BREAKING NEWS: Police investigate possible elder abuse case in La Jolla
By Pat Sherman and Susan DeMaggio
New crews descended on an otherwise quiet La Jolla street Friday afternoon, following what may turn out to be the town’s saddest and most bizarre incidence of elder abuse.
Police are investigating allegations that 90-year-old Robert Stella was severely abused by his live-in girlfriend, an alleged homeless woman he befriended years ago, after meeting her in an alley behind Mary Star-of-the-Sea Church, the family said.
As of Friday evening, March 7, no charges have been filed. The family has given the girlfriend until the end of the month to vacate the home, in the 6600 block of Avenida de las Pescas.
Family members report that the woman, who lived with him and was supposedly caring for him, stole money and abused him for years.
Stella’s granddaughter, Emily Criscuolo, said the 57-year-old girlfriend, also claimed to be her grandfather’s friend and caretaker.
“She shut out the family and totally isolated him,” she told La Jolla Light. “She has depleted his bank account; she has depleted his health.”
Criscuolo said her grandfather, a retired nuclear physicist and veteran of World War II who survived the Battle of the Bulge, has been living in horrible conditions without enough food and water for years. The woman living in the home with him was very controlling and would tie him to a bed when she left the house, the family said.
Criscuolo said the girlfriend has other people living in the home, including a homeless man living in a shed in the backyard, and another man living in the house.
Animal Control officers confiscated several dogs and cats when they entered the home over the weekend. They were at the house again Thursday night removing the carcass of a dead cat from the bathroom.
“I lived here when I grew up and went to La Jolla High,” Criscuolo said. “This was a beautiful house until she got ahold of it, and him.”
Robert Stella’s family arrived at the home two weeks ago with police and had him removed from the home by ambulance. He has since been moved to a nearby care facility where he is being treated for severe bedsores.
“He is desperate for help; he does not want her to do this to him anymore,” Criscuolo said, noting that the family suspects her grandfather was being drugged. “He was out of it when he was here. The moment he’s been out of this house, he’s completely clear-minded.”
Next door neighbor Eve Davidson was close with Robert Stella’s widow, Maria, who died of breast cancer in 1995. Davidson said she didn’t realize how severe the situation had become.
“I walk around the block every day and I would see Robert out in his wheelchair in the sun and sometimes he was awake and sometimes he was not,” she said.
Robert Stella’s son, Ramon Stella, said a sealed court document the family has learned about could be a marriage certificate between his father and the girlfriend, though he is not yet certain.
“The attorneys are going to get a court order to open it up and see what it is,” he said.
Ramon Stella said the girlfriend moved into the home about five years ago, and once produced a cable access TV show called “Victoria’s Secret Library,” which aired on Time Warner Cable in San Diego.
“We knew there was something odd going on from the very beginning,” Ramon said. “Who walks up to somebody in an alley and introduces themselves and starts talking to them? It’s not real common.”
Ramon Stella said his father would always thank the family for their cautionary advice, though assured them he was alright.
Another neighbor told the Light “the family has been through hell trying to get this woman out of his life. … they have called Adult Protective Services many times, as well as County Animal Control. It looks like the family might finally be able to take control of his life again … but why did it have to take this long?”
The Light will continue its coverage of the situation as updates become available.
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