The caregiver for an elderly woman left dead in an Essex home for nearly a year was charged yesterday with first-degree murder in a case that appears to be without recent precedent in Baltimore County.
Patricia F. Thomas, 50, was also indicted for abuse of a vulnerable adult and grand theft from both the victim, Marion V. Cusimano, 66, and from the Social Security Administration, which issued her retirement checks.
The indictments, returned by a Baltimore County grand jury, came after a monthlong investigation by the state medical examiner's office revealed that Cusimano died from malnutrition and failure to receive medical care for her multiple sclerosis.
A single woman with few relatives, Cusimano signed herself out of an Essex nursing home five years ago and went to live with Thomas, an aide at the nursing home, and her husband, Ronald G. Thomas, 49.
"Apparently, [Mrs. Thomas] was to be her caregiver when Cusimano left the nursing home and moved into this house with them," said S. Ann Brobst, an assistant state's attorney.
Last month, the Thomases called police to their small brick bungalow on Homberg Avenue. Officers found Cusimano's decomposed body in a back bedroom, where it had been for almost a year.
At the time, the Thomases told police they had not seen the woman for some time and believed she had been in the hospital. Mr. Thomas told police that he discovered the body while vacuuming her room.
Mrs. Thomas was arrested in Baltimore yesterday and was held last night in the Baltimore County Detention Center after being denied bail, authorities said.
No charges were filed against Mr. Thomas.
The case has also been under investigation by the inspector general's office of the Social Security Administration, which, until the body was found in April, had mailed a monthly retirement check for $1,052 to the Essex address. Cusimano, a retired Westinghouse worker, also received $441 a month from a private annuity.
Statistics show that 2.1 million people over the age of 60, or 4.7 percent of all Americans that age, are abused, neglected or exploited by relatives and caretakers. Murder charges are unusual, though.
"It is quite rare," said Bill Toohey, a Baltimore County police spokesman, who said a review of county homicide records to 1985 showed no case where an adult died as the result of neglect by a caregiver.
According to the state medical examiner's office, Cusimano had been dead for about a year when her body was found. Officials declined to say what kinds of tests had been used on Cusimano's corpse, nor would they comment on whether she had been physically abused.
"It has been determined that the cause of her death is malnutrition associated with multiple sclerosis," Dr. John E. Smialek, the chief medical examiner, said in a brief statement issued yesterday. "Her malnutrition was a result of a lack of adequate food intake together with failure to receive treatment for and neglect of her underlying medical condition."
Mrs. Thomas, a native of Missouri, moved to Essex in the early 1990s with her husband. She met Cusimano at Ivy Hall Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center where Cusimano was a paying patient and she was an aide.
Despite repeated warnings from Ivy Hall officials, Mrs. Thomas initiated a friendship with Cusimano. Eventually, she invited Cusimano to live with her and her husband -- an offer that led the nursing home to tell Mrs. Thomas she could not work there, according to Rick Cammack, Ivy Hall's owner.
Cusimano, who used a wheelchair, signed herself out of Ivy Hall in 1993 against medical and staff advice, and moved to the house at 215 Homberg Ave. A few months after moving in, she bought the house. Court records indicate that she began having financial difficulties in 1995, when she was sued by two credit card companies.
Cusimano eventually signed power of attorney over to Mrs. Thomas, and later filed for bankruptcy. The Homberg Avenue house went through foreclosure proceedings last year, and was sold at auction to the company that held the mortgage. But the Thomases continued to live there after the auction as they tried to negotiate a new arrangement with the mortgage company.
Although there were four complaints that Cusimano was being financially exploited, separate investigations into each of them found no evidence of exploitation, said Maureen Robinson, spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.
The exploitation complaints, filed between 1989 and 1995, were ultimately dismissed in large part because Cusimano insisted that living with the Thomases was what she wanted, Robinson said.
Pub Date: 5/05/98