A good night for Laura Cummings meant being allowed to sleep on the kitchen floor
in her family’s North Collins home.
Usually in the weeks leading up to her death, she was forced to sleep shackled to a metal chair with a sack over her face.
A grand jury indicted Cummings’ mother, Eva M. Cummings, 51, and her half brother, Luke J. Wright, 31, on charges related to the homicide, but authorities continued to be confounded by the apparent lack of community concern for the defenseless woman’s welfare.
“There were a lot of people who knew what was going on and said nothing, and that is a sad commentary on the human condition,”
said District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.
Clues and reports about mistreatment inside the apartment at 2052 Sherman Ave. popped up frequently over the years.
Siblings and other relatives said they called Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services.
Whispers floated around town, including at the food pantry, that Cummings was being tied up at home.
“This is the problem today — nobody wants to get involved,” added Caroline Lee, who lives down the street from the Cummings apartment.
The pantry was one of the few places in town where Laura Cummings, a petite woman with short brown hair who rarely made eye contact with people, was seen in public away from her home.
Lee called Laura Cummings’ younger brother, Richard, about the suspected abuse, and Richard contacted Erie County Adult Protective Services.
“They never went inside the household and they never filed for a warrant to go inside,”
said Richard Cummings, who is serving in the Air Force and is stationed in North Carolina. “I’m wondering why .‚.‚. Adult Protective Services didn’t do anything about it.”
Instead, the abuse intensified over the last few months of Laura’s life, said investigators. “Starting in November, there’s a significant escalation of her debasement as a human being,”
Senior Trial Counsel Thomas M. Finnerty of the DA’s Office said. “It was happening on a daily or nightly basis.”
Finnerty, who has prosecuted a number of heinous crimes in his 17 years in the DA’s office, called it “the worst case I’ve ever seen.”
, and it’s allegedly sustained over a long period of time,” he said.
That was especially true of the unlawful imprisonment of Laura Cummings, in the weeks preceding her death.
“She’s restrained more often than she’s not,” Sheriff’s Capt. Ronald L. Kenyon said.
At other times, she was treated as an inanimate object, draped with a blanket so that visitors who stopped by the apartment wouldn’t know she was there
, according to authorities.
“If the allegations are true, it is clear that the defendants did not treat Laura as a human being,” said Sedita. “In fact, if these allegations are true, one wonders if either one of them even considered Laura to be a human being
Laura Cummings’ tragic life might have gone in a different direction on several occasions, starting when she was a youngster, according to various sources.
As a child, she and other siblings were placed with foster families in Florida that tried unsuccessfully to adopt the children
, said Patricia Wright, Laura’s half-sister.
The Cummings household, in North Collins and prior to that in Olean, was well-known to Child Protective Services in Erie and Cattaraugus counties, family members said.
Patricia Wright, 27, said she reported abuse to Erie County Child Protective Services and Erie County Family Court more than a decade ago.
“I stopped talking to them when I was 17 years old because there was nothing being done,” said Wright, who was legally adopted by a family friend and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in forestry management. “I kept trying to tell them, ‘You need to get those kids out of there. And they said, ‘No there’s nothing we can do.’‚”
Patricia Wright said she was physically abused for years, resulting in a broken ankle and cracked vertebrae in her back.
“I would get hit with baseball bats, spoons — anything that mom could grab a hold of,” she said. “We got hurt every day. She didn’t take us to the hospital.”
She was even locked in a closet for a week, and her brother, Luke, sneaked her bread and water, she said.
After spending time at a facility for teenagers, Patricia Wright was legally adopted by Roland Grotke, a neighbor of her grandparents in East Otto.
She said she tried to return to the home and rescue Laura, but was rebuffed by her mother.
“I knew my Mom was kind of off upstairs,”
said Patricia Wright. “I knew she was incapable of taking care of a person like Laura
, who needed that extra help.”
Neither Richard Cummings nor Patricia Wright had been allowed to visit Laura Cummings in recent years, they said.
But other relatives were in regular contact with her, including another brother, Eddie Cummings, who lived in the house but is not a suspect in the abuse. Eddie Cummings, who left the house for work each morning by 7 a.m. and didn’t return until after 9 p.m., declined to speak with The News.
Sources said Joyce Landahl, a cousin of Eva Cummings who also is legal guardian of Eva Cummings’ youngest daughter, made regular visits to the Cummings home, along with a family friend named Sue.
“Everyone thinks I should’ve known more,” said Landahl. “I didn’t know what was going on. I wish I knew more, but I don’t know nothing.”
Landahl visited the house to drop off food, but didn’t go inside because she has difficulty climbing stairs, she said.
Eva Cummings could be verbally abusive to Laura, sometimes screaming at her daughter to clean up faster, said Landahl.
And when the children were younger, Landahl said she reported Eva Cummings on multiple occasions to Child Protective Services — for neglect, not abuse.
“She just wasn’t a good parent in that respect, but I never seen her hurt nobody,” said Landahl.
And Luke, she added, didn’t exhibit violent behavior, either.
“I never would’ve dreamed Lukey would do that. I can’t imagine it,” she said. “I never seen nothing abusive with him. Never, ever.”