Northeast Times

Northeast man faces trial in starvation death of father

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Thomas Houck summoned fire de­part­ment para­med­ics to his par­ents’ Academy Gar­dens home last Dec. 26 to treat his ail­ing moth­er Dor­is.

On the way up­stairs, para­med­ic Paul Par­is spot­ted the covered and mo­tion­less fig­ure of a man ly­ing on a mat­tress on the liv­ing room floor and ques­tioned Houck.

Houck iden­ti­fied the man as his 82-year-old fath­er, Le­onard, and told Par­is, “My fath­er died a couple days ago,” ac­cord­ing to As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Car­o­lyn Naylor.

The med­ic asked Houck why he hadn’t re­por­ted the death soon­er. Houck had no ex­plan­a­tion.

“He didn’t re­spond,” Naylor said.

Last week, Mu­ni­cip­al Court Judge Dav­id C. Shuter ordered Thomas Houck to stand tri­al for murder in the star­va­tion death of his fath­er. It is not known why or how Houck, 57, al­legedly de­prived his par­ents of nu­tri­tion. But wit­nesses at a June 26 pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing re­vealed the out­come in grue­some de­tail.

As­sist­ant Med­ic­al Ex­am­iner Ed­win Lieber­man test­i­fied that Le­onard Houck weighed just 79 pounds and was 5 feet 7 inches tall when au­thor­it­ies re­covered his re­mains from the home on the 3400 block of Kirk­wood Road. He had died with­in the pre­vi­ous day or two — just as Thomas Houck had told Par­is. The causes of death were mal­nu­tri­tion and de­hyd­ra­tion.

Le­onard Houck had a small amount of di­ges­ted food in his stom­ach, but had no body fat. He had bed­sores. His mat­tress was soiled.

Dor­is Houck also was mal­nour­ished, weigh­ing just 92 pounds at the time. She has gained about 26 pounds since then, but has been dia­gnosed with Alzheimer’s dis­ease. She now lives with her daugh­ter and son-in-law.

Au­thor­it­ies al­lege that it had been a dec­ade since either Houck par­ent had re­ceived med­ic­al at­ten­tion. It may have been al­most three years since Thomas Houck had let any­one in­to the home to see them.

Thomas Houck lived with the couple and presen­ted him­self to re­l­at­ives as their care pro­vider. He had gained con­trol of their fin­an­cial ac­counts and had the deed on the house trans­ferred in­to his name, Naylor said.

And he isol­ated the couple, re­fus­ing to al­low even his sis­ter’s hus­band in­to the home to see them, ac­cord­ing to court testi­mony.

The broth­er-in-law, Paul Rieser, test­i­fied that Thomas Houck re­peatedly turned away his ef­forts to con­tact the couple. When Rieser would call the house, Thomas Houck would an­swer the tele­phone and of­fer ex­cuses as to why Rieser could not vis­it the couple or take them to a res­taur­ant.

“(Houck) would ex­plain, ‘I don’t want to dis­turb their routine,’” Naylor said.

Oth­er times, nobody answered the tele­phone. Rieser went to the house too, but Thomas Houck had changed the door locks.

“(Rieser) could see the de­fend­ant through the win­dow, but the de­fend­ant didn’t an­swer the door,” Naylor said.

Rieser said that he had last seen Le­onard and Dor­is Houck in early 2009.

No evid­ence was presen­ted in court re­gard­ing Thomas Houck’s em­ploy­ment status or in­come. Po­lice found food in the kit­chen re­fri­ger­at­or, but it is un­clear if Le­onard and Dor­is Houck had the abil­ity to feed them­selves.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice filed charges against Houck on March 15 fol­low­ing a lengthy in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the sus­pi­cious death. He is ac­cused of murder, in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter, felony theft, ab­use of corpse and reck­less en­dan­ger­ment. He re­mains in pris­on without bail and will be ar­raigned in Com­mon Pleas Court on Ju­ly 17. ••

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You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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