Father charged in starvation case dies [includes a timeline]

Date: 2004-12-01

Raymond Jackson, 51, gained notoriety after a son was found looking in trash for food. Three other adopted boys were found malnourished.

Author: John Shiffman and Kristen A. Graham INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

Raymond Jackson, 51, the South Jersey father who gained infamy last year when he and his wife were accused of starving four adopted sons, died yesterday.

Jackson's death came 16 days after he suffered a massive stroke, which caused extensive brain damage. He died at about 9 a.m. at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, said his lawyer, Richard Josselson.

Jackson, whose criminal case was in the preliminary stages, died while surrounded by friends and family, according to a brief statement on the family's Web site.

He had been hospitalized since Nov. 14, when family members returning from church discovered him unconscious at the family home.

The family lived in Collingswood when the charges were brought last year, but moved after they were released on bail. The name of their new town in South Jersey was not disclosed.

The father of five biological and six adopted children, he grew up in East Camden and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School.

He served as a Camden County Sheriff's officer for five years but most recently worked for a financial planning company.

He had a deep, rich voice - he sang in gospel groups and performed dance routines in churches and nursing homes. Friends have said he was calm and was the backbone of his family, that he served meals at homeless shelters and was friendly and more outgoing than his quiet wife.

A different portrait of him began to emerge last year, however, when he and his wife, Vanessa, were arrested and charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of four adopted children, age 9, 11, 14 and 19 at the time.

The boys weighed less than 140 pounds combined when they were removed from the Jackson home. In a year, each has grown at least five inches taller and doubled his weight, according to state officials.

Doctors have concluded that the sons were malnourished during their years in the Jackson home, according to law enforcement officials. The officials have said the sons subsisted, in part, on oatmeal and uncooked pancake batter - and grew so hungry they gnawed on windowsills, wallboard and insulation.

The criminal charges, to which the Jacksons pleaded not guilty, drew national headlines, triggered a congressional hearing, and helped illustrate failed efforts to reform the state's beleaguered child welfare system, the Division of Youth and Family Services.

The Jacksons, pointing to home videos and statements by friends of the family, have called the allegations that they starved the children preposterous. They have noted that each of the sons arrived in their home with preexisting medical disorders.

A family spokesman said Raymond Jackson's relatives were unavailable for comment but directed inquiries to journalist David France, who recently authored a profile of the Jacksons for New York magazine. The largely flattering article hit newsstands Nov. 15, the day after Raymond Jackson collapsed.

"I'm just sitting here looking at the picture of the family," France said yesterday, referring to a church directory portrait that was published in newspapers nationwide after the Jacksons' arrest. "From a huge family to nothing. . . . The tragedy is just massive. That family is just blown apart."

During the congressional hearing in Washington in November 2003, the family pastor gave a statement in which he explained why Raymond Jackson adopted troubled children, particularly the eldest and most difficult, Bruce.

"Ray said that he and Vanessa had discussed it and decided that if they didn't adopt him, that nobody else would," the Rev. Harry Thomas said at the hearing. "How many of us in this room would have taken on a project like Bruce?"

A pretrial status hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6, but Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said yesterday that the hearing would likely be postponed."This is not an appropriate time to discuss the case," Sarubbi added. "This is a time for Raymond Jackson's family and friends to mourn. There will be time at a future date for us to consult with defense counsel and the court."

Under the terms of their $100,000 bail, the Jacksons are not permitted to visit or speak with the four adopted sons.

It could not be determined yesterday whether the sons, who are living in a foster home, would be permitted to attend the funeral. Family lawyers could ask Superior Court Judge Robert G. Millenky to temporarily alter Vanessa Jackson's bail conditions.

Andy Williams, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, said he was unsure whether the four adopted Jackson sons had been informed of Raymond Jackson's death.

"They certainly will be told," Williams said. "We'd have to. We would have to figure out either with the counselor or others who know them what is the best way to address it."

Should the children be permitted to attend the funeral, Williams said, "we would want to know whether the kids wanted to go and do what was in their best interest."

Raymond Jackson is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, Vanessa Woodridge Jackson; sons Raymond, Bruce, Keith, Tyrone and Michael; daughters Renee, Jere, LaRae, Vernae, Keziah and Jacee.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 856-779-3927 or kgraham@phillynews.com.

Staff writer Mitch Lipka contributed to this article.

The Jackson Case: A Timeline

Oct. 10, 2003: Bruce Jackson, 19, is found scavenging for food in a neighbor's trash can in Collingswood. He and three younger brothers, all adopted by Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, are found malnourished and taken into state custody. Bruce Jackson weighs 45 pounds.

Oct. 24: Criminal charges of endangering the welfare of children and aggravated assault are filed against the Jacksons.

Nov. 2 and 3: The couple's pastor puts up cash and his home to bail them out of jail. In an emotional scene, the Jacksons are reunited with their biological children outside the Come Alive! New Testament Church in Medford.

Nov. 12: The Jacksons go on national television to plead for their adopted children's return. State officials reiterate that the children have grown and gained weight by simply being fed a proper diet.

Dec. 3: Bruce Jackson weighs 70 1/2 pounds. His three brothers also have gained significant weight.

Feb. 12, 2004: The findings of the state Child Advocate's investigation are released. The report assails New Jersey's role in the apparent years-long starvation of the Jackson brothers. The Division of Youth and Family Services, the report says, failed the brothers "every step of the way" by not enforcing basic rules about foster homes. It also has harsh words about the Jacksons.

May 5: A grand jury in Camden County indicts the Jacksons on 28 counts of withholding sufficient food, shelter and medical care from their adopted sons.

July 12: The Jacksons plead not guilty at their first court appearance.

Nov. 14: The day before a lengthy New York magazine profile of the Jacksons hits newsstands, Raymond Jackson suffers a massive stroke and extensive brain damage.

Nov. 30: Raymond Jackson, 51, dies at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.


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