Stevens County deputies discovered a 105-year-old woman begging for food after they were asked by an animal cruelty suspect to retrieve his medicine from the squalid Kettle Falls, Wash., home before taking him to jail.
The woman, Frances Swan, was rescued May 26 and now is recuperating at a Colville nursing home, while her self-described caretaker, 78-year-old John H. Friedlund, was charged Monday with felony criminal mistreatment in connection with the discovery. Swan, who turns 106 on Wednesday, is believed to be one of the state’s oldest residents.
“He’s not a relative. There is no relationship whatsoever,” Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said of Friedlund.
State and county officials are now trying to contact the woman’s niece in Bremerton and have not yet learned who was responsible for the care of the bedridden woman. She has been placed at the Buena Vista nursing home in Colville and is doing well, Rasmussen said.
“I’m very pleased by the fast response by law enforcement and associated agencies who have acted together to bring about some relief for this lady,” he said.
The mistreatment case began unfolding as deputies went to arrest Friedlund at a home where he was living but does not own at 180 E. 10th Ave. in Kettle Falls. Deputies had an arrest warrant for him after neighbors reported several starving horses at Friedlund’s property, located at 2019 Friedlund Road.
When the deputies arrived at the 10th Avenue home, owned by Swan, they found garbage, metal, car parts, dog feces and “other assorted junk” in the front yard and driveway. Household garbage lined a narrow passageway to the front door.
“As the door opened, a very strong, pungent odor of feces, rotting food, urine, and staleness was easily detected by all the officers outside,” Detective James Caruso wrote.
Rasmussen said investigators found a photo of Swan’s home taken in 2005. “It was a nice, neat little place. Now it’s wall-to-wall trash.”
After he was initially taken into custody, Friedlund gave the deputies permission to enter the home to retrieve his medicine. At that point, Caruso asked about the lady who owned the home and asked if they could check on her. Friedlund told the deputies: “She’s just fine. I take care of her.”
Caruso then picked his way through barking dogs, rotten food, filthy dog bowls, scores of guns and ammunition amid odors he described as “almost unbearable” until he reached a bedroom door. When he opened it, he found the “thin, frail woman with pale skin tone. When she saw me, she immediately looked at me and said, ‘Please feed me.’ ”
Caruso identified himself, and Swan again said, “ ‘Please feed me. I haven’t eaten since yesterday.’ Her voice was soft and labored and it appeared that it was difficult for her to speak,” Caruso wrote in the report. “Frances told me she wanted to ‘go to the hospital and be taken care of.’ ”
As she pleaded with the detective to not leave, Friedlund entered the room and Swan asked him why he hadn’t fed her. “He laughed and said, ‘I fed you today and you know it.’ ”
Once outside the room, Caruso asked Friedlund what specifically he had fed the elderly woman. “He looked at me and said, ‘I fed her, and she knows it.’ He wouldn’t say any more.”
When ambulance crews arrived, they could not get their equipment through the piles of filth and had to extricate Swan by carrying her on a hand stretcher.
Friedlund was later released from jail and Swan was allowed to go back home. On a follow-up investigation by Kettle Falls police and state Adult Protective Services on June 6, investigators met with Suzanne Thorne, who said Friedlund was paying her to occasionally check on Swan.
Thorne avoided many questions with Friedlund present, but nodded when asked if he leaves Swan alone in the home.
“Mrs. Thorne said that Mr. Friedlund takes very good care of Mrs. Swan but was unable to articulate what care he provides her,” Detective Dwayne Ford wrote. “She could not indicate what type of meals he prepares for her or at what regularity.”
Thorne did say that when she tried to clean the home outside of Swan’s room, Friedlund would chastise her.
“She did believe she would be fired … if she informed others about the conditions,” Ford wrote.
Before they left, the investigators learned from Thorne that Friedlund had failed to take Swan to a scheduled doctor’s appointment that day. They decided to remove her from the home and again called the ambulance crew to retrieve her from the filth.
As Swan recuperates at the nursing home, Friedlund remains in the Stevens County Jail on a $25,000 bond, said Rasmussen, who credited Caruso for the discovery when he asked about the woman during the initial arrest.
“Had (Caruso) not asked, they may not have known” Swan’s condition, he said. “We are still gathering information to get a truer picture of what her circumstances were for the last four or five years.”