Bail was set at $500,000 yesterday for a home health aide charged with murder in the beating death of an elderly Cherry Hill man.

Yolanda Steele, 32, of Camden, was the full-time caretaker for Sidney Wenof, a retired meat wholesaler, and his wife in their apartment.

Wenof, 82, told doctors on Dec. 11 that he had been severely beaten by Steele with his own cane, prosecutors said. He lapsed into a coma soon afterward and died Wednesday at Cooper University Hospital.

An autopsy determined the cause of death to be blunt-force trauma and pneumonia he acquired in the hospital.

Steele reacted with shock yesterday as she learned that Wenof was dead and she was being charged with first-degree murder.

"Oh, my God," she cried as Superior Court Judge Stephen Holden looked on. "I'm so sorry."

Paramedics responded to the Wenofs' Frontage Road apartment on Dec. 11 after receiving a 911 call, said Ira Sloven, an assistant prosecutor with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

When Wenof arrived at Cooper, he told doctors Steele had attacked him with his cane and a telephone. Theora Wenof, 82, told police she watched as Steele beat her husband, Sloven said.

In an interview with Cherry Hill police last week, Steele said Wenof lost his balance and struck his head against a glass table.

During a subsequent interview, Steele told a detective that Wenof became "very aggressive" as she helped him get up and she "just snapped," hitting him in the head with his cane numerous times, according to court records.

Steele, who was initially charged with aggravated assault, was charged Thursday with murder.

An investigation after the incident revealed Steele had forged Wenof's signature on stolen checks on more than one occasion. Wenof had noticed money was missing and was taking steps to identify who was responsible, Sloven said.

"It seems Steele was aware that he was looking into the missing money," Sloven said. "He may have questioned her about it."

Steele is unlicensed and is not affiliated with any home health care organization. Wenof hired her on the recommendation of a friend several months ago.

Steele remained at the Camden County jail yesterday after not posting bail.