Whether it’s the profile of a model catching the light, a note sung by a superstar or the broody turn of a Hollywood actor, it only takes one moment for a fan to become transfixed. From there, some become obsessed, focusing all of their time and energy to follow the career of a persona or artist they admire beyond what’s normal.
The same fervor struck Audrey Jean Knauer, a chemist who hailed from Louisville, Kentucky. She caught actor Charles Bronson in some of his well-known, wildly violent films of the 1970s. Of course, Knaeur never met the famous star, but she didn’t need to. Indeed, she became obsessed with him from his roles on the silver screen.
From there, things got even stranger – but Knauer’s family wouldn’t find out right away. When she died in 1997, though, her sister, Nancy Koeper, found out that her sibling’s fandom had gone far beyond the norm. It turned out that she had willed something shocking to her idol, Bronson, leaving Koeper and other relatives completely dumbfounded.
Meanwhile, it’s not unheard of for celebrities to receive… unexpected gifts from their fans. For her part, country singer Dolly Parton had a wild story to share with the Windy City Times in 2011. She recalled the year 1973, when she had finally started to make it big – at that time, her song “Jolene” had reached number one on the Billboard charts.
As Parton remembered it, she started getting “fans that were fanatical,” as she described them. That all came to a head when the singer came home one day to find a gift at her gate – a baby, to be precise. Parton recalled, “The note said, ‘My name is Jolene, my momma has left me here and she wants you to have me.’”
Upon finding the bundle of joy, Parton sprung into action. She said, “We immediately called Human Services and took care of the baby until they got there.” And she had no idea what happened to baby Jolene after that, adding, “We never did know or hear anything about it. I knew nothing else.”
Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas make up the pop rock band The Jonas Brothers, and they’ve also got a legion of dedicated fans. As such, they, too, have received an interesting gift from their followers. And, if it had still been alive, it would have been an incredibly dangerous present, at that.
A Jonas Brothers fan had gifted a baby shark to the trio. According to The Richest, Nick described, “It wasn’t a real big shark though. It was only a baby shark but they’d preserved it in this tube for us.” The singer then said what many would think in receiving such a strange gift, concluding, “That was odd.”
Similarly, heartthrob actor Zac Efron reportedly received a creepy present of his own from a fervent fan. Somehow, a follower of the star managed to hand over to him a bit of human skin. The movie star managed to figure out just what his present was and, according to The Things, he “was reportedly creeped out.”
Actor Tom Felton felt the same way when a fan approached him with a shocking, legally binding request. Felton garners much of his fame from his role in the Harry Potter film series, in which he played wizarding world bully Draco Malfoy. This gave one of Felton’s fans a very, very strange idea.
As Felton disclosed to Attitude magazine, the fan had legally changed his own name to Lucius Malfoy, the name of Draco’s father in the Harry Potter series. The fan then proposed that he legally adopt Felton, who would change his real name to his character’s. The actor declined the request, which he deemed “quite scary.”
Then, there was superfan Audrey Jean Knauer, who worked as a chemist in her native Kentucky. But she didn’t just have an interest in science. According to her sister, Nancy Koeper, Knaeur had an affinity for actor Charles Bronson, too. Koeper told the Associated Press in 1999, “She saw him as this avenging person who was generous and kind, kind of a father figure.”
Meanwhile, Bronson’s path to fame was just as unexpected as Knauer’s love for him. He came into the world as the 11th of 15 children born to Lithuanian parents. But by the time he turned ten, Bronson’s father had died. And six years later, the future actor would be working in the Pennsylvania coal mines, bringing home $1 per ton of coal he shoveled.
Like many other young men of the era, Bronson heeded the draft and joined the Army to fight in World War II. He made it home safely and continued to pursue a string of odd jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, he found himself at work on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, where he met a troupe of actors – and that meeting would change his life.
At first, Bronson hoped to join the troupe as a painter, showing off his brush-based skills in order to get a job. Eventually, the actors allowed him to get on stage with them – and Bronson realized that he liked that more than being behind the scenes. Indeed, by 1949 he was in California taking acting lessons in pursuit of a new dream.
In 1951 Bronson had his first film role in You’re in the Navy Now, a flick that starred Gary Cooper. Interestingly, the former coal miner got also the job in a surprisingly funny way. He said he proved to be the only auditioner who could burp on demand, which helped him land the small part.
In fact, the 1950s saw Bronson in a string of similarly low-budget movies. These included Machine Gun Kelly, a film that its team put together in a shocking eight days. The movie resonated with at least one person – actor Alain Delon, who, many years on, remembered Bronson’s acting and invited him to France to star in Adieu, l’Ami.
Nabbing a role in the French film proved pivotal for Bronson’s career. Not only did it delight audiences across Europe, but it gained the actor a huge following there, too. Indeed, many critics lauded Bronson’s work – even in less-than-stellar films, his acting held up. Still, he had a hard time breaking into Hollywood pictures.
Another French film would allow Bronson to finally do just that. In 1969 he starred in the thriller Rider on the Rain, and his acting proved one thing to be true – casting directors had overlooked the seasoned actor’s talent. New York Magazine writer Judith Crist described Bronson’s turn in the movie at the time as “wonderfully menacing and tough.”
From there on out, Bronson held onto the title of tough guy as he starred in what The New York Times described as “Hollywood’s most violent films of the 1970s,” Death Wish. In the 1974 flick, Bronson plays a husband and father who seeks revenge on New York City muggers after his wife’s murder and daughter’s rape.
