Police suspect abuse caused '74 child death

Date: 2006-06-03

abuse caused '74 child death

By Jaclyn O'Malley

jomalley@rgj.com

In 1974, James W. Bader was a 3-year-old with developmental disabilities, abandoned by his parents in Las Vegas, according to court records.

James was then adopted by Reno firefighter Larry Bader and his wife, Catherine, who had two daughters of their own. The family lived at 1345 Zephyr Way in Sparks.

But Catherine Bader, frustrated by the boy's disabilities, began severely abusing him, her daughter Julie Dunn, of Chico, Calif,. told Sparks police in March 2005.

That tip, according to a police affidavit, led to her mother's arrest Wednesday in Phoenix for James' premeditated murder.

It was unknown why Dunn waited nearly 32 years to tell authorities. She did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

James, covered in bruises, died at St. Mary's Hospital on Aug. 10, 1974. Catherine Bader reported he had fallen from a lawn chair while the family watched then 15-year-old Dunn's softball game, court records show.

Medical examiners and police at that time determined James' death was an accident.

But now officials say James's adoptive mother allegedly beat the boy until his intestines burst, and the resulting infection killed him.

Commander Steve Asher of Sparks police said lack of training and experience with child abuse cases might be the reason authorities at the time ruled the death an accident. He said the case has not spurred a demand for review of child deaths from that time because they were not common.

Catherine Bader, 66, who now goes by Bader-Wyman, was arrested Wednesday in a Phoenix suburb where she lives. The warrant, issued Tuesday, charges her with premeditated murder and child abuse.

She is expected to be brought back to Washoe County following an extradition hearing.

Larry Bader, of Chico, died in 2004, according to his obituary, written by Dunn.

Dunn told police last year that she witnessed her mother repeatedly kicking James in the stomach, putting his hands in boiling water as punishment for "messing his pants," slamming toilet seats on his genitals, holding his head underwater in the bathtub and ramming his head on a post in their backyard, the document said.

"(Catherine Bader) did not appreciate the fact that the boy had been adopted and was further upset he had learning disabilities and was developmentally disabled. The primary responsibility for the daily child care fell to Bader who resented being saddled with that responsibility and as a result, she was abusive toward him," the affidavit said.

An autopsy in 1974 found that James' intestines ruptured and caused a fatal infection.

After Dunn's tip, Sparks police reopened the case and asked local forensic pathologist Dr. Ellen Clark to review evidence from the case, namely autopsy photos. She determined, the affidavit said, that there was a "complete laceration, transection of the small bowel," and at least 23 bruises and broken skin on the front of his body, and seven bruises on the back.

Clark also noted bruises on the toddler's penis.

Injuries so severe could not have been caused by a fall from a lawn chair, she said.

"The external and internal injuries far exceed in number and severity which would reasonably occur under the initial reported circumstances," Clark said, according to the document. "The amount of force required to produce bowel transection is extreme."

They were the "result of very forceful, blunt abdominal trauma such as repetitive kicking and punching."

Clark said James' death certificate should be reissued to say he died of homicide as a result of being beaten by Catherine Bader. Asher of Sparks police said Friday he did not know if that had yet been done.

Catherine Bader told police in 1974 that James seemed fine after his supposed fall from the chair, but later complained of stomach pain that worsened, causing hospitalization.

Dunn said the day James died she saw her mother kick James in the stomach "numerous times," the affidavit said.

Catherine and Larry Bader had also lived in Las Vegas, records show. It's unknown when they were divorced. Prior to her arrest, Catherine Bader had lived in Washington state and Arizona.

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