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Sunday, May 23, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Man Still Free; Wife Recovering From Torture -- State Paid Husband To Be Caregiver During Years Of Horrific Abuse

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

Copyright 1999, The Seattle Times Co.

When Victor Matthew David talked on about his wife, neighbors took it as just so much hot air.

It was hard enough to picture any woman marrying the slovenly, ill-tempered and perpetually unemployed David. But it was even tougher to imagine one living aboard the putrid, scum-stained sailboat he called home.

There was barely room for David and his seven German shepherds on the cluttered 30-footer tied to pilings on Everett's Union Slough. If a woman lived there, where was she? Even if she were disabled with multiple sclerosis, as David said, how come she never emerged from the boat, even on the warmest, sunniest days of summer or the coldest, dreariest weeks of winter? Where was she when David turned off the boat's power and left for days at a time?

"If there was a woman there," said Bonnie Clevenger, who lived on a neighboring vessel, "why would he leave her when it was so cold?"

No way. So Clevenger and the other boat-dwellers decided to mind their own business.

State welfare workers knew that Victor David did in fact have a wife; for years, they had been sending him money to care for her. But they, too, decided to mind their own business: They decided to overlook clues that something wasn't right aboard the Davids' boat, preferring not to further rile the pistol-toting man who threatened them, kept them away from the boat and insisted on answering questions intended for his wife.

They assured themselves, and each other, that Linda David was OK.

She wasn't. In 1997, police found her jammed into the bow of the boat - covered with vomit, surrounded by dog feces, unable to move an upended computer printer from her legs. She had been beaten senseless, her nose distorted and bulbous, her ears cauliflowered, her face a terrain of knots and bruises, her limbs deformed by years of untreated fractures. Doctors believe she had been pounded for at least a decade, perhaps two.

The police questioned Victor David, and decided early on that he was their only suspect. Then they gave him back his gun and let him go.

Linda David's case is described by several experts as one of the most egregious cases of apparent spousal abuse they have ever heard of, let alone seen personally. One described it as among the worst in U.S. history. It appears she was held captive in conditions that would violate the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war.

For much of that time, prosecutors from the state Attorney General's Office fumbled with the case - although they say they knew Victor David was their man. After months and months of discussing which jurisdiction should charge him and what the charges should be, they turned the case over to Snohomish County last August.

Jim Townsend, the county's chief criminal deputy prosecutor, said his office has had the case since September and he would not comment "until we make a charging decision."

Likewise, top officials of the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) have resisted discussing this case. The Seattle Times pieced together Linda David's story through interviews with her, her social workers, her neighbors, her acquaintances - and her husband.

Victor David remains free - and defiant.

"It's all bluff and intimidation," he said from his boat to a reporter on the shore. "I'm not going anywhere until my wife comes home."

He insists any injuries Linda suffered came when she fell out of a truck. But doctors say otherwise. They and investigators believe she was tortured by the man the state was paying to be her caregiver. Evidence uncovered by The Times shows welfare workers and doctors raised questions, but the state ignored warning signs and let it happen.

The DSHS supervisor who handled the Davids' case for more than a decade defends her agency's inaction, saying: "Hey, with all the other clients we have, we can never find out who all was being abused."

There was little mystery about this one, though, says a doctor who examined Linda David in the week after she was pulled from the boat.

"This woman was just a shell of a human being," said Dr. Joyce Mauk, an Edmonds neurologist. "I've never seen anyone who looked like that."

From different worlds

Linda Anne Pitt, 50, and Victor Matthew David, 59, came from different worlds and emerged as very different people.

She was the only child of William and Ida May Pitt, a truck driver and a nursing-home worker who lived in a working-class section of north Ballard. The Pitts had their daughter rather late in life for the era - he was 41, she 32 when Linda was born in 1948 - and they adored their little girl.

Linda was shy and didn't mix much with other children in the neighborhood. She loved dogs and cats and horses.

