An 81-year-old woman remained in intensive care Wednesday after she was savagely beaten in her Coeur d’Alene home.
Richard Nielsen found his mother-in-law collapsed in her living room Tuesday, the walls and ceiling splattered with blood, according to a Coeur d’Alene police report.
The woman had been beaten in the face and head, and suffered severe cuts, a broken jaw and a broken nose.
Coeur d’Alene police arrested a Rathdrum man Wednesday morning on suspicion of attempted murder. However, the Kootenai County prosecutor’s office did not file formal charges against him and he was released Wednesday evening.
The man has a partial alibi that has been substantiated by witnesses, said police Capt. Carl Bergh.
“He has denied any involvement in this situation,” Bergh said. “We are looking at other potential suspects as we speak.”
The attack has frightened and bewildered residents living in the neighborhood nestled in the heart of Coeur d’Alene. The surrounding blocks are sprinkled with senior residents - many of whom have lived in their homes for more than a decade.
“It’s shocking,” said Joyce Dofelmier, 74, who lives with her husband Verne, 76, across the street from the victim. “This used to be a nice neighborhood.”
“We’re a little nervous,” said Verne Dofelmier, who has known the victim for 15 years. “But, I sleep with a shotgun under my bed and they’ll be picking buckshot out of their fanny if I can get to it.”
Virginia Atwood, who says she is “not very much younger than” the victim, said it concerns her that an elderly person would be the victim of such a brutal crime.
“I have always felt like it wasn’t real important for me to lock my doors in the daytime,” said Atwood, a long-time neighbor of the victim. “But I will now.”
Neighbors say the victim has lived in her downtown Coeur d’Alene home for about 25 years. Although visited often by family, she lives alone. Her husband of 43 years died in December 1994.
“Her daughter had been thinking about moving her closer to where she lives, but she said ‘You know, Mom just loves this house,”’ Atwood said.
Friends say the woman is a home-body who loves to baby sit her great-grandchildren. “She is totally family oriented,” Atwood said.
Police are unsure what time the attack occurred but say it was sometime between 1 and 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The victim’s brother, Roy Bjaaland, had visited her about 1 p.m. Tuesday. She was fine then, according to the report.
But the woman’s son-in-law became worried later in the day, after he had not heard from her. He decided to drive to her house and check on her, according to the report.
Nielsen found the woman propped up against a chair, her head tilted backward and bleeding at 6 p.m. He called 911.
Investigators found signs of a brutal attack. Blood pooled on the floor and stained the living room curtains, walls, chairs and ceiling. Police had a difficult time talking to the woman, whose eyes were nearly swollen shut. Her dentures had been knocked out of her mouth. She faded in and out of consciousness.
When asked who had attacked her, the woman at first said “I don’t know,” according to the police report. But she later said she thought the man was someone who had previously done some work around the home for her.
She said her attacker had come to her house unexpectedly Tuesday. She intended to have him shovel snow for her. But when she let him in the house he assaulted her.
The woman was taken to Kootenai Medical Center, where she was scheduled for surgery Wednesday. Police are waiting for test results to determine whether she was sexually assaulted. She was listed in fair condition.
Police are unsure of the motive for the attack. They haven’t been able to determine whether the house was burglarized or the woman robbed, Bergh said.
Police arrested their original suspect at 4 a.m. Wednesday based on the name and description of a man who had previously worked for the woman, Bergh said.
But the man told investigators he was outside Kootenai County visiting relatives during at least part of the time police believe the woman was attacked. His relatives verified his claims, Bergh said.
“We feel we need to do further investigation,” Bergh said. Investigators are still analyzing items taken from the man during a search of his home and vehicle.
Investigators have not been able to do an in-depth interview with the victim to find out more details. “We have to remember this woman went through a tremendous amount of trauma,” Bergh said.
Another Coeur d’Alene resident reported that a man also came through a southeast city neighborhood offering to work. The man tried to come in the house, claiming he was cold, but the homeowner shut the door, Bergh said.
Police ask that anyone with information about the case, or anyone who saw a suspicious person offering work around the neighborhood call police at (208) 769-2320.
“It really scares the hell out of me,” said Rod Newby, another neighbor. “My daughter lives up the street with my three grandchildren. If he’ll do that to an elderly lady, what would he do with children?”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.