Caretaker charged with taking $50,000 from elderly Holocaust survivor

An elderly Seattle woman who had survived the Holocaust lost a large sum of money after her caregiver allegedly stole $50,000 and jewelry from her while she was purportedly providing care for them, police said.

Mary Celeste Park, 54, was charged with first-degree theft after Seattle police detectives investigated claims that she had stolen money and other items from Hermine and Emanuel Berner.

The Berners' daughter, Judy Townsend, had hired Park in February to assist with providing her parents, Hermine, who is 91, and Emanuel, who is 97, with daily tasks such as cooking, driving them to doctor's appointments and taking them outside for walks.

Initially, Park seemed to be providing the Berners with excellent care and appeared to be dedicated to the elderly couple and concerned about their well-being. Townsend said that her parents liked Park and they treated her as if she were a member of their family. Townsend also told police that they requested Park work additional hours because she seemed to be providing such good care to her parents. However, by July, a string of incidents eventually led Townsend to contact the police.

Townsend told police that Park had begun telling her that her mother, who was able-bodied and alert, was starting to decline mentally and physically. Hermine has a pacemaker and is required to take daily cardiac medications; Emanuel is in poorer health than his wife after suffering a bout with cancer two years ago. Hermine told her daughter that she was missing some of her pills, but Park told Townsend that her mother was simply confused.

Now, she believes that Park was not giving Hermine the medication she was prescribed in an attempt to make her "look sicker and sicker — I really believe medication was being withheld."

Townsend believed Park when she told her that her mother was declining mentally and physically, but then her mother began telling her she was missing money from their condo. Hermine had a habit of stashing cash around the couple's condo, a carry over of fears of losing everything that her daughter attributed to her mother being an Auschwitz survivor.

Townsend knew that her mother had a substantial amont of money hidden in the condo — at one time, her mother had returned to the family's overseas farm to retrieve gold that had been buried there during WWII which amounted to about $30,000. Townsend said her mother would routinely add more cash to this fund.

Townsend said that her mother was the first of 150 to leave Auschwitz and that "it took my mom so long to feel comfortable in this country."

Townsend would periodically check on the money her mother hid in the couple's condo and she knew there was a least $50,000 in their home. She tried to convince her mother to put the money in the bank, but Hermine could not be swayed.

When Townsend and her husband were on vacation, they became suspcious of Park and asked her to stop working for her parents and to not enter their condo. She found out from her mother that Park had found the $50,000. Hermine then told her daughter that Park insisted she take a bath and stay in the tub. She also said she had become scared of Park.

Townsend then contacted police who searched Park's home on Aug. 15. Park denied taking any money from the Berners and said that Hermine had given her $100. Since Park has not been working for the Berner, Townsend said her mother's physical and mental health has improved and she does not appear to be ailing in the ways that Park had described. She added that she believes Park was withholding Hermine's medication which negatively impacted her.

"I feel like my parents have been robbed of their security and of their joy," Townsend said.

Park will appear in court Aug. 30. She has not yet entered a plea.


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