Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Better Late Than Never

I don't know how I missed this last week. From the Oregonian...

Police say Portland 'caretakers' abused developmentally delayed pair

by Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian
Thursday September 25, 2008, 11:01 PM

A Portland couple who offered to care for a developmentally delayed pair are now accused of defrauding the man and woman out of more than $50,000 in pension and Social Security payments while physically abusing them.

Police say the vulnerable couple, Charles and Tammy Whitworth, served as virtual indentured servants and endured nearly three years of financial, psychological and physical abuse, which included strangulation, assaults, and dog bites.

The Whitworths are free now and are home in Missouri, thanks in part to an alert Plaid Pantry clerk, as well as the strong collaboration of police and county investigators.

John Parmer, 21, a clerk at the Southeast 52nd Avenue and Holgate Boulevard convenience store, noticed a distraught woman with long gray hair using a pay phone out front one morning in late July.

"She had been crying," Parmer recalled. "I was keeping my eye on her."

The next morning, the woman returned. Again, she started crying while she was talking on the phone. He saw her put the receiver down and walk into his store. Through tears, she asked him to call 9-1-1.

Parmer didn't ask any questions. "I don't hesitate to call 9-1-1 if someone tells me to."

The police officers who responded to that July 30 call suspected something was seriously wrong and called in the bureau's elder abuse investigators. A nearly two-month investigation led to the arrests this week of Daniel Lee Anderson, 50, and Taryn Marie Anderson, 51, on an 84-count criminal indictment.

Troubling history
Even the experienced investigators said it took some time to recognize what was going on in the ranch-style house at Southeast 49th Avenue and Cora Street, where the Whitworths lived with the Andersons. They said Tammy Whitworth, 50, was hysterical when they first met her. They were able to talk to the Whitworths alone and learned their troubling history.

Investigators describe the Whitworths as vulnerable, low-functioning adults. Charles Whitworth worked for 33 years for Chrysler in St. Louis, Mo., but doesn't read or write. Police said his wife, Tammy, was socially isolated.

Police say the Andersons met the Whitworths in Missouri in 2006. At the time, the Whitworths were living in a house on their own when the Andersons offered to care for them. About six months later, the Andersons and the Whitworths abruptly left town.

"They just up and moved in the middle of the night," recalled Tammy's mother, Barbara Ross, in a phone interview from Missouri. "They went from owning their own house, a car and a truck, down to nothing."

Family members lost contact with the Whitworths. Relatives knew they were in Oregon but didn't know where. At one point, the family hired a private investigator who tried to locate them but had no luck.

"At some point, they (the Whitworths) were told their families didn't want anything to do with them," said Detective Celeste Fender. "They basically said, 'We're all you've got.' "

While living with the Andersons, the Whitworths said that they were assigned chores. Charles Whitworth, 62, was to walk the dogs, pull weeds from the yard and clean the house. Tammy was supposed to clean the kitchen.

"Basically, they were their maids," Fender said.

Fender and Officer Katie Potter worked closely with county adult protective services investigator Sheila Robinson on the case.

Not only are the Andersons accused of funneling Charles Whitworth's assets into their own bank accounts, but police and prosecutors say the Andersons would slap the Whitworths in the head, knock them into walls or sic their three daschunds on the couple if they didn't do their jobs right. Daniel Anderson is accused of trying to strangle the couple. It got so bad that the Andersons would even encourage physical abuse between the couple, forcing Charles to bite his wife, Fender said.

Ross said she received a collect call on July 30 from her daughter, Tammy. She was crying into the phone, saying she had enough of the abuse. Ross said she encouraged her to call police or have someone at the convenience store do so.

"Thank goodness she called her mom. She was brave enough to take that step," Fender said.

"They're evil, evil"
Police say the Andersons had Charles Whitworth believing that his mother died three years ago. But investigators quickly learned his mother was alive and phoned her from Southeast Precinct so he could speak to her. He broke down and cried at the sound of his mom's voice.
When confronted, the Andersons told police they had no idea where the Whitworths' money was going. When Fender asked Daniel Anderson why he had taken in a couple with no extra resources, she said he replied, "Well, Christians are known to do that."

Cases like this often go unreported because the vulnerable adults are kept in isolation, Robinson said. Though Dr. Bennett Blum, an Arizona-based forensic and geriatric psychiatrist who specializes in what he calls "undue influence" cases, said they are "tragically frequent." He said the Whitworth case carries all the hallmarks of vulnerable adult abuse: isolation, dependency, emotional manipulation and deception.

"The victimized couple in the eyes of the perpetrators were probably viewed as just tools," he said. "The accused were getting free labor plus money out of them, while using some classic torture techniques."

Daniel Anderson faces 31 counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment, 22 counts of first-degree theft, three counts of strangulation, seven counts of fourth-degree assault, seven counts of harassment and four counts of coercion. His wife faces 26 counts of criminal mistreatment, 22 counts of first-degree theft, three counts of fourth-degree assault, two counts of criminal mischief, and two counts of harassment and coercion. They both pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday.

The Andersons' lawyer, Bill Brennan, said the Whitworths' money appeared to be pooled with the Andersons' accounts to help pay household expenses.

"At first blush, I don't think these people are guilty of all this stuff by any stretch of the imagination," Brennan said. "As far as Taryn, this lady has diabetes, has heart problems and she's on oxygen. I don't see her being able to physically assault a flea, by virtue of her medical condition."

Once police got involved, the county helped place the Whitworths into an adult foster home and worked with Missouri officials to reroute Whitworth's Social Security and pension checks directly to them.

Shortly after Labor Day weekend, the Whitworths flew back to Missouri. They're living with Tammy's mom but plan to get their own place.

"The Andersons need to be in prison," Ross said. "They're evil, evil."

Daniel Anderson, who works as a local trucker, had declared bankruptcy in 1998 and was convicted of passing bad checks in Missouri in early 2006. After their Multnomah County court appearance Monday, Anderson and his wife were released to pre-trial supervision with a Nov. 12 trial date. They were ordered not to open any new checking, saving or other bank accounts and not possess anyone's financial information other than their own.

Neighbors said they moved out of their Cora Street home a few weeks ago after selling their furniture in a yard sale. They told their lawyer they could no longer afford the rent and were moving into an apartment.

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