The live-in caregiver of an elderly East Frankford woman was being held on assault charges after the woman in her care was found starving, covered in filth, and suffering from festering, maggot-infested sores.
She later died in what city prosecutors Monday called one of the most horrific cases of elder abuse their office has ever seen, and prosecutors are now weighing a murder charge.
Plane Paciunas, 89, died Nov. 15, about a week after she was found "barely alive" in her living room, wrapped in a quilt on a bed covered with trash bags, prosecutors said in an interview Monday.
A medic and police officers responding to the scene at first believed she was dead. She had open wounds, one so severe that a bone showed. One person at the scene compared her appearance to that of a "mummy."
Police say her caregiver, Jean Dombrowski, 48, told detectives she hadn't been providing for her charge's basic needs - and she knew that was why Paciunas' health was failing.
"The facts are truly sickening," said Jennifer Selber, who heads the district attorney's Homicide Unit. "This poor woman clearly suffered for a very long time under unspeakable conditions."
Selber's unit is now reviewing the case, awaiting a medical examiner's ruling as to cause and manner of death.
In the meantime, Dombrowski's bail has been set at $2 million. She remained in custody Monday night on charges of aggravated assault, neglect of care for a dependent person, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person.
Her attorney, a public defender, could not be reached for comment.
A representative of the Philadelphia Council for Aging would not confirm or deny whether the agency knew of the case.
Dombrowski told police she had known Paciunas for 18 years and became her caregiver six years ago.
She had been cashing Paciunas' monthly Social Security checks of about $1,100 "with her permission," police said.
It's unclear how long Paciunas languished, uncared for, in her home on the 2100 block of Haworth Street.
What was clear was that Dombrowski controlled the home, and at times even rented out some of rooms in the corner rowhouse.
According to a police report and law enforcement sources, after the Council for Aging received an anonymous complaint, a court-appointed guardian, Robert Stump, arrived at Paciunas' house Nov. 7, the day after he was assigned to her case.
A young woman answered the door, Stump told police, and refused him entry. She told Stump that Dombrowski and Paciunas were at the doctor's office.
Stump called police. When they arrived, Dombrowski herself answered the door. With a court order in hand, the officers went inside.
Dombrowski would later tell police she hadn't taken Paciunas to the doctor in about a year, police said.
The house was so dilapidated that it appeared abandoned, they said. The kitchen looked unusable. Heroin baggies littered the floor.
There was a slight figure lying on a foam mattress lined with trash bags in the living room.
She didn't appear to be breathing.
One of the officers said it looked as if she hadn't eaten in weeks. There was no food in the house.
Medics arriving on the scene found a rotting wound on her buttock.
One thought Paciunas was dead until he touched her jaw and she moved.
Paciunas was rushed to the hospital, where her wounds were found to be so badly infested with maggots that she had to undergo hours-long decontamination, a law enforcement source said. She died eight days later. The cause of death will help determine whether a homicide charge is filed.