Preston Heard

At first glance, Preston Heard appears to have little in common with Larry Specht.

The young Dunwoody attorney dresses in Polo shirts. Specht’s attire is blue collar, his Southern drawl more distinct.

But the two men have an important connection, one that could become part of a case to stop plans to build a house on land that also contains a family cemetery. Both men say they are direct descendants of the Confederate veteran buried there, Judge John Heard.

Specht and Preston Heard say they have an interest in making sure the cemetery’s new owner, Christopher Mills, doesn’t succeed in his lawsuit against the city of Sandy Springs. Mills, a local real estate lawyer, sued the city because it denied his application for a building permit because of the cemetery at the end of Heards Drive.

Mills has declined to comment on his pending lawsuit.

Preston Heard says he is contemplating his next move. He has been contacted by attorney Wright Mitchell, who is currently representing Specht, regarding possible legal action. Before he does anything, he says he needs to talk with his four siblings.

“I do think it’s at least curious that this guy would want to build on land against the clear wishes of the neighbors. That means more to me than the family heritage aspect,” Preston Heard said. “I don’t know if that’s how my siblings and family would feel.”

In addition to his three sisters and brother, Preston also has two children. Preston says he is the great great grandson of Judge John Heard. His father, Paul Heard Jr., was minority leader in the state House from 1991 to 1992 and ran in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1994.

Neighbors trying to save the cemetery are scouring genealogy websites to find other Heard descendants. Heard, who was married twice, had 23 children.

The neighbors and Mitchell believe finding more descendants is important to their case. When Judge Heard deeded the cemetery in 1900, he said its sole purpose was as a cemetery for his family and his heirs.

Mills acquired the property because his in-laws, Wanda and Henry Cline, obtained it from a Heard descendant with the intent of saving the property as a cemetery. The Clines paid back taxes on the property to a company that purchased the tax deed. The sale of the property for back taxes may have been a mistake made by Fulton County. Cemeteries are exempt from property taxes.

In his lawsuit, Mills said that in 2007, Mary Ann Elsner, another Heard heir, legally transferred the property to his in-laws, who then sold it to Mills. Mills said in the lawsuit he can build on the property because it was sold outside the Heard family.

Mary Ann Elsner, listed as Mary Ellis in most of the older records, signed legal documents claiming to be the sole surviving heir of Carl Heard Jr., her brother, who was a descendant of Judge John Heard.

But public records indicate that not everyone was sure she was the only heir. Click here to read a recent Sandy Springs Reporter investigation into the case.

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of