It is hard to read the story of Mary Jane Duffy, the story told on our front page today. It is literally hard to push your way through the paragraphs when you know the outcome – a death so hard, so filled with degradation that it is, thankfully, hard to comprehend.
This is a nightmare. And yet it took place, agonizingly and across years, in our very neighborhood. A husband with motives that are unfathomable ignores and abuses the woman he married. Handcuffing her to a wheelchair. Isolating her in a small room with a thin mattress. Joseph Duffy bullied his wife and intimidated potential caregivers with his power of attorney and angry posturing.
In the dismal end days of her 61-year life, Mary Jane Duffy was bruised, broken, covered with bedsores and weighed just 54 pounds.
She died in her Brookfield condo last September. Like everything in this case, the long-overdue investigation that followed her blessed passing has taken too long. Now Joseph Duffy has been charged with two counts of criminal abuse or elder neglect. His bond has been set at $75,000 and he faces another hearing this week.
Cook County judges are notably unflappable, but last week in a courtroom at Maybrook, Judge Geary Kull called this case “the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen.”
The legal system will now grind down on Joseph Duffy. Considering the treatment of his wife, the grinding will be earned.
Now this story turns to how it could happen. And that story is more complex than the usual front-page headlines about dead children and hoarded animals where no one ever made the call, no one ever took the responsibility to report what they knew.
In the case of Mary Jane Duffy, she wasn’t alone; her abuse was not a secret. Caregivers, Brookfield cops, even a state agency knew pieces of the situation and made reports over the course of years. How then did the “system” fail until a blind woman, a woman suffering from dementia, curled into the protective, coiled position of a newborn, finally acceding to the spoken daily wishes of a husband who, according to prosecutors “told her almost daily that he wanted her to die.”
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said his office, now through with the investigation of the willful actions of Joseph Duffy, is continuing to sort out how Mary Jane Duffy suffered and died in almost plain sight of numerous agencies charged with preventing such torment.
Mary Jane Duffy is dead. Joseph Duffy will get what is coming to him. Nothing changes that. But can her death be more than just a case study in system failure? More than just a one week story in a local paper? If not, then every hellish moment of Mary Jane Duffy’s minute-by-minute murder will have been in vain.