Son of slain 100-year-old woman: Mom was active

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

DARTMOUTH, Mass. – A 100-year-old woman found strangled in a nursing home with a plastic bag over her head loved living at the home, where she happily played bingo and doled out daily hugs to other residents, her son said Thursday.

Elizabeth Barrow was found dead in her bed last month by workers doing a routine check at Brandon Woods nursing home, Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter said. Police initially speculated it was a suicide, but a state medical examiner later ruled it a homicide after an autopsy indicated strangulation.

Barrow’s son, Scott, told The Associated Press on Thursday that a nursing home staffer called him early Sept. 24 to say his mother had been found dead “under unusual circumstances” and that a plastic bag from a local convenience store had been put over her head.

Barrow, 61, said the family had hoped his mother died in her sleep and thought maybe someone put the bag over her head after her death, in the same way a sheet might be put over a dead body.

“That fact that there was a homicide, and strangulation was the cause, is devastating news,” he said.

A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told the AP that Barrow shared a room with a woman in her late 90s, but that there were no obvious signs of a struggle. The official was not authorized to comment on an ongoing investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Investigators were unaware of any conflicts Barrow might have had with others, the official said.

Nursing home workers and other residents are being questioned, Sutter said. “We’re looking at this case from all possible angles,” he said.

A death certificate will list the official cause of death as “asphyxia due to strangulation and suffocation with plastic bag,” said Town Clerk Lynn Medeiros.

Elizabeth Barrow had a sharp mind and was in good health for a woman her age, her son said.

“My mother was a very loving and outgoing person,” Scott Barrow said. “She loved the nursing home she was living at. She was involved in the all the activities.

“Every day she would go up and down the halls and give everyone a hug and say hello. She was like a cheerleader.”

Barrow said he learned from the medical examiner’s report that the bag had been tied on, and said investigators asked him about his mother’s new shoelaces, which he had bought her the previous day.

Nursing home officials are cooperating with authorities, the home’s chief of operations, Scott Picone, said Thursday. He said Barrow’s death has hit the center hard.

“She was a wonderful woman and we were very attached to her, as we are to all our residents,” Picone said.

Brandon Woods scored below the state average in performance surveys conducted in the past two years, but there were no major violations, according to the Web site of the state Executive Office of Human Services, which oversees nursing homes.

The state found a number of deficiencies, including two described as a failure to “meet the dignity of each resident.” The online survey did not specify their exact nature. Other deficiencies found in three recent surveys included the failure to develop comprehensive care plans for some residents.

The nursing home received an overall “above average” four-star rating, out of a possible five stars, on the U.S. government’s Medicare web site. The 118-bed center received three stars for health inspections, four for staffing and three for quality measures.

The home’s president, identified in public records as Frank Romano Jr. of Rowley, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The family, including her three adult grandchildren, took her out for lunch and went shopping for winter clothes the day before she died, and she was in good health and spirits, he said. She also loved trips to the library. She used to read a book a day but had recently cut back to two a week, her son said.

She celebrated her 100th birthday Aug. 21 with a cookout at her son’s home.

Barrow said his mother was born and grew up in New Bedford before moving to nearby Dartmouth, about 50 miles south of Boston, in the 1940s.

When she was in her 20s, Barrow said. his mother was a teacher in the New Bedford Textile School and was dubbed “Miss Rayon” by the New Bedford Rayon Co. As the official representative of the company that manufactured the new miracle fabric used in the city’s tire industry, she traveled all over New England and New York.

She worked for Bishop Stang High School and the Dartmouth public schools for about two decades as a cafeteria worker, where she was known as the “dessert lady,” he said.

“Kids would buy the lunches just to get the dessert,” he said. “When she made apple crisp, it would be a complete sellout.”

Elizabeth Barrow and her husband, A. Raymond, moved to Brandon Woods about 4 1/2 years ago, he said. Her husband was a former town assessor and owned a gas station in town.

She took care of her husband of 65 years until he died two years ago. After he passed away, Barrow said his mother continued to be “upbeat” with her family and friends.