ATLANTA—As divorce records go, the files on Bob and Janis Ward are fairly mundane.
They show two young people with relatively little property to complicate the proceedings. She got the Ethan Allen bookcase and the 1972 Toyota. He kept the house and most of the furniture. They split the silverware.
"Defendant brings this complaint for divorce ... on the grounds of physical cruelty," her attorney wrote 32 years ago. "She is in fear of the plaintiff and asks that the plaintiff be restrained and enjoined from molesting or bringing harm to her."
Three decades later, those words echo in Central Florida.
James Robert Ward sits in the Orange County Jail, accused of shooting and killing his second wife, Diane Ward, 55.
The high-flying developer — a man who bought the Isleworth mansion once owned by Arnold Palmer — is being held without bail after calling 911 Monday night and telling a dispatcher, "I just shot my wife ... she's dead."
Investigators aren't saying exactly what they think happened inside the 8,800-square-foot home in one of Metro Orlando's most exclusive communities. Diane Ward was shot in the head, according to investigative reports. Deputies collected a .45-caliber gun from the home but have not said whether it is the gun used in the shooting. Ward suggested to deputies that his wife was trying to kill herself, according to Sheriff's Office documents.
Highflier is laid lowWhat's not in question is that Ward's life is unraveling in breathtaking fashion.
A few years ago, he was buying million-dollar homes and building an empire of high-end communities throughout the Southeast. He led one of Atlanta's 10 fastest-growing companies, calling the shots from the fifth floor of a glass-and-steel building nestled in a leafy suburb north of downtown.
Land Resource LLC, the company he founded in 1997, had increased revenue by almost 237 percent from 2003 to 2005, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Its staff had grown by almost 80percent, and twice its communities had been selected by HGTV as the site of its "Dream Home."
It was the height of the building boom, and, by all appearances, Ward, 61, was plenty comfortable riding the bubble.
"Bob's extensive experience and leadership," his company's Web site boasted, "continues to shape the diverse collection of property concepts that has made Land Resource one of the most successful master-planned community developers in the nation."
How it imploded depends on whom you ask. The lawyer representing Ward in a civil suit blames the housing crash. Elizabeth Green argues the credit freeze made it difficult for Ward's customers to get mortgages. With no mortgages, sales dried up. With no sales, the company lacked money to build the roads, water-treatment systems and power grids it had promised.
"What happened to the company," Green said last week, "is really the same story over and over."
But the bond company suing Ward says he had plenty of cash. Instead of using it to improve his properties, the plaintiffs contend, Ward funneled it to his family.
Court records say he poured money into trust funds for his two daughters. They allege the Wards paid off more than $2.5million in loans. And they say the couple bought at least 10 luxury cars, including a $140,000 Mercedes.
Bond Safeguard lawyers claim that during the spending spree, Ward knew "his various companies were beginning to fail."
Land Resource declared bankruptcy in 2008, a year after Ward moved his company to Orlando. At the time, he scolded reluctant lenders in an e-mail to TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution.