1993, Chadwick told the court his money was gone.

Throughout his imprisonment, Chadwick's story has not changed. He says a bad overseas investment put him on the hook for $2.5 million, a figure equal to his family fortune.

He'd ponied up $5,000 in a real estate deal with a company called Maison Blanche Ltd., which had offices in Gibraltar. The agreement allowed the company to request up to $2.75 million from its investors if necessary. The call for that money came just before the judge was set to figure alimony payments for Applegate, Chadwick has insisted.

"I don't have the money," Chadwick said in an interview this month at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility.

"I can't change the facts that occurred, and maybe it sounded crazy at the time," he said. "Time really should mend those kind of things. And if they say maybe they didn't believe me at the time, wouldn't 14 years make a difference? It doesn't make any difference whether they believe me or not."

The court ordered Chadwick to put the $2.5 million into a court-controlled account. When he did not, Judge Joseph Labrum found him in contempt of court in November 1994.

"I didn't believe him then and I don't believe him now," said Labrum, who retired from the bench in 1995. "In my view, he has the keys to the kingdom. Let him use them and he gets out."

In April 1995, two sheriff's deputies arrested Chadwick at his dentist's office in Center City.

Chadwick first denied his identity, telling the deputies that his name was Johnson, according to the deputies' testimony. Then he scuffled with the deputies, punching them with closed fists and hitting one in the eye.

At a hearing after his arrest, Chadwick said he lied about his identity because he had heard that his wife wanted to kidnap him. He denied punching anyone and said the deputies slapped him and dragged him across the floor.

Four years ago, both parties decided to have a retired Delaware County judge, A. Leo Sereni, look for the money. After 15 months using two forensic accounting firms, Sereni's search came up blank.

He recommended that the court release Chadwick.

"I can't find it," said Sereni, who now lives in Florida. "Mr. Momjian, he's spent 10 years, he can't find it. It is plausible that he's hiding the money, and it is also possible that in his attempt to hide the money, he got fleeced himself."

Sereni added that the point of holding Chadwick was to compel him to produce the money: "The purpose of this court order is unworkable and fruitless."

A panel of three Delaware County judges dismissed Sereni's findings.

Despite his long imprisonment and the real possibility that he may die in jail, Chadwick showed no signs of despair in interviews.

"I go out there and tell him that we've lost," Malloy said. "He just accepts it."

Chadwick refuses to have pictures taken because he doesn't want to be seen in his blue prison garb.

"He doesn't even want the collar shown," Malloy said. "That's how you can tell it hurts him."

Chadwick said, "If I am to be remembered, I'd rather not be remembered in a convict's uniform."

His friends and family say they believe his story.

"If he had access to funds, he would have given them up by now," said William Chadwick, Chadwick's oldest son from a previous marriage. "I have no doubt."

Had he stolen the money or committed other more heinous crimes, he'd be out by now, supporters argue.

"If you kill your wife, you can get out after nine years," Philadelphia divorce lawyer Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin said. "What is Beatty's maximum? To me, it's an illegal sentence."

Chadwick finds solidarity with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

"My case is really not much different than theirs," he said in a recent interview. "In fact, they've been there only seven years, and I've been here almost twice that."

"The fact that somebody's in jail for 13 1/2 years without criminal charges without a trial is something that shouldn't be permitted in the United States."

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.