She didn't attend the neighborhood school, Ballard High, going instead to Pacific Prevocational School, a now-defunct school near Seattle University that focused on eighth- through 12th-graders with learning disabilities or delayed development.

Linda didn't stand out at Pacific. The neatly dressed teenager with long, dark hair was quiet and withdrawn, her teachers said.

"You had to make a special effort for her to participate," said Robert Ratcliff, who taught arts and crafts. "She was not going to get involved unless she had to."

Victor never had to be prompted to talk. Born in Vancouver, B.C., in 1940, he was a bright kid, a whiz with electronics. He was the first-born son in a wealthy family with roots to Canadian pioneers.

His father, who shared his name, was an eccentric businessman who ultimately ran afoul of the law and was convicted of fraud. Victor and his two older sisters grew up in a palatial house next to a cliff overlooking English Bay.

Victor "was pretty well spoiled," said a cousin, Frank David. "If he wanted something, his father bought it for him. He was the only one on the block that had a pony, if you know what I mean."

Despite his advantages, Victor was a troubled child, relatives and former neighbors say. When his parents divorced, Victor followed his mother to Seattle.

Mother despised Victor

Almost from the start, the relationship between Victor and Linda was rocky, observers say.

Linda had married a man named Michael T. Craig when she was three years out of high school. They lived in a mobile home, and the marriage dissolved after Craig was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. She was in the divorce process when Victor David showed up one day to inquire about a small boat her parents were selling.

In 1973, before her divorce was final, Linda was living with Victor in a three-story house in Fremont. Craig claimed in divorce court that the relationship was illicit, but Linda insisted she was a tenant, not a girlfriend. She added: "(Victor) has been kind to me, offering shelter and assistance, when my own parents turned their backs on me."

In fact, though, her mother was distressed by the relationship and despised Victor because she said he was physically abusive to Linda, other relatives say. Martin Pitt, a cousin, and Marlene Singerman, an aunt, said that in the 1970s, Linda would come to them for refuge.

Singerman recalled answering a knock on the door of her Snohomish home and finding Linda begging for help. She had been hit, and teeth were missing. Victor had beaten her for not cleaning the house properly, Linda explained.

But she always went back.

"My husband and I wanted to do something for her," said Singerman. "But she kept going back to this fellow. What can you do?"

Soon, Linda was too crippled to ever walk away again. She became completely dependent on Victor, both psychologically and physically.

Although state records refer to Linda having multiple sclerosis, medical examinations raised another potential diagnosis: brain damage from physical abuse. As early as 1979, court documents show, Dr. B. Robert Aigner of Seattle noted "evidence of multiple bruises of her arms and legs and chin" and that "scars were seen about the head and neck."

But Linda would not acknowledge any abuse. Instead, she married Victor David in March 1980.

Victor, a sometime truck driver, had trouble holding down work. The couple and their dogs moved from their Fremont house to an old boat moored at the Pioneer Marina on Seattle's Duwamish Waterway. In 1983, when the Port of Seattle closed the marina, the boat moved to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma.

Margaret Wood, the office manager at the marina, said Victor claimed to be a security guard and arranged to walk the property 12 hours a week in exchange for moorage. He told her he had a crippled wife, but Wood "always thought it was very strange that we never saw her."

"He made me nervous," she said, and she suspected something was awry. But, she said, he moved to another marina before she could act.

State starts paying husband

Around that time, Victor walked into a DSHS office in Tacoma and applied for assistance. He told caseworkers it would be difficult to both work and care for Linda, so caseworker Helen Voit set them up on a program called Chore Services, through which the state pays a caretaker to help an invalid.

Officially, Linda chose Victor as her caretaker, but he always spoke for her. It was unusual to pay one spouse to care for the other - it is prohibited under federal welfare programs - but Victor was eventually paid up to $875 a month to bathe, feed and help his wife with daily living.

Before she could receive state assistance, Linda was required to see a doctor who would review her medical records and report to the state on her condition. The doctor raised a red flag, but the warning was in vain.

