The cold, putrid bedroom in which a five-year-old boy starved to death stood in stark contrast to the rest of his grandparents' tidy, warm house with a white picket fence, a coroner's inquest jury saw Tuesday through a series of photos.
But weeks after Jeffrey Baldwin died his grandparents had erased any trace of his shocking neglect with a fresh coat of paint.
While Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman were under a months-long investigation for the death of their grandson, they were trying to make the once feces-stained, urine-soaked room livable as Bottineau tried to regain custody of Jeffrey's siblings, the inquest into his death heard.
Bottineau and Kidman had custody of Jeffrey and his three siblings despite both of them having previous convictions for child abuse. Even in the hours after Jeffrey's death, emergency children's aid workers didn't know the couple's history because they couldn't access that information in their database, the inquest heard.
When Jeffrey died of complications of chronic starvation, he weighed 21 pounds — about the same as he did on his first birthday.
Bedroom filthy, cold
The youngest of Jeffrey's siblings had been sleeping in a cosy crib in Bottineau and Kidman's clean and well-furnished bedroom, the inquest jury saw in photographs. The eldest child was in cramped but warm quarters, sharing the top bunk of a bunk bed with her cousin, and her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend sleeping below. Though low on space, the room had plenty of bedding and plenty of toys.
Osiris Villalobos, an after-hours emergency worker for the Catholic Children's Aid Society who went to the home the morning Jeffrey died on Nov. 30, 2002, said before he discovered where Jeffrey and one of his sisters had been kept, he wouldn't have known anything was amiss.
"If I had been there and not gone into that room I would not have had any concerns about that family," he said.
The bedroom Jeffrey shared with one of his sisters was filthy. And this one had a lock on the outside, Villalobos said.
"I remember the stench...the stench was quite strong," he said. "It was so strong that you went into the bedroom and the odour stays in your clothes."
The floor was stained with urine and Jeffrey's mattress on his crib, which had been turned into a day bed of sorts, was soaked with human waste. Dirty diapers littered the room, he said.
When a coroner who accompanied Villalobos pressed a gloved hand onto the mattress, urine pooled on the surface, Villalobos said.
The room was also "extremely cold," he said, much colder than the rest of the house.
There was a latch on the outside of the door, which can be seen in photos shown to the inquest jury. Villalobos later learned that Jeffrey and his sister were not toilet trained, he said. Sometimes Jeffrey would drink out of the toilet, he was told.
After seeing the condition of that bedroom Villalobos made the immediate decision to take all the other children living in that house — Jeffrey's three siblings and two cousins — into children's aid custody.
Police were called and they began an investigation that would eventually lead to Bottineau and Kidman being convicted of second-degree murder.
Mike Davis, a now-retired Toronto homicide detective, was the officer in charge. When he returned to arrest Bottineau and Kidman, in March 2003, Jeffrey's old bedroom was unrecognizable. He testified Tuesday at the inquest and showed the jury a series of photos.
Before, the only furniture was two cribs-turned-day beds and an old trunk. In March, there was a proper bed with proper bedding and a dresser.
Before, the walls were bare and the windows were covered up. In March, the walls had been painted blue, a wallpaper trim with a fish motif was hung and the windows were uncovered and framed by curtains.
The grandparents had been expecting to welcome their surviving grandchildren home, even as they were about to be charged with murder, Davis said.
"It's my understanding that there was some court proceedings that had been taking place in family court and I believe Elva was attempting to get (the children) back, out of foster care and back into the home and that's why the room was being prepared the way it was," he said.
Davis also said that there were six fake diplomas for Elva on the wall of the house's computer room, including one for a degree in "child psychology" with "the highest" honours.
Another Catholic Children's Aid Society worker helped look after the children right after they were apprehended, the inquest heard. She got them food from McDonalds and the sister with whom Jeffrey shared a room seemed famished, said Maria Valverde. The girl finished her food and still wanted more, she said.
"It was like she was just gorging herself, just putting all the food inside, not even chewing," Valverde said.
She took the girl to the washroom and noticed she had sores on her body and her clothing smelled of urine, Valverde said.
The inquest began on Monday and is expected to last three months.
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