Updated July 17, 11:00 a.m.
For five years, caregivers reportedly pleaded with Brookfield resident Joseph Duffy to care for his bedridden, increasingly disabled wife, Mary Jane. And throughout that period, from at least October 2007 to August 2011, caregivers also reportedly told superiors that Joseph Duffy was neglecting her.
But no state or private healthcare agency acted to remove Mary Jane Duffy from the care of her husband until just nine days before her death on Sept. 1, 2011 – a failure of the system that Judge Geary W. Kull called “the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen” during Joseph Duffy’s bond hearing July 12 at the Maybrook courthouse in Maywood.
On July 11, after an investigation lasting more than 10 months, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office charged Joseph S. Duffy, 60, with two counts of criminal abuse or neglect of an elderly person with a disability. The charges are Class 2 felonies and carry prison sentences of between three and seven years, if convicted.
Kull set Duffy’s bond at $75,000 and scheduled his next court date for July 19.
Duffy limped as he was escorted into the hearing room at Maybrook on Thursday morning and appeared somewhat confused as he stood before Kull and listened to the prosecutor lay out the extent of the neglect that led to his wife’s death.
On several occasions, Duffy tried to interject statements but was urged to be quiet by the public defender and by Kull, who advised Duffy to “do yourself a favor.”
Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, in an interview at his office at the Maybrook court complex on July 12, indicated that some state agencies, including the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services was contacted about Mary Jane Duffy’s case.
The Department of Human Services had assigned a caregiver to Mary Jane Duffy as early as 2007.
Dart said that it was “abundantly clear that caregivers were alerting people to concerns they had, and they were not minor concerns. They were concerns that were rather serious in nature.”
The Office of the Inspector General went so far as to work up some type of action plan to mandate care levels for Mary Jane Duffy. But that never happened, whether it was due to Joseph Duffy blocking any action through his power of attorney over his wife’s healthcare or agencies failing to follow up.
“It’s also abundantly clear that for either him waving around his power of attorney or people just not following through to make sure that all this was being implemented, she was not properly monitored,” Dart said.
Law enforcement was not aware of the situation until Aug. 23, 2011, when an elder abuse caseworker at Aging Care Connections in LaGrange called Brookfield police. That caseworker reported that she had received two anonymous phone calls on Aug. 21 and 23 complaining about the neglect.
Police and a representative from the Illinois Department on Aging went to the Duffys’ condominium at 8802 45th Place, Brookfield, that same day and found 61-year-old Mary Jane Duffy curled up in a fetal position. She weighed just 54 pounds and had multiple, serious bedsores all over her body.
In addition to the bedsores, Mary Jane Duffy had severe bruising, multiple bone fractures and missing teeth. She was also in the late stages of dementia, was blind and unable to speak. She had been suffering from dementia since 2006, according to the sheriff’s office, and until 2011 had been treated by many hospitals, nursing homes and hospice services.
Mary Jane Duffy was taken to Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago and remained there until Sept. 1, 2011, when she died. The Cook County Medical Examiner ruled her death a homicide as a result of severe neglect and elder abuse by her husband.
During that time, according to the sheriff’s office, several agencies complained about Joseph Duffy’s behavior towards his wife and the nurses who cared for her. One service reportedly refused to provide service after Joseph Duffy denied a nurse entry to their residence because of her ethnicity.
Joseph Duffy was reportedly often verbally abusive towards his wife. During Joseph Duffy’s bond hearing on July 12, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Lou Norwell stated that Mary Jane Duffy “lived in constant fear” of her husband and “told her almost daily that he wanted her to die.”
On Oct. 7, 2007, a caregiver told prosecutors, that on a day where his wife was having a hard time eating, Joseph Duffy bent down close to Mary Jane Duffy’s face and said, “Why don’t you just drop dead and do everybody a favor?”
Some apparently suspected that when Mary Jane Duffy was taken to the hospital to treat injuries suffered in a “fall,” those injuries were actually caused by her husband, according to the sheriff’s office. At the time abuse or neglect reportedly could not be proven, the sheriff’s office reported.
Since 2007, Mary Jane Duffy was reportedly relegated to a small room where she lay on an 18-inch high folding cot with a two-inch thick mattress. When Joseph Duffy, who slept on a full-size bed in the master bedroom, reportedly refused to get his wife a pillow, a caregiver bought one herself.
Joseph Duffy also reportedly refused repeated instructions to tend to his wife when caregivers were not at the home. He failed to ever provide that care, said Norwell.
“[Duffy] repeatedly refused to obtain any medical care for the victim, as the sores worsened and multiplied. The victim’s body was, in essence, rotting away before the defendant’s very eyes,” Norwell said.
Mary Jane Duffy worked for many years for ComEd before she was forced to retire around 2005 when she began suffering from dementia, a condition brought on by hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. She reportedly suffered from that condition since childhood.
After retirement, she received a monthly disability check from ComEd and Social Security disability.
When authorities removed Mary Jane from her home, Joseph Duffy, who was unemployed, reportedly stated to police, “Thanks, I just lost everything. Now I lose her Social Security and pension. There goes my house and car.”
Dart said he was unsure why it took so long for the Cook County State’s Attorney to charge Joseph Duffy. However, the state’s attorney was investigating the case in partnership with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Financial Crimes and Senior Financial Exploitation Unit.
At this time, said Dart, the state is not seeking any charges related to financial crimes.
“The entire issue of the finances, whether or not there were other motivations, are definitely things that we’ve explored and continue to look at certain aspects of, but as of now, there are no charges in regards to that,” said Dart. “But it was definitely an area we’ve looked at and are continuing to examine.”
Asked whether anyone connected to state agencies that were supposed to be looking out for Mary Jane Duffy’s welfare would be held accountable for their apparent inaction, Dart said the sheriff’s office is continuing to investigate how Mary Jane slipped through the cracks.
“We’re still looking at that,” Dart said. “It’s really hard to understand and stomach the fact that this wasn’t a case of an isolated situation.
“This goes back to at least 2007, and some indication even prior to that, where people were aware and people were doing their best to notify folks that things were not the way they should be.”