In his evaluation of Linda for DSHS in 1984, Dr. Stephen Tobias of Tacoma put a question mark next to the diagnosis of MS, and reported that Linda's husband "appears intermittently paranoid and possibly hostile."

"I feel that we may be dealing with long-term and severe abuse that may have caused significant brain damage - would urge immediate investigation into home situation," Tobias wrote.

Caseworker Voit recalls seeing a medical report that raised questions of abuse. Concerned social workers went to the boat, she said, but Linda said she was OK.

DSHS approved Linda's aid application, with Victor as paid caregiver.

Carolyn Bergstrom, the retired supervisor who oversaw the Davids' case, defends DSHS's choices.

"(The doctor) just made one statement. For some reason, he thought that she had some head injuries. . . . He just suspected that there might have been some abuse," Bergstrom said. "Hey, with all the other clients we have, we can never find out who all was being abused."

Three other caseworkers who saw Linda say in retrospect that they had suspicions but faced three obstacles: a victim who wouldn't acknowledge abuse, a husband who complained loudly whenever he was questioned and a supervisor who refused to act.

Caseworker Daisy Chang-Radloff remembers visiting the Davids' boat in the mid-'80s: Victor "was so controlling. . . . He always had her propped in the corner. She was so small, so quiet, I heard her voice maybe once or twice. When you spoke to her, he answered."

Chang-Radloff didn't see any injuries, but Linda "was so dirty I couldn't tell if there were bruises."

In 1987, Chang-Radloff visited the boat for a third and final time, bringing along Adult Protective Services caseworker Rochelle Kalla. APS workers aren't law-enforcement officers, but are supposed to call police if they see signs of abuse. Kalla remembers that Chang-Radloff was worried about Linda, but said Linda denied being mistreated.

Kalla said clients are often terrified that their benefits will be stopped if they report abuse. Besides, Kalla said, "you might have a suspicion that something very bad is happening, but you can't make it stop happening."

Chang-Radloff remembers that Victor David abruptly ended the visit, saying: "The interview is done. You've got to get off the boat." Kalla handed Linda her card and asked her to call, but she had no access to a phone, Chang-Radloff said.

It was the last time the boat would be examined by any state employee for 10 years. Instead, between 1987 and 1993, rare check-ins would occur in a parking lot, with Victor bringing Linda to a caseworker in a pickup full of menacing dogs.

Lammert Funk and Harlan Eagle Bear, two caseworkers who saw Linda in the truck, said they had no ability to determine how she was living or whether she was injured.

The last time a welfare worker saw Linda was Sept. 30, 1993. Eagle Bear said he couldn't get closer than 5 feet to the pickup because of the dogs, and when he asked Linda questions, Victor would answer. Eagle Bear said he was concerned for Linda's safety but felt he had no choice but to allow the arrangement to continue.

"Someone along the line had already made the decision that he (Victor) was going to be the care provider," Eagle Bear said.

Bergstrom, the supervisor, said the arrangement "wouldn't be changed. We didn't have any evidence he was doing anything wrong to her."

Besides, she said, if a caretaker were hired there wouldn't be room on the boat. "You couldn't throw the husband off the boat while she is being taken care of," she said. "I think he would feel very threatened."

The next time Linda was due for an assessment, in March 1995, it was done by phone. Bergstrom says there just wasn't time to visit in person, because her office was busy converting to a new program mandated by federal law.

"We finished first," she says proudly.

`I just didn't call DSHS'

Welfare caseworkers weren't alone in worrying about Linda during those years in Tacoma, during which the Davids' lived at three different marinas and by the dock of a scaffolding company.

Among the most concerned was Martin Pitt, the cousin with whom she had taken refuge years earlier. Linda's mother died in 1986, and Pitt was executor of her estate. He had moved to Washington, D.C., but returned west in 1988 to find Linda.

He finally found the Davids' boat, but before he could see Linda, Victor chased him away with a rifle.

