TORONTO – The grandparents of a five-year-old boy who was starved until he died of pneumonia — his muscles too weak to help him breathe — subjected two other children to “eerily similar” abuse years earlier, an inquest heard Wednesday.
On Jeffrey Baldwin’s first birthday he was tall for his age and his weight of 22 pounds was average, a pediatric nutritionist told the coroner’s inquest.
Shortly after that he was placed in the custody of his grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, and by the time he died in November 2002 —weeks shy of his sixth birthday — he weighed 21 pounds.
When the Catholic Children’s Aid Society and the York Children’s Aid Society placed Jeffrey — and later his three siblings — in the grandparents’ care, they were unaware the couple had each been convicted of child abuse two decades earlier.
It was in Bottineau and Kidman’s home that Jeffrey — neglected, mistreated and confined for long periods of time to a cold, urine-soaked bedroom — withered and died.
Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, a pediatric nutritionist who examined Jeffrey’s case, told the inquest that in all his years of research in Third World countries he had never seen a child so malnourished and stunted.
“I have not seen anything similar to it before,” Zlotkin said. “I would say he was worse than anything I’ve ever seen in my research and clinical work in Africa.”
Jeffrey had nearly no fat or muscle when he died, as was evidenced by a photo of his shockingly skeletal body shown Wednesday at the inquest. Toward the end of his life it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for him to walk or move much at all, Zlotkin said.
Jeffrey’s cause of death was bacterial bronchopneumonia, the inquest heard, which would have caused rapid breathing. But Jeffrey’s chest muscles were likely too weak at that point to facilitate it, Zlotkin said.
“In the end he wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the needs of his body, moving air in and out,” he told the inquest.
“A child cannot get to this state over a short period of time. We’re talking likely years of inadequate food intake.”
Jeffrey would have “suffered greatly” as he died, pathologist Dr. Gregory Wilson told the inquest. By the time Bottineau called 911 that morning Jeffrey had likely already been dead for an hour or two, he said.
Wilson, who performed the autopsy, had never seen a child in Jeffrey’s condition and said he hopes he never does again. Jeffrey’s emaciated body was covered with bruises and abrasions and areas of his skin were “caked” with fecal material, a few millimetres thick in some spots, he said.
Though pneumonia was the caused of death, the underlying cause was chronic starvation, as it had weakend Jeffrey’s immune system and he inhaled fecal bacteria, Wilson said.
Quite telling was Jeffrey’s thymus gland. His was very small, which indicates chronic stress, Wilson said, “(over) at least weeks and perhaps going back months and I suspect a lot longer than that.”
One of Jeffrey’s sisters was treated much the same as him, the inquest has heard. His two other siblings received relatively normal care from Bottineau and Kidman, but Jeffrey and his sister were referred to as “the pigs,” and treated as such.
But unlike Jeffrey, who wasn’t toilet trained, his sister went to school, where a daily snack was provided, the inquest heard. That may have made the difference and saved her life, Zlotkin said.
More than 20 years before Jeffrey met his horrific fate, Bottineau and Kidman were abusing two other siblings — Bottineau’s own children — the inquest heard.
Bottineau had her first child in December 1969, but the infant died a month later. The baby girl’s cause of death was pneumonia, but multiple fractures were discovered in her body and Bottineau was convicted of assault causing bodily harm.
In 1978 Kidman was convicted of assault causing bodily harm for assaults on Bottineau’s two children from a previous relationship. He was fined $300, the inquest heard.
Those two children were apprehended by the authorities, and were made Crown wards, but Bottineau and Kidman’s own three children remained with them.
It was only when police were investigating Jeffrey’s death, 24 years later, that they learned the extent of what those two children had endured.
“The treatment of these two kids in many ways is eerily similar,” to that of Jeffrey and one of his sisters, said Freya Kristjanson, a lawyer for Jeffrey’s surviving siblings.
Investigators in Jeffrey’s case went back to speak with the two children Kidman was convicted of assaulting and were told horrifying details, former Toronto homicide Det.-Sgt. Mike Davis told the inquest.
The grown children, who by then were 31 and 30 years old, said they were confined in their room, often in dog cages and sometimes with dog collars around their necks. They were forced to go to the bathroom in a potty in the corner of the room. When the potty was full they would go on the floor, the inquest heard. When they complained of being cold, Bottineau would smack them and say “too bad,” Kristjanson told the inquest.
The kids were sometimes forced to drink their own urine and were poorly fed while Bottineau and Kidman ate well, the inquest heard. They were made to stand in the corner for hours at a time, day and night.
A criminal records check would have turned up at least Kidman’s convictions. Children’s aid society records for Bottineau contained different spellings of her first and last names and there is evidence she went by other names, though the inquest has heard that a thorough search still should have turned up past files.