Anonymous phone call may lead to shocking truth of abuse

The L.A. Times has an incredible story that is far too common in today’s nursing home industry.

Rita Kittower buried her husband last month.  She had bade a tearful goodbye to her mate of 49 years, who had passed away in an exclusive assisted living facility in Calabasas. “He just stopped breathing,” Kittower said she was told by a staff member.

Then came the anonymous phone call the day after the funeral. A female employee of the nursing home told Rita that her 80-year-old husband’s death had been anything but peaceful. She said Elmore Kittower had been beaten to death by someone on the staff.

Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department asked if they could exhume her husband’s body to determine what actually happened.

Mr. Kittower had a stroke which necessitated a stay at a nursing home for rehabilitation. Through a recommendation, Mrs. kittower found a place called Silverado Senior Living in Calabasas. The place specialized in taking care of residents like Mr. Kittower.  The price for such service wasn’t cheap. Rita said she paid nearly $75,000 a year for her husband to share a room with another patient.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, the Kittower family gathered at Silverado to celebrate Elmore’s 80th birthday. The following Sunday, Rita and Elise came back for another visit.  It was the last time they would see Elmore alive.

Two days later, a sheriff’s deputy told her that her husband had died at 8:30 that morning. When Rita called the nursing home she was told that Elmore had “just stopped breathing.”

On Nov. 10, the day after her husband was buried, Rita received the mysterious call from a woman who identified herself only as Maria. The woman said she hadn’t slept in three days.

The woman said a staff member had punched Elmore in the eye and wrapped a towel around his head in an apparent attempt to suffocate him.

She hung up the phone, but not before getting the woman’s number. Rita asked her son to call the woman back. He elicited more details from the caller. When Rita asked about it, he said, “You don’t want to know.”

Rita asked her nephew, Paul Zwerdling, to call the Sheriff’s Department.   As it turned out, sheriff’s officials already had their suspicions about Elmore Kittower’s death. The woman who called Rita Kittower also made an anonymous call to the Lost Hills sheriff’s station and mailed an anonymous letter to a nearby fire station.

Lt. Al Grotefend said detectives gathered sufficient evidence to warrant an exhumation.  After consulting with family members, she agreed to the exhumation in order to “find out the truth” and protect any other potential victims.

Sources confirm some trauma to Kittower’s remains that was consistent with an assault.

Grotefend said detectives developed a prime suspect in the case — a caregiver who no longer works at the facility.  The suspect was arrested shortly after Kittower’s death on suspicion of elder abuse, but the case was rejected by the district attorney’s office.

Grotefend said that the arrest was made before the exhumation and that detectives have since gathered additional information and plan to resubmit the case to prosecutors.

Not surprisingly, Mark Mostow, a paid spokesman for Silverado Senior Living, said the company had completed its own “investigation” and “found nothing to substantiate any wrongdoing.”   However,  Mostow admitted that the employee accused of assaulting Kittower had been terminated for violating an undisclosed policy.