Daughter of suspect in boy's '74 death testifies
By Jaclyn O'Malley
A 68-year-old woman's estranged daughter testified Monday that the two shared a secret for more than 30 years — that her mother repeatedly abused her adopted brother who died in 1974 after supposedly falling from a lawn chair.
Julie Bader-Dunn said both guilt and her father's death prompted her to tell police in 2005 about how her mother allegedly abused James "J.W." Bader, 3, and ultimately caused his death.
She said her mother, Catherine Bader Wyman, would blame the boy's injuries and bruises on her, claiming Bader-Dunn played roughly with him. Bader-Dunn then would be punished by her father.
"I was the one who didn't tell anyone," she said. "I never came forward, and I never told my dad.
"I allowed my mother to continue to beat and hurt my brother."
Wyman has been on trial since last week on a second-degree murder charge for the boy's death. The Arizona woman has pleaded not guilty.
Bader-Dunn said that her mother, usually wearing a pair of blue Dr. Scholls sandals, kicked her brother in the stomach on a daily basis. She said she had seen her mother repeatedly kick the boy up and down the length of the backyard of their Sparks home.
Wyman, she said, had difficulty coping with the boy's developmental disabilities. He had been abandoned by his parents in Las Vegas, was malnourished and had trouble communicating.
J.W. died Aug. 10, 1974, at a Reno hospital after his intestines split, causing a fatal infection. Wyman told authorities J.W. became sick about two hours earlier after falling off a lawn chair while watching Bader-Dunn's softball game.
But Bader-Dunn said that her brother, the team's unofficial bat boy, remained in the dugout with the rest of the players during the double-header.
The coroner in 1974 who ruled the boy's death an accident due to the supposed fall was an insurance salesman with no medical training.
While finding a place to park at the hospital the day J.W. died, Bader-Dunn said her mother warned her to keep their secret.
"She told me everyone would blame me," she said. "It would all be my fault. ... I kept the secret that was supposed to go to the grave."
She said Wyman told her if she said anything, her father, Reno firefighter Larry Bader, would kill her, and he would go to prison. She and her younger sister would be placed in foster care, and the family dog would be put to sleep.
Before the retired firefighter died in 2004, Bader-Dunn said she told him what her mother had done to the boy, whom he loved tremendously.
He told her that he had been suspect in causing the boy's death and said he would have killed Wyman if he had previously known about the abuse. Bader-Dunn said she assured him she was going to turn in her mother and try to get justice for J.W.
Bader-Dunn was 15 when her brother died. She said she treated him as though he were her son, and the guilt of his death prompted her to attempt suicide a few months later.
Wyman's attorney, Martin Wiener, accused Bader-Dunn of inflicting the blow that killed her brother. Then, he accused her now-deceased sister and then her father.
He said Larry Bader was tall and strong, had a drinking problem and was capable of causing harm to the boy.
Wiener accused Bader-Dunn of lying to exact revenge on her mother, whose life, he said, was happier than Bader-Dunn's. He also said that Wyman had walked out on her father, the man Bader-Dunn adored and wanted to please.
Wiener questioned why Bader-Dunn would allow her own son to live with Wyman for four years if she was a child murderer.
Bader-Dunn said she did not believe her mother would harm a grandchild, especially at age 14.