"I had located her but I couldn't see her," Pitt said. "I was very frustrated in that (her mother) very clearly had told me that Victor David was to have none of the funds. I was trapped."

A year later, he checked with DSHS in Tacoma and was assured that Linda was all right.

"I said, `OK, she's alive, she's under the state's care,' " Pitt recalled.

Al Morrison owned one of the marinas where the Davids moored. He had once reported someone for abusing a child and had strong suspicions about Linda's well-being.

"I thought it was terrible the way he was keeping her cooped up - like in a jail. But he had those dogs and they were more important than her," Morrison said. "I just didn't call DSHS. I'd never seen her, so how could I report anything?"

In September 1995, Victor David left Tacoma's City Center Marina the night before he was to be evicted. Witnesses say the exit of his three dilapidated boats was like a scene from "Waterworld," the futuristic movie where derelicts drift in boats endlessly on a flooded Earth. He got as far as Mukilteo, where the dinghy motor, his last means of propulsion, broke down. He was towed into the Seacrest Marina in Everett, where the boat was tied to a floating dock.

There, Victor frequently visited with other live-aboards - and talked about his wife.

Paula Seibert wondered why if Linda was so sick, she never emerged to see a doctor. Besides, Victor gave her the creeps.

"He told me once, `People don't know who I am and what I can do,' " she recalled.

Barry Hawkes would sometimes pull alongside the sailboat when Victor was gone and yell out for Linda.

"She never answered back; I never heard anybody moan, groan or whatever," he said. "I could not possibly, possibly in my own mind believe a woman was on board. . . . The boat was so unsanitary."

But no one called authorities. Some just didn't believe the wife existed.

One factor cited by many of the people who failed to act on Linda David's behalf, including state officials, is that they just couldn't believe she wouldn't leave or ask for help when she suffered such serious abuse.

Don Dutton, a University of British Columbia psychology professor who has authored books on spousal abuse, said he isn't surprised onlookers felt this way - but the social workers should have known better.

"If you've been imprisoned by someone, they are in a position of having life-and-death control over you," Dutton said. "In fact, this one goes way beyond cases involving hostages and prisoners of war. Here you are talking about year after year where this guy is beating her, feeding her, beating her, feeding her."

Still, the people who failed to respond to the signals of abuse are not monsters, said John Darley, a Princeton University professor who has studied bystander non-intervention. People act decisively when they think they're the only one who can, but they'll leave it to others if others are around, he says. And if one seems calm, the others will decide that everything is fine.

Rescue and remorse

In August 1996, Federal Social Security Administration officials thought Victor might be stealing Linda's Social Security disability checks. He was using his power of attorney to sign the checks, and no one had seen her.

Wondering if she might be dead, a field worker visited the boat. Victor chased him away. Rather than summoning the cops, the Social Security Inspector General opened a fraud investigation, gathering some evidence but not taking action. Linda fell through another crack.

Ultimately, it was Victor David who blew the whistle on himself. By 1996, he was receiving an estimated $18,000 to $23,000 a year from three sources: DSHS, Social Security and Linda's mother's estate.

Because of a change in the law, agencies from Pierce and Snohomish counties were assigned to monitor the state money. In December 1996, the Pierce County group began the process of cutting off payments because no official had seen Linda for more than three years, or had checked the conditions on the boat for nine. Victor was sent notice the next month.

He was outraged. He appeared at DSHS headquarters in Olympia and exclaimed to executive secretary Debbie Goldsby: "They've taken my money."

"He kept telling me about how he needed some money because he was buying some property," Goldsby recalled, and she wondered why he wasn't using it to care for his wife.

"I thought that she was dead," she said.

Finally - this time - someone acted on suspicions. Goldsby and others who were being harassed by Victor sounded the alarm simultaneously, and it was left to James Mead, a veteran DSHS official who oversees Adult Protective Services in Everett, to answer the question: Is Linda David alive or dead?

