TORONTO – As a five-year-old boy withered away and died of starvation at the hands of his grandparents, his aunt — who lived under the same roof — says she didn’t notice his alarming condition because she “didn’t pay that much attention.”
Doctors have compared Jeffrey Baldwin’s emaciated frame when he died to that of an African famine victim and have said that anyone who saw Jeffrey, especially in the last months of his life, would have known he was in dire need of help.
But Tammy Kidman told the coroner’s inquest into Jeffrey’s death that she believed her mother Elva Bottineau, Jeffrey’s grandmother, when she said doctors had checked Jeffrey out and pronounced him healthy.
A lawyer at the inquest asked Kidman, somewhat incredulously, if she didn’t notice that Jeffrey was wasting away before her eyes.
“I didn’t pay that much attention, to be honest,” replied Kidman, who had studied early childhood education for a semester.
Her partner, meanwhile, told the inquest he noticed Jeffrey’s slow decline and was “bugged” by the boy’s treatment, but didn’t want to “create friction” by reporting it.
When Jeffrey died in November 2002, weeks shy of his sixth birthday, he weighed 21 pounds — about the same as he did on his first birthday.
His grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, had been granted custody of Jeffrey and his three siblings despite having previous child abuse convictions. Tammy Kidman wrote letters to children’s aid authorities in support of her mother’s bid to gain custody of the kids from Kidman’s sister.
Bottineau and Norman Kidman were ultimately convicted of second-degree murder in Jeffrey’s death and are serving life sentences.
Neither Tammy Kidman nor her partner Mike Reitemeier testified at that trial, so Tuesday’s inquest testimony marked the first time the public has heard from them, as two of the six adults who were living in Bottineau and Kidman’s house when Jeffrey died. They’re no longer a couple but remain friends, the inquest heard.
Reitemeier, Kidman and their two children — one of whom was the same age as Jeffrey — were living in the east-end Toronto home with another one of Bottineau and Kidman’s daughters and her boyfriend. Kidman had lived in the house on and off for years and Reitemeier was a frequent visitor during Jeffrey’s life. Kidman and their children moved in three months before Jeffrey’s death while Reitemeier moved in a few days before the death.
In the last few days of Jeffrey’s life, the boy was so weakened that he had trouble standing, eating and even holding his head up, Reitemeier said.
“I sort of had it in my head that he wasn’t going to, he wasn’t going to make it,” Reitemeier told the inquest.
He talked to Jeffrey a few days before his death and the boy told him “he didn’t want to be there anymore and he wanted to get out,” Reitemeier said.
Kidman, however, said she didn’t talk to Jeffrey in the last three months of his life.
Coroner’s counsel Jill Witkin asked Reitemeier if he ever called 911 or children’s aid with his concerns. He hadn’t.
“I should have,” Reitemeier said. “I mean, I torture myself every day since this has happened…I don’t know why I didn’t do something.”
But he also said he kept quiet because he was afraid Bottineau would kick his family out of the house, where they were living for free, sleeping in the living room. Everyone in the house was “scared” to confront Bottineau about Jeffrey’s treatment, Reitemeier said.
Reitemeier, Kidman and their two children were supposed to move out on Dec. 1, 2002, the day after Jeffrey died.
When asked by a reporter, after the inquest concluded for the day, to explain why he never called 911 for Jeffrey, Reitemeier responded by raising his middle finger.
Reitemeier saw Jeffrey and one of his sisters locked in their bedroom at night, and they urinated and defecated in there because they couldn’t get out, he said. The children were forced to clean up their mess with paper towels, but the room smelled so foul that it wafted through the house as soon as the door was opened, he said.
Kidman said she had no concerns about that “at the time.”
The children were locked in the fetid room sometimes from bed time until noon the next day so they didn’t get out and fall down the stairs, Kidman said.
Witkin asked Reitemeier if it bothered him that Bottineau made the kids clean up their own fecal matter, especially having two young children of his own in the house at the time.
“Yeah, it bugged me,” he said. “At that point Tammy and my kids had no place to go so I was trying in a way not to create friction between Elva and Tammy and everything.”
If anyone expressed concern about Jeffrey, Bottineau would tell them he had just seen a doctor and was healthy, both Kidman and Reitemeier said. In fact, the inquest has heard, Jeffrey hadn’t been taken to a doctor since he was about 1 1/2 years old.
A photo of Jeffrey’s skeletal body, taken before his autopsy, was put on the screen Tuesday at the inquest.
“You didn’t think that body there, with no muscle mass, no fat whatsoever…you believed there was nothing that needed to be done for him?” Witkin asked.
“At the time, no,” Kidman said. “I truly believed (Bottineau) was doing what was needed.”
A pathologist testified that Jeffrey would have suffered greatly at the end as his body would have been too weak to keep up with the rapid breathing necessitated by the pneumonia that ultimately killed him.