Daughter accused of neglecting elderly mother, found near death - Omaha.com
Published Monday, February 18, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 11:46 am
Daughter accused of neglecting elderly mother, found near death

The house had no working furnace. The woman had no detectable pulse or blood pressure.

Her core body temperature was 86 degrees. And Ruth Leitz, 80, was nothing more than flesh on bone — flesh dotted with feces and bedsores.

Remarkably, however, the woman was alive when medics responded to her south-central Omaha house two weeks ago.

More remarkable: the identity of the person accused of neglecting her.

Her daughter.

Roslyn Leitz

When medics arrived at the sewage-smelling house at 6158 Elm St., Ruth Leitz was suffering a heart attack and was so dehydrated and emaciated that her kidneys were failing.

Daughter Roslyn Leitz, who lived with her mother, told authorities that her mother had been going downhill lately but was too stubborn to go to the doctor.

For Douglas County prosecutors — who charged Roslyn Leitz, 53, with abuse of a vulnerable adult — it's at least the third case in the past two years involving allegations that an Omaha resident neglected an elderly mother's care to the point of death or near death.

Last year, a judge sentenced an Omaha man to three to five years in prison after he failed to get help for his dying mother. Two years ago, an Omaha man received probation after authorities found his mother severely malnourished and suffering from a maggot-infested bedsore.

Experts say these cases are extreme versions of the struggle many adult children have in getting help for strong-willed parents.

Russ Reno, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said residents should not hesitate to ask for help with their elderly loved ones by calling local agencies such as the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.

“Their help is boundless,” Reno said. “Those agencies have expertise in all kinds of areas.”

The Leitz case had reached a dangerous, disgusting extreme.

According to a warrant for Roslyn Leitz's arrest:

On Jan. 29, Roslyn Leitz called 911, concerned about her mother's condition. She tearfully told authorities that she and her mother had lived together for 25 years. She said she had tried without success to get her mother to go to the doctor. Her mother's last visit to a doctor was just after she suffered a heart attack in 2005.

“Roslyn started to get emotionally upset and crying and indicated that her mom was a very stubborn woman and she could not force her to go to the doctor,” an Omaha police detective wrote.

But prosecutors say two things — the condition of the house and the condition of Ruth Leitz — showed that the daughter had long since stopped providing any semblance of care to her mother.

Crime scene photographs show a house as bad as anything seen on the TV show “Hoarders.”

When medics arrived at the small ranch house, they were overwhelmed by the stench.

An emaciated Ruth Leitz was lying in a recliner in the living room. A large pile of dog feces was on the floor. The toilets were overflowing with human waste. Ruth's bedroom was piled with dozens of dirty adult diapers.

“Roslyn told (detectives) that she is not the best housekeeper,” an officer wrote. “The house was unfit for humans, as well as her pet dog.”

The Nebraska Humane Society seized the dog. Meanwhile, a housing inspector took just a couple of minutes to deem the house unfit and, at that point, uninhabitable. He found that the furnace had not been working for two years and that Leitz had relied on space heaters to warm the house.

It was in that environment that Ruth Leitz spent the past six months residing in a recliner in the living room. One photograph shows a rotting recliner with soil marks that virtually outline a body.

Asked if her mother got up to go to the bathroom, Roslyn Leitz responded that she wore adult diapers.

“Due to the appearance of the chair and the patient, it is the paramedics' judgment that the patient has been in the chair for an extended period of time, possibly weeks,” one medic wrote.

Roslyn Leitz said her mother hadn't taken a bath in six months. Her toenails were so long and curled that they resembled banana peels. Her clothes were dotted with burn holes from cigarettes.

“The residence stunk of urine and feces and ... garbage,” the warrant said. “The patient smelled strongly of body odor as well as urine and (feces) ... and the extra skin observed around her face and neck ... is indicative of no bathing for several weeks, if not months.”

Not only had she not bathed, she had barely eaten. Roslyn Leitz said her mother had had only a cup of yogurt in the two days before medics arrived. She also refused to drink anything but diet cream soda, Roslyn said.

With her body temperature 12 degrees below the normal of 98.6 degrees, medics said she was cold to the touch. She was in acute kidney failure. An ER doctor told police he “did not believe Ruth would survive.”

But with intravenous fluids, she's recovered some and is no longer in critical condition, prosecutor Katie Benson said.

Roslyn Leitz's attorney, Kristina Murphree, said her client didn't deliberately harm Ruth and called 911 out of concern for her mother. Ever since, she's been at her mother's bedside, visiting her at the hospital three times a day.

Ruth's son, David Leitz, who lives out of state, is in Omaha now and is making decisions on his mother's care, Murphree told a judge. Ruth Leitz could be transferred to a nursing home, Murphree said.

At Roslyn's first court appearance Friday, Douglas County Judge Susan Bazis perused the photos of Ruth Leitz and the house. She informed Roslyn Leitz that, if convicted, she could face up to five years in prison.

“I realize it can be difficult,” Bazis told Roslyn Leitz. “But the conditions of the house were completely deplorable. In turn, your mother's condition was completely deplorable.”

Murphree noted that Leitz has continually volunteered information to police, social workers and medical staff.

“She's cooperated all the way through,” the attorney said. “She's her mother's best friend.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1275, todd.cooper@owh.com

Contact the writer: Todd Cooper

todd.cooper@owh.com    |   402-444-1275

Todd covers courts and legal issues for The World-Herald.

Read more related stories
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
< >
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »