Woman Charged in 1976 Death of Infant
Abuse: Suspect is held after reportedly telling a social worker last year about the incident. The Illinois girl, 1, apparently died after being shaken.
By H.G. REZA and E.J. GONG
RVINE — An Irvine woman has been charged with killing her adopted baby daughter 18 years ago in a case that came to light only after she told an Orange County social worker about it last year, police said Friday.
Victoria Neal, described by Irvine police as a 44-year-old unemployed interior designer, was arrested at her Irvine home Thursday on the strength of Illinois indictments charging her with murder or voluntary manslaughter in the death of 1-year-old Danielle Christine Neal, who died Sept. 2, 1976, at a hospital in Peoria, Ill.
The child, who died of injuries apparently caused by being shaken, had been adopted by Neal and her husband at the time, Glenn Neal. The couple, who have a 14-year-old daughter born to them, later moved to Orange County and were divorced last year.
In a telephone interview Friday, Tazewell County, Ill., prosecutor Kirk D. Schoenbein said that in a meeting Victoria Neal and her husband had with an Orange County social worker in October, 1993, Victoria Neal admitted abusing Danielle. Schoenbein said the woman stunned the social worker by blurting out that she was responsible for the baby's death in 1976.
"It appears that she's been racked by a guilty conscience all these years," said Schoenbein. He said Neal told the social worker that she had difficulty dealing with crying children, but there is no evidence that her 14-year-old child was ever abused.
The social worker reported Neal's admission to Irvine police, who forwarded the information to police in Morton, Ill., where the Neals lived at the time of the baby's death, Schoenbein said.
Illinois authorities reopened the case and learned that Victoria Neal had admitted to a Wisconsin physician in 1980 that she had abused Danielle, as well as another baby girl the couple adopted in 1979. The second child was 8 months old when she was taken to a Toledo, Ohio, hospital in 1979 with a brain hemorrhage, Schoenbein said.
According to Schoenbein, Victoria Neal told doctors in both instances that the girls had been injured in falls. Hospital officials suspected abuse in the case of the second child, however, and reported the couple to state authorities. The child was removed from the Neals' custody, but they were never charged. The child recovered from her injuries, Schoenbein said.
Despite the 1980 admission to the doctor, and evidence in 1976 that "Danielle's injuries were inconsistent with Neal's statements" to police, she was not charged until her arrest Thursday, the prosecutor said. He said he was dumbfounded that Neal was never charged in Danielle's death. In 1976, there was enough evidence to suggest that the child's death was not accidental, he said.
"Once we got the information from Irvine police, we looked at all the documents generated in the original investigation," Schoenbein said. "We had the police reports, X-rays and medical reports. We reviewed them and discovered that even then there was enough evidence of possible child abuse. I have no idea why she was never charged."
The child's body was exhumed last November and another autopsy was done, Schoenbein said. The girl was reburied, he said.
Neal is being held on $100,000 bail in the Orange County Jail. An extradition hearing is scheduled for Monday.