Bronson corroborated his on-screen characterization by acting like a tough guy in interviews, too. Nevertheless, the actor struggled with the way he continued to be typecast. Behind the scenes, he spent his time painting, with his wife, Jill Ireland and their seven children. Those who knew Bronson thought of him as someone gentle and charismatic.
Still, roles in movies like Death Wish defined Bronson’s career. Critics wondered if it glorified revenge and violence, but fans flocked to the film, making Bronson a star on both sides of the Atlantic. And one such fan was Knauer, who became obsessed with the star because of his Hollywood persona.
In fact, Knaeur’s sister, Koeper, told the Associated Press that the chemist would often visit the Louisville Free Public Library. There, she’d use the public resources to find out as much as she could about Bronson. She even squirreled away newspaper clippings and any photos of the actor that she could find.
Library director Craig Buthod told the New York Post in 1999 that Knauer didn’t have much of a rapport with him or any other members of staff. They just knew her from checking books out of their stock. Still, Buthod and Knauer did have one thing in common. He said, “I’m a fan [of Bronson’s] from way back,” he said.
Knauer and Buthod never had a friendship, nor did the Kentucky woman ever meet Bronson. Still, the latter’s acting work seemed to make quite an impression on the chemist, who passed away in 1997. Prior to her death, Knauer had a formal will created in 1977. And this left all of her assets to her family.
So, when Knauer passed two decades later, Koeper and the rest of her family expected to receive what she had long ago willed to them. They believed her assets to be valued at around $20,000. Then, they learned that she had penned a second will just before her death – and they were left stunned.
It appeared as though Knauer had scratched her updated will onto a list of emergency contact numbers before she died in 1997. According to the New York Post in 1999, she wrote, “Under no circumstances is my mother, Helen, to inherit anything from me – blood, body parts, financial assets, etc.”
Then came the unexpected part of Knauer’s last request. She scribbled, “I bequeath to Charles Bronson… and what he doesn’t want can pass [through] the Louisville Free Public Library.” This stunned her family, as did the realization of just how much Knauer was worth at the time of her passing.
It turned out that Knaeur had much more to her name than the $20,000 as estimated by her family. The chemist’s estate had a total value of $300,000, all of which would go to Bronson, so long as her handwritten note hold up in court. Unsurprisingly, her sister, Koeper, contested such an interpretation.
Koeper told the Associated Press, “This is a few really, kind of like hysterical lines scribbled, scratched on top of a phone list.” Indeed, Koeper also revealed that her deceased sister had struggled with mental health issues. This, it was claimed, rendered her handwritten will null and void – and a legal source agreed.
Ed Schoenbaechler, the lawyer hired to represent Koeper, said that Knaeur’s original 1977 will carried more weight than the one she quickly penned later. The old one, he said, was “much more authentic” because “it was witnessed.” So Koeper filed a lawsuit to try and get the inheritance she thought she deserved.
By early 1999 Koeper had lodged her complaint in the courts in order to stop Bronson from receiving any more of her sister’s assets. In the documents, AP reported, Koeper alleged that her sister had “evidenced an inappropriate and unnatural obsession with Bronson… amounting to monomania,” which occurs when a person becomes pathologically fixated on one particular thing.
At the point that Koeper had filed her claim, Bronson had supposedly received about half of the $300,000. The actor reportedly planned to give at least some of the cash to charity, according to his spokeswoman. And this news delighted the Louisville Free Public Library’s staff, including director Buthod.
Buthod told the New York Post in 1999 that $300,000 would be “the third-largest bequest in the last decade and in the top 12 in our history.” And the money would go a long way for the library. Just before the new millennium, that amount of cash, Buthod added, could buy enough books “to stock a small branch library.”
“Or, it’s enough to keep our summer reading program going through the years,” Buthod added. As such, the Louisville library had actually reached out to Bronson themselves at that point. Indeed, the organization knew that, if the actor didn’t want the money, Knauer’s will had left it all to them.
But Koeper didn’t see how Buthod and the rest of the librarians could claim the cash without considering her first. She told AP, “I can’t imagine a public library wanting to keep me, her sister, who’s in need of the money, from having it. I can’t help but sit here and think this could have taken care of me.”
With that, Koeper got her legal claim together so that she could reclaim the cash she needed. However, she’d never plead her case. By April of 1999 Bronson had made a move of his own. He decided to settle out of court with Koeper and the rest of Knaeur’s family for an undisclosed amount of money.
In the deal, Bronson allegedly promised to hand over an additional $10,000 to the Louisville Free Public Library, since the organization had also been written into Knauer’s will. According to Empire magazine, though, the library declined the donation. Apparently, it received nothing from the will in the end.
By the time that Bronson went through this legal struggle, the actor had said goodbye to his acting career. He retired in 1998 at 76 years old, just after having hip-replacement surgery. As he got into his late 70s and early 80s, Bronson’s health slid into decline. He died on August 30, 2003, seven years after the will-related debacle.
The Guardian’s Clancy Sigal remembered Bronson in a 2003 obituary. He wrote, “The way he looked, and his Scooptown-accented diction, brought a credibility, at times even a bleak grandeur, to his best roles that most of today’s young actors can only pretend to.” Fans could only agree with such kind words about the star, so beloved by one particular woman that he almost raked in her entire willed fortune.