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Retarded Woman Dies Locked in Bedroom; Abused, Malnourished, Police Say

December 1, 1996 GMT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Scented candles flickered throughout the little brick house where authorities found the shriveled body of Robin Appleby, a 30-year-old mentally retarded woman.

The 16 candles were not votives, but the kind designed to deodorize rooms. The heavy perfume almost overwhelmed a deputy coroner sent to investigate the woman’s death. She sensed something was amiss.

Evidence gathered at the home where Miss Appleby lived with her parents showed she apparently spent the final year of her life behind a dead-bolted door in a room without a toilet and deprived of proper food.


A sister who lives down the street told investigators Miss Appleby had not been out of the house for 13 years.

The parents, Billy Ray Appleby, 56, and Alice Louise Appleby, 59, were charged with abuse, unlawful imprisonment and tampering with evidence by cleaning, repainting and recarpeting their daughter’s room between the time she died Nov. 5 and when an ambulance was called four days later. Their son, Billy Ray Appleby II, 32, is charged with taking part in the cleanup.

Authorities say the family lit the candles to mask the odor of the body and the bedroom as well as the smell of fresh paint. The candle scent was so strong that the new paint wasn’t noticed until police came to the house later.

``This is the first time I’ve been in a house that had been freshly painted and I didn’t smell it,″ said Deputy Coroner Janice Bullard.

The presence of a recently used carpet-cleaning machine and the condition of the woman’s body _ found fully clothed in the bathroom but weighing barely 70 pounds and clearly dead for several days _ led Ms. Bullard to notify police. Searches of the house yielded a discarded deadbolt in a garbage bag and evidence the door knob on the inside of the bedroom door had been removed.

``I would have been negligent if I had just called the funeral home, and said come and get her,″ Ms. Bullard said. ``This I felt needed to be investigated.″

The indictment accuses the parents of ``torture, cruel confinement or cruel punishment of their daughter.″ They pleaded innocent last week, as did their son to tampering with evidence.

The parents face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, their son a maximum of five years.

Advocates for the mentally retarded say families of retarded people face tremendous stresses. And the family’s public defenders say police reports have given only one side of the story.

Rob Eggert, a lawyer representing Mrs. Appleby, read a brief statement after the arraignment:

``The Applebys loved Robin. They bathed her, brushed her teeth and otherwise cared for her for 30 years. Unfortunately, at the end, they became overwhelmed by a variety of events, including two strokes suffered by Mr. Appleby. Nonetheless, they continued to try to care for Robin rather than institutionalizing her.″

The strokes forced Appleby’s retirement as a forklift operator.

Skip Daleure, the attorney representing Billy Ray Appleby II, a maintenance worker, said the son should not be charged at all.

``Anything that Billy Appleby did he did because he didn’t want his parents to get in trouble,″ Daleure said. ``Billy loved his sister very much.″

Family members have declined to make public statements, including Jennifer Appleby, who gave police the information that her sister had been confined at least 13 years. She has not been charged and did not return a reporter’s phone calls.

Neighbors said the Applebys had been long rumored to have an adult daughter living at home but did not recall ever seeing her.

In 1979, social workers received an anonymous complaint that the then-13-year-old Robin was not in school and was never kept clean. She was enrolled, and the principal reported the girl was doing well, ``considering she had never been in school before,″ Cary Willis, a spokesman for the state Cabinet for Families and Children, said last month.

Willis said he didn’t know whether social workers ever checked back on the family. State records in the Appleby case end in 1981, when Robin was 15.

Coroner Richard Greathouse said Miss Appleby had a history of seizures and likely died of one, but an official ruling awaits the results of medical tests. He said he would hold an inquest to determine what happened to Robin Appleby before she died in the squalid bedroom.

News of Miss Appleby’s death and alleged abuse coincided with a national conference in Louisville of The Arc, an advocate group for the mentally retarded based in Washington, D.C.

Liz Moore, an assistant director for The Arc, attended the conference and an impromptu candlelight vigil held in memory of Miss Appleby.

``This was a case that concerned us very deeply,″ she said. ``It’s an extreme, if the allegations are true.″

Ms. Moore said high stress was not unusual in a family that cares for a retarded adult.

But Greathouse, the coroner, said those families are the ones most vociferously demanding an airing of the case.

``It has caused widespread outrage and indignation ... particularly amongst those who have a retarded disadvantaged family member similar to Appleby,″ he said.

``You just don’t lock 30-year old people up with no bathroom facility and put a deadbolt lock on the door and feed them through the door and then shut the door.″