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.

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