On Jan. 31, 1997, Mead went to the Everett marina. He encountered an agitated Victor on the dock and gently insisted that he had to see Linda. Victor shot back: "We will have to go fisticuffs if you try."

Victor said he was going to call the police. Mead beat him to it.

Everett Police officers handcuffed Victor and removed a .38-caliber pistol from his pocket. As they approached the sailboat, the seven dogs snarled from the deck. Animal-control officers were called in to take them away and the police climbed aboard.

When officers peered into the jumbled mess in the cramped cabin, they couldn't imagine anyone lived there. The smell was so overwhelming they had to wear masks.

Then one officer heard a "shallow scream of a human," and another heard a moan. A policeman struggled to the bow, where he found Linda lying on a V-shaped berth in the worst conditions rescue workers had ever seen.

After Linda was brought off the boat and taken to the hospital, Victor was released and given back his gun. Rather than arresting him, officers allowed him to hop into his old Corvette and follow her to the hospital.

Within days, the Everett police told DSHS officials they weren't going to investigate the case further, said Assistant State Attorney General Melissa De Groff. One problem was that Linda said she didn't remember being beaten; at that point, she didn't even know her parents had been dead for more than a decade.

De Groff said DSHS officials alerted her, and investigator Karl Parrick was assigned to the case. Parrick, a retired Los Angeles police officer who specializes in patient-abuse cases, gave his findings to his superiors within weeks and said there was enough evidence to prosecute.

By then, Linda had told Parrick her husband had continuously beaten her.

But the case sat dormant. De Groff blamed thin resources in the Attorney General's Office, lack of experience with these kinds of cases and jurisdictional questions. Officials debated not only what crime with which to charge Victor David, but whether the charges should originate with the state or the county.

By law, the Snohomish County prosecutor has the jurisdiction.

"Quite frankly, it seemed like a domestic-violence case to me," said David Waterbury, director of the attorney general's Medicaid fraud unit. As such, Snohomish County would handle it.

Meanwhile, Victor moved his boat to a bay near Marysville, where he would stay for more than two years - unarrested and uncharged.

Linda was moved to a nursing home and placed under guardianship. The court-appointed guardians spent countless hours seeking restraining orders to keep Victor away, but he sneaked into the nursing home or sent friends to visit her.

More than a year and a half after the rescue, the case was referred to the Snohomish County prosecutor.

In an interview, Parrick couldn't hide his frustration with the slow and ineffective legal process.

"This system is set up to fail," he said. "Linda David, quite truthfully, is one of, what, hundreds out there? You can imagine how many more people there are in adult family homes and nursing homes that are going through the same thing."

As for the people in that system, they express remorse about what happened. Eagle Bear of DSHS teared up as he talked about the case. Even Bergstrom, who was generally defensive of DSHS, said: "I feel so bad. Here I was the supervisor all this time."

Along with remorse, for social workers and for Victor David's former neighbors, is anger. Anger that Victor David remains free.

"Is he that smart," asked former neighbor Barry Hawkes, "that he can get through all these loopholes?"

`Vic cannot hurt me anymore'

From her nursing-home bed, Linda can barely raise one arm. Her body is a living history of years of abuse.

Her eyes, her ears, her forehead, her nose - all bear the evidence of what she describes as "very, very hard" beatings by her husband.

She slurs some words, then suddenly utters clear sentences.

She remembers the boat, the dogs, the filth, the pain, the helplessness.

"No way I could get off to get help," she said. "That was home. I never had anywhere else."

Now, at last, "I feel a whole lot safer," she said. "I feel that Vic cannot hurt me anymore."

Finally, she hopes her story will help those who are abused, and those who suspect abuse:

"If they knew what happened to me," she said, "they could have prevented it themselves."

Eric Nalder's phone message number is 206-464-2056. His e-mail address is: enalder@seattletimes.com

Anne Koch's phone message number is 425-745-7814. Her e-mail address is: akoch@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 1999 The Seattle Times Company

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