Police charge son in mother's strangling death after Baltimore funeral home discovers injuries. (Baltimore Sun video)
A 32-year-old man has been charged with murder in the strangling death of his 63-year-old mother in her Northeast Baltimore home after funeral home employees preparing the woman's body for burial discovered signs of trauma to her head and neck that had not been apparent to law enforcement, police said Friday.
Erich Justin Kuhn was arrested Thursday and charged with first- and second-degree murder of Cathy Kuhn.
According to a statement of charges, Kuhn "provided a complete confession" of the crime, giving "details on how he attacked his mother in the television room and struck her with his bare hands," then "strangled her for approximately 7 minutes until she stopped gurgling and finally died."
The document says Kuhn used a telephone cord in the attack.
Kuhn, of the 3000 block of Hamilton Ave., did not have an attorney listed in court records. He was ordered held in detention at a bail review hearing Friday. A preliminary hearing is set for April 11.
Bradley Kuhn — Erich Kuhn's brother and Cathy Kuhn's son — said his family "would like the Baltimore-area community to focus right now on celebrating" his mother's life, but has concerns about the handling of her death.
Officers were first called to the home in the 5900 block of Glenoak Ave., in the city's Glenham Belhar neighborhood, about 3:50 p.m. Wednesday after her husband, Michael Kuhn, came home and found her unresponsive, said Capt. Jarron Jackson, a police spokesman.
At the time, signs of trauma "were not apparent" and officers did not suspect foul play, Jackson said. Police communicated their observations to the medical examiner's office, which "declined to come out" to the scene, he said.
Bradley Kuhn said his father was briefly put on the phone at the scene with someone claiming to be from the state medical examiner's office, and told that his wife's death was from natural causes based on information from police. The assessment didn't make sense, he said, because "there was absolutely no reason to believe" his mother was unhealthy.
"Obviously my father was distraught and unable to process the information he was being told. He was relying on the professionals around him ... to make the right determination."
Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the medical examiner's office, said he could not comment on the Kuhn case because it remains under investigation, but said the office does not determine causes of death over the phone.
The medical examiner's office conducts about 5,000 autopsies a year in deaths with unexplained or suspect causes, out of more than 40,000 deaths in the state annually. It declines to investigate cases when the cause of death is considered clear and unrelated to a crime.
After the office declined to investigate Kuhn's death, her body was released to her family and taken to the Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home on Harford Road. The statement of charges says staff there discovered "possible ligature marks" around Kuhn's throat and "possible trauma" to her head.
Paul Hartsock, the funeral home's manager, said Kuhn's case was "one of very few" in his 40 years in the business in which funeral home staff had to notify authorities of signs of foul play, but staff are trained to do so. "We just did our job."
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The statement of charges said homicide detectives then responded to the home and discovered "evidence of a struggle/fight in the living room area." Witnesses and evidence led them to Erich Kuhn, it said, who was arrested Thursday, "waived his rights and provided a complete confession as to how and why he killed his mother."
The medical examiner's office ruled his mother's death a homicide by strangulation the same day.
Jackson said the discovery of Kuhn's injuries at the funeral home showed a system of "checks and balances" at work. He said victims of violence are not buried in Baltimore without the trauma that killed them coming to light.
"You have multiple sets of eyes placed on remains to prevent something like that from happening," he said.