A Crofton woman with a long history of mental illness was found guilty but not criminally responsible yesterday in the ax murder of her 71-year-old mother, who was nearly decapitated in the attack.
Under yesterday's ruling, Kathleen Marie VanScoik, 47, will be held indefinitely in the custody of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She has been held at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup since shortly after her arrest on first-degree murder charges May 3, just hours after the slaying of Eleanor Mae Heddinger.
A Sept. 18 report by three psychiatrists, a psychologist and a social worker at Perkins recommended the court rule VanScoik not responsible for the murder because her psychosis prevented her from appreciating the criminal nature of the act. In the report, the woman is diagnosed as a chronic paranoid schizophrenic.
Assistant Public Defender Gary W. Christopher told Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. that VanScoik is taking the drug Moban to treat her schizophrenia. In an unchallenged statement of facts read into the court record yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Ferris said VanScoik's father told police the woman was not taking her medication at the time of the murder.
In an interview with police after the murder, Frank Heddinger said his daughter began showing signs of physiological mental illness 14 years ago, after her divorce from her first husband. He said his daughter began displaying uncontrollable fits of rage and anger toward him and his wife.
The man told police he was forced to commit the woman to the Spring Grove State Mental Hospital for evaluations several times because of the violent outbursts. He said his daughter's mental state deteriorated after her only son died in 1981 after being struck by an automobile, and she was committed to Spring Grove and Crownsville state hospitals several times between 1981 and 1985.
But VanScoik responded to treatment and, in 1985, remarried, her father told police. But her second husband, Charles VanScoik, died of cancer last December, and her mental condition declined when she stopped taking her medication. According to a news report, VanScoik was often seen sitting outside her front door petting her cat before it was fatally injured by a car in January.
Ferris said police received a 911 call about 12:30 p.m. on May 3 from a woman identifying herself as VanScoik, who said "she had knifed her mother and cut off her mother's head."
Police arrived to find the mother dead on the kitchen floor of VanScoik's home in the 1400 block Orleans Court.
After her arrest, according to police, VanScoik asked a detective, "Do you have X-ray vision? I think my vocal cords are severed," and interrupted a reading of her rights with statements such as, "President Reagan was cutting budgets" and "Are they going to clean up the body? I'll clean up the blood."
Ferris said the woman eventually told police she invited her mother to her home for the sole purpose of killing her. The prosecutor said VanScoik lured her mother into the kitchen and then stabbed her with a 6-inch buck knife stashed in a drawer.
Before she was through, VanScoik stabbed her mother 51 times, Ferris said. She said VanScoik later told police, "I had to make sure she didn't suffer," so she ran into a bedroom, retrieved an ax and chopped her mother's neck "until the gurgling sounds stopped."
Ferris said the woman told police she killed her mother because her mother was going to institutionalize her and because she thought her mother was stealing her money -- apparently, the prosecutor said, because her parents arranged for the proceeds from her husband's life insurance policy to be used to pay off the mortgage on their house.
VanScoik, wearing a pink sweater and red pants, was led into court yesterday by security guards from Perkins. Her hands were cuffed and chained to a belt encircling her midsection, and her feet were manacled.
VanScoik answered the judge's questions in a soft voice. She was told she would be eligible for an evaluation for release in 50 days, and for periodic evaluations thereafter, but Christopher told her she should not expect a release soon.
As she was being led out of the courtroom after the hearing, VanScoik briefly held her father's hand. A younger sister, crying quietly, also attended yesterday's hearing. VanScoik seemed to be wiping tears from her eyes as she was led away.
Afterward, her father said only, "The law took its course."
Christopher said, "You can imagine their situation. They've lost twice . . . They're very supportive of Kathleen, notwithstanding what happened."