Mother indicted on 1974 murder charge
By Jaclyn O'Malley
A Washoe County grand jury Wednesday indicted a former Sparks woman on a murder charge related to the child-abuse death of her adopted toddler nearly 32 years ago.
Catherine Wyman, 66, is accused of beating to death James "J.W." Bader, who was either 3 or 4 when he died Aug. 10, 1974. The former Catherine Bader was living in a Phoenix suburb with her husband, James Wyman, when she was arrested last month on a warrant charging her with her son's death.
The murder indictment accuses Wyman of kicking or striking J.W. so severely that his intestines ruptured, causing a fatal infection. She also was indicted on one count of child abuse between Jan. 1, 1974, and the death.
The case was re-examined after the boy's sister, Julie Dunn, of Chico, Calif., told Sparks police last year that her mother abused the boy. She has declined to comment publicly.
Medical examiners in 1974 had said J.W. died accidentally. His mother said then the boy fell off a lawn chair. Hours after the fall he was hospitalized and died.
Dunn, 15 in 1974, told police she had seen her mother slam toilet seats on her brother's genitals, hold his hands in boiling water, shove his head under water in bath tubs and ram his head into a post.
She said her mother kicked and punched the boy in the stomach several times the day he died.
Reno pathologist Dr. Ellen Clark reviewed the investigation files and determined the death could not have resulted from falling from the lawn chair. She said it was the result of severe child abuse, noting the body was covered with bruises.
Police said a lack of training in child abuse cases in 1974 could have led to the accidental death ruling.
Wyman's lawyer, Martin Wiener, said Wednesday his client is innocent but the indictment was not unexpected. He challenged Dunn's motives for making the accusations, as well as Clark's findings.
"All Catherine knows is the opinion of the pathologist in 1974, who said he died of an accidental fall," he said.
Wyman remains in Washoe County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. If she makes bail, she cannot contact Dunn or Dunn's family.
The boy's aunt, Virginia Dunn, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that J.W. had developmental disabilities that frustrated Wyman, who was his primary caregiver. Catherine and her husband, Larry Bader, had daughters Julie, Kimmie and Tammie. Kimmie Bader died in Fremont, Neb., when she was 10 months old and Tammie at age 21 of toxic shock syndrome.
Fremont police detectives have reopened Kimmie's death investigation. No charges have been filed.
Catherine and Larry Bader adopted J.W. ,but divorced in 1987. Larry Bader, a former Reno firefighter and business owner, died in 2004.