Claire, a retired school teacher, lived with her twin sister Laura for over fifty years until Laura’s death some three years ago. Living alone didn’t seem to be much of a problem for her. She had a landscaper, a handy man to make any necessary home repairs and relied on the local senior center to arrange trips to the clinic for her medical care.
One afternoon, Claire was making her way down the front stairs when her legs gave out. She tumbled forward, breaking her ankle and her arm. While in the hospital, she was told that a stint in rehab would be the most appropriate thing for her but she refused. An acquaintance from the local grocery store stopped by to see her and recommended a woman named Marcy who could come in and help her at home during her recovery. Claire took her up on the offer.
Claire spoke glowingly of Marcy in the beginning, telling friends that she was “friendly, smart and really cares about me.” However, after several months, things began to take a dark turn.
Marcy began to come into the home with a “boyfriend” Raymond. Marcy convinced Claire to let go of the landscaper and the handyman since Raymond could handle any project for her, telling her that this could save her "a lot of money."
Eventually, Raymond persuaded Claire to make him her power of attorney, taking over her finances and paying all her bills so she could keep her mind on “getting healthy”. This was followed by all the locks on the doors being changed, a new phone number was put into place and all mail sent to a post office box.
Family members became concerned when they were unable to contact Claire.
Her granddaughter, who received a monthly check from her for college, stopped getting them. Neighbors began to notice that the lawn was overgrown, the house fell into disrepair and became an eyesore. Even more alarming, Claire had not been seen for months.
Family members called the local police department and asked for a wellness check. Upon arriving at the house, Raymond answered the door and they noticed that the inside of the home was unsanitary. When demanding to see Claire, police found her confused, thin and wearing soiled clothing.
She was immediately taken to the hospital where she did eventually recover, telling social workers that she was "too embarrassed" to seek help after getting herself into “such a mess”. Raymond and Marcy were both arrested and faced elder abuse charges.
Claire told her friends that such things “don’t happen to normal people. I really feel stupid.” The reality is that such things can and do happen to anyone.
Victims of elder financial abuse cite similar reasons for why things grow so out of control. These reasons include:
Being afraid of not being believed or believing that this was only happening to them
Fear of bringing shame to the senior or the family
Feelings that the abuse is really their fault
Not trusting the police or the legal system (nothing will happen to them and then they will retaliate)
Afraid that they will be removed from their home and placed in institutional care
Fear of getting the caregiver in trouble
And like Claire, there is also a belief that these things don’t happen to “normal people” and somehow being a victim makes them less than others. But the sad reality is that any senior can be a victim of a predator -- even celebrities, who are surrounded by agents, friends and an adoring public, become victims of abuse. Let’s look at some celebrities that fell victim to the abusive behaviors of others.
The popular host of one of the longest running radio programs, American Top 40, became the topic of elder abuse shortly before his death in 2014.
According to Kasem’s adult children, his “new” wife kept their father separated from the family for years before his death. News reports stated that his wife moved him to Washington State and kept his whereabouts unknown from others. After Kasem was eventually located in Washington, police reported that he was suffering from bedsores and power of attorney was eventually given to his daughter.
A court hearing was scheduled but Kasem died within a month of the hearing. His wife then claimed the body within 72 hours and listed an address in Israel, essentially blocking his daughter from any claim to the remains and he was eventually cremated an buried in an unmarked grave in Norway.
The children are now suing their stepmother, citing her for wrongful death and the widow has filed a petition that would grant her more authority over her deceased husband's estate.
He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee and held the heavyweight championship of the professional boxing world for years. To this day, he is considered one of the greatest of all time yet even this man, as tough as nails, allegedly became the victim of elder abuse before his death.
According to Rahman, Muhammads brother, he was treated like a prisoner in his own home by his wife as he struggled through his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Rahman told Radar Online, “my brother doesn’t speak, doesn’t even recognize me. He’s in a bad, bad way. I cry because it breaks my heart. I would rather he dies sooner than later. The longer he goes on, so does his suffering and misery.”
Rahman also claimed that Ali’s wife and her family were responsible for the torture he was suffering. “In my opinion, Lonnie’s evil. Muhammad’s a prisoner in his own home. He can’t do anything for himself and she takes advantage.”
