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‘God only knows what happened’

An elderly Craig woman loses everything at the hands of her abusive son

Paul Shockley

Who is there,” a weary Violette Bartlett asked, near blind and seated at a table in a Fullerton, Calif. home one afternoon in the spring of 2001.

Her granddaughter, Bridget Bonderud, sat beside her over lunch, while the ruckus of Bartlett’s son’s walking in a side door had startled the elderly woman.

“You know who it is,” John Bartlett told his mother, moving within a few inches of her face.

“Jack Jack the Ripper.”

“Honey, that’s not true,” Bonderud replied, grabbing her wide-eyed grandmother’s hands.

“It shuts her up,” John Bartlett explained, according to a Craig Police Department statement signed by Bonderud.

At the time, he was stealing at least $1,400 per month from his mother for rent payments. Violette, 100, on that spring day, also was unknowingly paying utilities, even landscaping.

John Bartlett was financially destroying his mother. For about three and half years, he embezzled more than $136,000, largely spent on alcohol, according to court records. He subjected his mother to untold neglect and physical abuse that he took to his grave, that a proud woman doesn’t talk about, and in which a social services system apparently wouldn’t get involved.

“God only knows what happened,” Bonderud said.

Bridget and “Kitten” as Violette became known to her grandchildren today are out of financial options.

John Bartlett, 68, died in Moffat County Jail in July awaiting trial on charges of theft, theft from an at-risk adult, neglect of an at-risk adult and third-degree assault of at-risk adult.

His stolen estate was worthless.

“We’re starting from scratch,” said Bonderud, who last week opened an account at Craig’s Community First National Bank to benefit her grandmother.

“There’s literally thousands and thousands in debt out there.”

Included are a year’s worth of unpaid rent for Bartlett’s room at Valley View Manor, where her son “dumped her off” in May 2001.

John Bartlett took up residence at his mother’s 601 Rose Street home over the next nine months.

“(Valley View Manor) would send him letters saying, ‘You owe us money,’ which were never opened or put in the trash,” Bonderud said.

Medicare and Medicaid pick up whatever her social security and pension doesn’t toward $3,300 in monthly payments to Valley View Manor.

“There’s about $50 for incidentals,” said Bonderud, who makes trips from Arizona at least once a month to bring various clothing items, and visit her grandmother.

Bonderud said Violette’s house is the more pressing concern, as the granddaughter has kept up monthly utility payments, insurance and other costs since February.

A bank note against the house, which John Bartlett used in May 2000 to buy a car at about $15,000, also remains outstanding.

Repayment is due in full in February, she said.

“They’ve been great about extending the note, and I’ll pay the interest on it,” she said. “But I know they want their money.”

Thousands of dollars later into repayments for John Bartlett’s debts, Violette is no longer her son’s lone victim.

“I’ve sunk everything I have into this,” Bonderud said.

John Bartlett, an estates lawyer in and out of trouble with the California Bar Association who passed himself off as a practicing Colorado attorney, convinced his reluctant mother to come to California just for the Christmas holidays in 1997. She wouldn’t return to Craig for more than three years.

Bartlett already had persuaded her to sign off on a document making him a trustee of her estate.

The first hint of problems came in January 1998.

“Please come get me,” Bonderud recalls the frantic phone call from her grandmother. “I’ll pay for everything. It won’t cost you anything.”

But during numerous trips to California, Violette wouldn’t go into detail about what was happening, while at the same time expressing fear of her son, Bonderud said.

She said she pressed for more details.

“Think about it … that’s your son.”

John was confronted on several occasions, she said.

“He was good about talking in circles and when you’re done, you’re left scratching your head,” said Bonderud, who asked to take Violette home with her.

“By God, that’s my mother and my responsibility,” was the response on more than one occasion, she recalled.

“What I should have done is just kidnapped her.”

A California social services worker’s report dated July 2001 outlines neglect issues, beginning with Violette’s hospitalization in July 1998.

She weighed 89 pounds.

“Risk of neglect is high if discharged to home,” states the report, which describes her being left at home after being promised food.

The report outlines an

“uncounted number” of animals, accompanying “odors and smells,” and observations of her cleaning up after herself “unsuccessfully” after a bowel movement.

The report continues, “(she) stated that she loves her son and his family and they take good care of her.”

While the report indicates law enforcement was notified, she was allowed to return to her son.

“There are lots of frustrations,” Bonderud said of dealings with social services in California and Colorado.

John Bartlett returned with his mother to Craig in May 2001. Five days after arriving, she was checked into The Memorial Hospital “severely bruised,” and begging attending nurses, “Please don’t let him hurt me,” according to

signed Craig police statements offered by TMH and Valley View Manor staff.

John, according to one of the statements, indicated his mother had “fallen out of bed.”

John Forgay, lieutenant with the Craig Police Department, said the Bartlett case first came to his attention June 2001. The system had clearly failed Violette Bartlett before that, he suggests.

“He took her out there (California) and isolated her from the rest of her family … that’s a big red flag right there,” Forgay said.

But while Bartlett’s horrid condition upon returning to Craig should have raised more alarms, the department and social services were hamstrung both by medical opinion, and Bartlett’s at-times contradictory accounts, given her age and frail condition, Forgay said.

“The doctors could not positively say her injuries were a result of being abused,” Forgay said.

Investigations into the abuse of the elderly, given factors in many cases of potential Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, can be “difficult to appraise.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of this is going on out there,” Forgay

said.

In two of the statements, she is reported to have indicated her son had been hurting her.

But Moffat County Social Service workers allegedly told Bonderud they couldn’t do anything until Violette directly implicated John in physical abuse.

“That’s not good enough,” she said.

“Still to this day, she says, ‘Please don’t let him hurt me,'” Bonderud said. “Her mind is frail, she’s healthy, but she’s scared to death. She just wants to go to sleep.”

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 to at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.


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