Shortly after two women gained power of attorney from a dying 83-year-old relative, they took all of her possessions and sold her house of 56 years, police said.
The pair pocketed the $235,000 from the house sale and cleaned out the elderly woman's bank accounts and savings, sharing the money among themselves and family members, police and prosecutors say. They also arranged and pre-paid for her funeral. However, Evelyn Roth made an amazing recovery and had no idea what her relatives were up to.
Now the two suspects, Roth's cousin Virginia Ann Kuehn, 66, and her niece Kathleen Sue Jingling, 53, face a 35-count felony indictment charging them with first-degree criminal mistreatment, aggravated theft and first-degree theft. They've pleaded not guilty
Roth, a sprightly white-haired woman with a ready laugh and remarkable memory, showed up at Multnomah County Circuit Court for her relatives' arraignment this week. Portland Officer Deanna Wesson, who investigates elder abuse, wheeled Roth up to the judge so she could explain what happened.
"They robbed me blind," Roth said. "Everything was for money, just to get money, money, money. That's not the way it should be."
Roth said she pursued criminal charges because she's lost her savings and all her possessions to relatives who betrayed her trust. "I think they need to be taught a lesson. ... I feel like I helped raise Virginia. That's why it hurts so bad."
Jingling's lawyer, Daniel Lorenz, said his client may have received poor advice from another attorney and is working "to put matters in as good a situation as possible." Kuehn's lawyer, Pat Birmingham, declined to comment. Roth, a Portland native, had lived on her own in her Southeast Kelly Street house since her husband, Bob, died 26 years ago.
She had worked for 35 years as the U.S. Bank branch near Southeast Milwaukie and Powell Boulevard. She loved the job and got to know her customers well. She also taught Sunday School at the Trinity Baptist Church.
In February 2008, she fell ill. A doctor removed a cancerous growth from her esophagus. Kuehn took her to the hospital for the outpatient surgery and drove her back home. But no one ever checked on Roth after that
The day after the surgery, Roth fell and wasn't discovered until four days later. Phillip Klein visited the house, concerned because his friend hadn't shown up for their weekly dinner date.
Police found Roth on the floor, severely dehydrated, confused and suffering from delusions. She was hospitalized for two weeks and then placed in a nursing home. Through the spring of 2008, she continued to receive radiation treatments for cancer.
On April 24, she signed over the power of attorney to Kuehn and Jingling. She remembers them wheeling her to a nearby bank to get it notarized. "I kept insisting, 'I want to take care of my bills. I can take care of myself,'" Roth recalled. "They said, 'We have to be able to take care of you if you get sick.'"
Four days later, Kuehn and Jingling each wrote $12,000 checks to themselves out of Roth's account, Wesson said. About the same time, Jeanine Boldt-Ginn, the daughter of one of Roth's close friends, helped her mother track Roth down. They found Roth at Care Center East and became reacquainted.
Roth's health steadily improved, surprising her doctors. By the fall 2008, Roth began hearing from her neighbors that a "For Sale" sign was up outside her home, and her relatives seemed to be cleaning it out.
Roth didn't believe it. "I said, 'Well, they can't sell it because I haven't signed anything.' I had no idea what was all going on, just what the neighbors saw."
Police said Kuehn and Jingling sold the house for $235,000 in October 2008, deposited the money into Roth's bank account and then promptly spent all of it, writing checks to themselves and other family members. They cleaned out $35,000 in her checking account and cashed her two annuities totaling $88,000.
They also cleaned out all of Roth's belongings -- her antique china and glassware collection, her silverware, the mahogany furniture her husband made, their wedding pictures, a 7-foot-tall grandfather clock.
They sold her Buick Park Avenue.
Boldt-Ginn, who remembers having Roth as her Sunday School teacher when she was 5, and her husband, Jim Ginn, worked tirelessly to help Roth unravel what had happened to her belongings. They got county adult protective services investigator Irma Mitchell-Phillips and police to investigate.
"My mom said, 'I know the Lord brought us back here so we can help you,'" Boldt-Ginn recalled.
When Wesson interviewed the accused, they said they had sold Roth's house and belongings to avoid probate. Jingling kept saying that Roth's doctors had "guaranteed us" that Roth would die, Wesson recalled.
Wesson described the suspects as cold and callous, who never showed concern for Roth's well-being. Police, prosecutors, county investigators and others who've met Roth said they're amazed at how she kept her spirits up, despite her losses. She said she wants to see her relatives go to jail. "I guess I'm just a stubborn old lady."