Ramona Wilson tidied her house, parked both of her cars in her garage, shut all the doors and turned on the engines.
But before she could climb behind the wheel and asphyxiate herself, she was interrupted by a tap, tap, tap on her front door.
Two strangers stood on her porch. Wilson was angry at being interrupted and wanted to chase them away. But one of them — Dave Kessler — told her he understood the shame and embarrassment she must have felt after being conned out of $50,000 by a man she thought loved her.
He could help her, Kessler said.
At 74, Wilson had been through a lot in life, but nothing before had robbed her of her will to live.
Kessler, who worked in the Ohio attorney general’s office, asked her to make a pot of coffee and listen to what he had to say.
“She needed to hear that it wasn’t her fault,” he said.
• • •Ohio officials hope to elevate elder abuse to the forefront of societal concerns through stories such as Wilson’s in much the same way that attention was called to child abuse 30 years ago and to domestic violence 10 years ago, said Cynthia Dungey, director of the state Department of Job and Family Services.
The state also plans to create a stronger statewide adult-protective-services system and wants to encourage the kind of collaboration among caseworkers, law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors and others that helped put Wilson’s life back together.
Wilson told Kessler how she had met Charles Sellers at church one summer afternoon in 2005. He had offered to walk her to her car after the sermon. He was 24 years younger than she was, but they exchanged phone numbers and struck up a friendship.
What she didn’t know at the time was that Sellers had recently been released from prison after serving 10 years for fatally shooting a man during a gambling argument.
Wilson enjoyed the attention that Sellers lavished on her. She had lost her third husband, James, not even a year earlier to Alzheimer’s and was lonely and still grieving. Sellers finally admitted details of his past, but he had convinced Wilson and most other members of their church that he was a reformed man, a good Christian, deserving of a second chance.
After a three-month courtship, Wilson and Sellers married. He then persuaded her to take out a $14,000 home-equity line of credit on her North Side house for home repairs and to open a dental office. A few days later, he called Wilson to say he was going to a hospital on his way home from work.
He hung up before Wilson could ask what was wrong. He never came home, and Wilson frantically called family, friends and then the police to report him missing.
Soon, Wilson saw ATM withdrawals in Dayton, near what police would tell her were known prostitution areas. Sellers ultimately ended up in Wheeling, W.Va., where, while high on cocaine and heroin, he fell out of a brothel window and was hospitalized with a broken arm, court records show.
By then, he had blown $50,000 — the money from the home-equity line and Wilson’s entire life savings.
“Can you imagine your whole life gone like that?” Wilson asked. “The worst part was I lost my respect. Even my own children were talking behind my back.”
Although Kessler said he might not be able to return her money, he promised he would try to bring her justice. He worked with Columbus police and the Franklin County prosecutor’s office to build a case against Sellers. In the meantime, Adult Protective Services in Franklin County and the Pickaway County Victims of Crime program helped Wilson seek civil remedies, including a divorce.
In 2007, Sellers was sentenced to five years in prison by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Eric Brown. He appealed and, in 2008, was given five years’ probation and ordered to pay $14,326 in restitution.
To spare others the pain she went through, Wilson, who had become pastor of her church, traveled the state with Kessler to tell her story.
“I’m not a victim anymore,” she said. “I’m an overcomer.” (Continue Reading)
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Advocates seek more funds to fight elder abuse