But was this battle the result of family strife over the estate of the famed boxer? Rahman, according to some, was upset that he did not have access to his brothers money. Living in a rundown apartment in his family’s hometown, Rahman made it known that he wanted to be living in the Ali mansion.
“If my brother had his faculties, I’d be living in a mansion because he always looked after me,” said Rahman. “As it is, we’re lucky to have $150 left after paying our monthly bills.”
According to Rahman, Lonnie “talks bad to him” and alleged that Ali wasn’t even getting fed properly.
“The last time we were together, he was so dehydrated. You could tell from his lips. When I asked him how he was, I could tell from his eyes he was in a bad way. He just breathed heavy, a heavy sigh. It’s pitiful.”
“When he dies, no one will get anything – zero,” he said. “I’m still in contact with his children. I just spoke to Muhammad Jr., and he was concerned about his dad. They’ve all tried to get in contact with him, but we’ve all been pushed out.”
Even in his death, the battle continues.
The story here is stereotypical. According to Rooney, he was the victim of abuse by his own step-children. Eventually, he was granted court protection from his stepson Chris Aber and his step daughter Christina Aber after charging them with verbal, emotional and financial abuse, and for denying him such basic necessities as food and medicine.
The court documents stated that both step children kept Rooney a “prisoner in his own home” through intimidation and harassment. Chris was also alleged to have taken control over Rooney’s finances, blocking his access to the mail and forcing the elder actor into public appearances against his will.
The court document requested protection not only for the aging actor but for his current wife Jan and his stepson Mark Rooney, who lived in the family home. In the complaint, Rooney stated that he feared the Aber’s would try to harm or kidnap him after the case had been filed.
"All I want to do is live a peaceful life, to regain my life and be happy," Rooney wrote in a statement to his fans. "I pray to God each day to protect us, help us endure and guide those other senior citizens who are also suffering."
Rooney died in 2014.
Once again, another family member has been implicated in abuse a relative. Trent Lamar Jackson, the nephew of Katherine Jackson, the matriarch of the musical Jackson family, was reported to be emotional and financially abusing his aunt for years.
Trent, who was acting as the driver for Jackson, was earning a six figure income, allowed to live free of charge in the family luxury guest home as well as other perks associated with his position, apparently felt that this was not enough compensation for his services.
According to court documents, Trent used her bank accounts and credit cards without permission, controlled other aspects of her finances and kept her estranged from her children in order to carry out the abuse.
Those who know Jackson state that she also feared for her physical safety. There were reports that she was forced to hide in her closet to avoid the anger and abuse of Trent and used this hiding place to speak with her kids on the phone without being heard.
“She has had enough, her health is fragile and she is tired of being frightened,” read the paperwork filed by her lawyer. “Trent was supposed to be her driver, but over time (he) has infiltrated Mrs. Jackson’s business and personal affairs, even referring to himself as her ‘house manager.’”
Jerry Lee Lewis
Famed rock n roller, Jerry Lee Lewis, claimed his own daughter was his abuser, stating that she gave him drug cocktails and isolated him in a moldy house. In legal filings, he stated that his daughter Pheobe took advantage of him while she managed his career from 2000 to 2012, and schemed to spend his fortune with her husband, Ezekiel Loftin. He says she gave him a "heavy cocktail of psychotropic drugs" to keep him under her control.
Lewis said that he was forced to go on grueling tours despite his poor health and when he wasn't on the road, she kept him cooped up at home in moldy conditions that were so bad he had to wear an oxygen mask.
Court papers also said that her husband, Loftin, spent at least $5 million of Lewis’ money on luxury cars, real estate and plastic surgery. Lewis said he sued to get his money back.
Lewis died in 2017.
Anna Nicole Smith
After marrying Texas millionaire J. Howard Marshall, Anna Nicole smith became a household name when Marshall died less than a year after the marriage. According to bank statements, Smith received over $8 million in gifts during that time. His family called her a gold-digger and accused her of financial exploitation of an elder but charges were never pursued.
After Marshall died, Smith took his family to court after she did not receive a part of his inheritance. The case remained in the state and federal courts for fifteen years and survived even after Smith's death.
Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007 from a drug overdose.
As the front man for the Motown group the Temptations, it would appear that Dennis Edwards’ personal life was not as upbeat as his stage presence. In February of this year, Edwards passed away from complications of meningitis and shortly thereafter, the St. Louis dispatch reported that adult protective services investigators claimed that his wife, Brenda, had repeatedly assaulted the 74-year-old singer before his death.
