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Ancora escapee kills self after return

DeWitt Crandell Jr. managed to hang himself even though he had been placed under 24-hour watch.

A patient who was supposed to be under constant supervision after he briefly escaped from a Camden County psychiatric hospital hanged himself with a bedsheet early yesterday morning.

DeWitt Crandell Jr. was found walking naked along nearby railroad tracks about two hours after he escaped from the state-run Ancora Psychiatric Hospital on Sunday afternoon.

He was returned to the facility and placed under a 24-hour watch.

State officials are now trying to figure out how Crandell was able to commit suicide in a bathroom between two patient rooms. He was discovered around 1:55 a.m. yesterday.

In the aftermath of the suicide, officials said they would be "restructuring" the management of the beleaguered hospital.

"There will be disciplinary action taken against the employee or employees involved, and there will be a restructuring of hospital management," said Ellen Lovejoy, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, which runs the hospital.

"I don't mean one person, I mean management," she said. "We'll have to see what is necessary."

Crandell had been committed to state psychiatric care since 2000, when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the stabbing deaths of his parents.

He was the second committed killer in three months to escape from Ancora, a 709-bed facility that sits on 80 acres in rural Winslow Township.

In September, William Enman walked away from the hospital during a court-approved, unsupervised walk along the grounds.

Enman, who beat his roommate and his roommate's son to death with a baseball bat in 1974, was missing for three days before he returned to Ancora and was found on the campus.

Recently, two civilly committed Ancora patients killed other patients. In July 2006, a woman suffocated her roommate with a pillow. Two psychiatrists and five nurses were suspended for "neglect of duty" in that death.

Then, in January, a male patient punched another in a dispute over a cigarette. The victim started having abdominal pain later that evening, and he died nine days later.

Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez dispatched an investigative team yesterday to determine how Crandell could have escaped and then killed himself.

"We consider this an egregious situation to which we are giving our immediate attention," she said in a statement.

Crandell, from Englewood, Bergen County, was the son of a prominent Columbia University psychiatrist. He stabbed DeWitt Crandell Sr. with a 9-inch hunting knife more than 30 times in 1996. He stabbed his mother, Marian, when she tried to intercede.

After the stabbings, Crandell was found naked, hiding behind a bush in Englewood Cliffs.

His attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.

Like Enman, Crandell resided in a secure ward of Ancora, but had been given permission by a judge to walk the hospital grounds unescorted.

Criminally committed patients have hearings at least once a year before a judge, who consults with their "treatment team" to decide what privileges they can enjoy.

Those allowed to walk the grounds are not considered a danger to themselves or others. Ancora has a fence, but no locked gates.

"We're a hospital, not a prison," Lovejoy said.

Officials were trying to determine yesterday whether Crandell escaped while taking one of his approved walks.

Either way, Ancora staff noticed that Crandell was missing around 2 p.m. Sunday. He was found about two hours later, walking naked in nearby Hammonton, Atlantic County.

He was scratched and bleeding.

"We don't know how he got in that condition," Lovejoy said.

After being checked out at Kessler Memorial Hospital, Crandell was brought back to Ancora and put under "direct supervision."

"Meaning somebody is supposed to be watching him at all times," Lovejoy said.

A phone system that is supposed to notify residents living near the hospital when a patient escapes also malfunctioned Sunday.

Residents have to sign up for the service. After Enman's escape, many said they did not know about the phone system, and they were troubled that no one notified them about an escaped killer.

The system malfunctioned twice after Crandell escaped. Hospital officials began calling neighbors one by one, Lovejoy said, before Crandell was found.

"We want the neighbors to know that we're not nonchalant about this," she said. "We're going to do whatever we have to do to make it a viable, dependable system."

Problems at Ancora

Sept. 9, 2007 - William Enman, who had been granted privileges to walk the grounds without an escort, escapes. Enman has been in a number of psychiatric hospitals since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1974 killing of his roommate and the roommate's 4-year-old son. He confessed to the killings. He was found two days after his escape on the grounds of Ancora.

Jan. 10, 2007 - Robert Williams, a patient, dies after being punched in the stomach by another patient during an argument over a cigarette.

July 14, 2006 - Salwa Srour, a patient at Ancora, suffocates her roommate, Margaret Cetrangolo.