In 1986, a gentleman named Emanuel F. Wiggins-Hughes bought two rowhouses in North Philadelphia.
Six years later, Milford Pedigree Jenkins II snapped up a dilapidated building nearby.
They don't live there. In fact, they don't exist.
The names were made up by the real buyer of the properties: Willis W. Berry Jr., now a Philadelphia judge. In an interview, he said he had put the properties in other names because he wanted to hide his assets in case he was sued.
In 1995, a month after he was elected to the Court of Common Pleas, Berry amended the land records and moved the properties into his name.
"Milford Pedigree Jenkins III is now known as Willis W. Berry Jr.," reads one deed. (Berry apparently forgot that he had called himself Milford Pedigree Jenkins II the first time.)
"I figured I should be on the up and up," he said.
Real estate experts say what Berry did was wrong. Real estate law says a buyer must be a real person or a registered company.
"Just making up a name is not sufficient to pass title," said Georgette Chapman Phillips, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School and a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "The buyer has to exist, either through creation by the state, such as a corporation, or an actual person."
Using the phony names, Berry paid $14,500 for a building on West Venango Avenue, $3,000 for a run-down rowhouse on North 15th Street, and $1,500 for a dilapidated building on North Stiles Avenue.
Berry said he considered his transactions "straw" purchases. He said he had bought the properties while a struggling lawyer in private practice.
"I didn't have no malpractice insurance," he said. "Nobody sued me for nothing, [but] I was in private practice. We got by by the skin of our teeth."
Phillips said Berry's instinct was understandable but his method misguided.
While straw transactions are common, she said, "the problem is that the straw party didn't exist."
"I teach this," she said. "You don't want property in your name. You might get sued.
"But you form a corporation. You can't just make up a name."
Phillips also faulted the notary on the transfers.
"The reason that deeds are notarized is that we want to preserve the record for the benefit of the public," she said. "It's the seller's signature that is notarized. It's impossible for her to notarize a nonexistent person."
The deeds that transferred the properties from the fake names to Berry's name were notarized by Carolyn Walker. Walker, now known as Carolyn Fleming and working as Berry's legal secretary, did not return phone calls seeking comment.