According to the state, Brenda attempted to suffocate Edwards by holding him “facedown on the bed” and removed his hearing aids when he was “bed-bound and immobile”. Before his death, an emergency protective order was issued against Brenda on January 18th. Following his death, the order was cancelled.
Brenda, however, told her side of the story stating, “I loved Dennis, and we were married for 18 years,” she said. “I would have never done anything to harm him. These allegations are false and defamatory and will be proven as such. Until this is all over, I have no further comment.”
This story is not about a celebrity being the victim of abuse but about being the abuser.
Former NFL running back, Micheal Bennett, has been charged with forgery, elder abuse, grand theft, and burglary. He was recently arrested and booked on a $1 million bail for allegedly taking out more than $300,000 worth of fraudulent loans in his girlfriend's parents' name, according to a story in the Argus Courier, a Petaluma, California newspaper.
Bennett, who played in the NFL for 10 years, had been under investigation for a lengthy period of time before his arrest. According to reports, his girlfriend's parents, both over 65, became suspicious when they began receiving mail referencing loans they didn't take out.
Police stated that Bennett had stolen a binder of financial documents from the elderly couple which he used to secure the loans. He had also forged their signatures and the signature of a notary public. Prior to this arrest, Bennett had been convicted of wire fraud in 2012 after he lied on a loan application to obtain $200,000. He was on parole for that conviction at the time of his most recent arrest.
Although a minor celebrity but an extremely wealthy socialite, Brooke Astor became the victim of elder exploitation by her son, Antony Marshall.
According to the Associated Press, Marshall was convicted of defrauding his mother and stealing millions of dollars from her $200 million fortune as she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
In this case, the jury found that Ms. Astor’s son and an attorney had gained the lady’s trust and confidence as her mental state declined. They caused her will to be changed, making millions of dollars in lifetime transfers of her fortune for Mr. Marshall’s benefit.
Astor died in 2007.
Are there ways to predict who may be a potential abuser? There may be some telltale signs that a caretaker may exhibit. According to Don Drake, one of our Community Education presenters and retired licensed clinician in Massachusetts, abusers tend to share some similar histories and behaviors.
“The traits that we see with abusers may only be known if it is a family member that will become a caretaker,” said Drake. “Unfortunately, those hired through agencies or want ads may not exhibit the behaviors until they become comfortable in the position, but in any case, the behavior of anyone working as a home health aide needs to be supervised on a regular basis and any worrisome signs needs to be addressed.”
These behaviors include:
Someone who comes from a family or a relationship where abuse is condoned and tolerated. They have learned that violence and intimidation is the way to solve problems and get what they want.
A person who provides services to a senior over and above expectations, often spending time during off hours with them. Although it may seem like a loving relationship, resentment grows over time if their contributions go without recognition. This could result in the person resorting to violence or other forms of abuse to get what they think they deserve. Regular supervision and telling the employee to observe regular working hours can help keep this from happening.
We discussed a persons upbringing in our first point, but what about someone going through current personal stresses? Relationship issues, addiction problems and mental health concerns can be a breeding ground for a person to act out against a senior.
People who tend to use coercion and intimidation in order to gain power and control are potential abusers. Drake reports an employee in a program where he was an administrator had a way of intimidating residents. “The guy was a bodybuilder and when there was a resident who was acting out, he would snap on purple gloves, roll up his sleeves to reveal his biceps and pick up the bottom of the bed and slam it,” Drake said. “When this got back to me, he was immediately terminated. Thankfully, he never got physical but this certainly was heading in that direction.”
And the previous point ties into this one. Watching the interactions between the caretaker and the senior can give a major clue as to where that relationship stands. If the senior is speaking openly and then suddenly shuts down when the caretaker arrives is definitely a “red flag”. Other issues include the care taker being over protective, not being totally transparent in sharing financial or medical information with family members or stopping communications between the senior and family and friends.
“The celebrity cases we cited prove one thing, elder abuse can happen to seniors of any race, gender, ethnicity, education, cultural or economic background,” said certified elder law attorney RJ Connelly, III. “The only things that those who are victims of financial abuse have in common is that they potentially have something that someone wants to exploit -- and in most cases it’s money.”
Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.