The caller told police that an elderly woman living in his Essex home had died in her bed. What he didn't say was she had died almost a year ago -- and was still there.
Baltimore County police believe the mummified body discovered under a blanket is that of 66-year-old Marian V. Cusimano, and yesterday they began investigating why the couple who shared Cusimano's home left her corpse in an upstairs bedroom.
Police are investigating the reclusive woman's financial situation.
"They have been looking into the finances of the dead woman -- income from pension checks, disability checks," Baltimore County Police spokesman Bill Toohey said yesterday.
Ronald G. Thomas, 49, and his wife, Patricia, 50, were questioned by police after Thomas reported Cusimano's death Thursday night in a matter-of-fact phone call.
Mr. Thomas later offered a bizarre account, according to police reports, telling officers he ventured into the woman's second-floor bedroom on Thursday night to vacuum -- and found the body. Thomas told officers that neither he nor his wife had spoken with their housemate since last June, despite an odor coming from her room that was so strong that it forced police and paramedics Thursday night to wear masks as they entered the brick bungalow near Old Eastern Avenue.
"Mr. Thomas said Mrs. Cusimano was sick frequently and the room was a mess, so he didn't go in there because he had a weak stomach," Toohey said. "Preliminary evidence indicated that she had been in that bed for 10 to 14 months."
No charges filed
The couple told police that they thought Cusimano was in the hospital.
Toohy said the body was so badly decomposed that there were no obvious signs of trauma. He said police will not know how the woman died until a full autopsy is completed -- a process that could take weeks. No charges have been filed.
Cusimano, who suffered from emphysema and multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair, was apparently befriended by Mrs. Thomas in 1992 when the two met at a nearby nursing home where Cusimano was a paying patient and Mrs. Thomas an aide.
Police are also investigating complaints filed with the Baltimore County Department of Social Services that Cusimano had been financially exploited in the past.
The Thomases hung up on a reporter who reached them at home yesterday.
Neighbors said the couple had lived in the small brick house at 215 Homberg Avenue since 1990. Cusimano came to live with them in 1993, moving out of the Ivy Hall Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center, where she had lived for about a year.
Mrs. Thomas was an aide at the center, said owner Rick Cammack.
The relationship between the two women led to Mrs. Thomas' dismissal from her job. Mrs. Thomas accepted gifts from Cusimano, tried to borrow money from her and urged her to move into the Thomas home -- all against center policy, Cammack said.
Cusimano signed herself out of the center against the advice of doctors and center staff members, Cammack said, and moved in with the Thomases three days after Mrs. Thomas was fired.
In November of the same year, according to real estate records, Cusimano purchased the Homberg Avenue house for $109,000 from Anna M. Hess. It was not clear whether the Thomases had been renting the house before Cusimano came to live with them.
Court records show Cusimano gave power of attorney on Aug. 22, 1995, to Patricia Thomas, granting her control over personal and financial decisions. Those documents identify Mrs. Thomas as Cusimano's caretaker.
Other court files show that Cusimano was sued by a credit card company and a department store for nonpayment of bills in 1995 and 1996 -- bills that totaled nearly $20,000. In at least one case, the matter was dropped because court records indicated that Cusimano had filed for bankruptcy in 1996.
According to Baltimore County Department of Social Services spokeswoman Maureen Robinson, complaints alleging financial exploitation were lodged in 1989, 1993, 1994 and 1995. She declined to say who had filed the four complaints, and who was named in them, other than Cusimano.
None of the allegations were confirmed, Robinson said. Social service files, some of which have been retrieved from the department's archives in Jessup, have been handed over to police, she said.
No known relatives
Yesterday, Ivy Hall staff and neighbors did not know if Cusimano had any relatives. Before moving to Ivy Hall, she had lived in Harford County. Neighbors in Jarrettsville described her as reclusive.
"The doors and windows were always closed, shades drawn," said Girard A. Collolly, who lived near her Buckthorn Drive ranch house.
When she moved in with the Thomases, neighbors said, they built a wheelchair ramp at the back of the house for her. Occasionally, she appeared on the ramp in her wheelchair -- although not recently.
"We were told that they'd put her in a nursing home," said Evelyn Raynor, who lives nearby.
'They kept to themselves'
Mrs. Thomas' co-worker at the D. E. Jones department store heard a different story.
"She said she had invited her to live with them," said Kelly Fuller, the manager who hired Thomas as a cashier last week.
"She said she had an elderly woman to take care of. She made it sound as if she was alive -- when I found out she was dead, it was shocking. My impression was, this lady was alive."
Along Homberg Avenue yesterday, neighbors said the Thomases had yard sales a couple of times a year and they owned a Rottweiler whose howls disturbed some people along the quiet street.
"They kept to themselves," said Bernhard Weinkam, who lives a block away.
Pub Date: 4/11/98