MILWAUKEE - For more than half a century, Judith Post has tried to stifle the memories surrounding her infant niece's death. Now that her older sister faces a murder charge in the 54-year-old case, Post has been forced to confront anew the painful thoughts she hoped would remain undisturbed.
Ruby Klokow, 74, of Sheboygan was charged this month in the 1957 death of her daughter, after her son came forward to police in 2008 with stories of horrific childhood abuse. Klokow was due to appear in court Wednesday afternoon for a preliminary hearing.
Post, Klokow's 69-year-old sister, isn't sure what to make of the allegations. She told The Associated Press that Klokow regularly abused her when they were children and that she once watched Klokow toss her baby daughter Jeaneen several feet to the ground.
"How do I feel about how she should be punished? I don't know," Post said, pausing for a moment and taking a deep breath. Then she sighed and said, "That's up to God."
The case is proceeding now because of James Klokow Jr. The 55-year-old went to police with stories of his mother regularly beating him, choking him and kicking him in the legs with steel-toed boots so often that he still has knee problems. He spoke of his mother breaking his arm and nose. He said she once forced him to stay in the basement for so long that he quenched his thirst by lapping water from the floor. He also described his mother covering the head of his mentally challenged younger brother with a bag and striking the wailing boy's toes one by one with a hammer.
But despite the physical torture, James Klokow told investigators, one of the worst pains he endured was his mother blaming him for his 7-month-old sister's death.
Klokow's attorney, Kirk Obear, said his client would plead not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder. He said he hasn't yet seen the prosecutors' evidence, and he questions the circumstances under which she was asked about, and allegedly admitted to, something that happened five decades earlier.
"She is older, and like anybody her age she has difficult remembering things from that long ago," he said. "She's very worried. I think she's confused about why this is happening at this point."
Prosecuting old cases can be difficult - memories fade, evidence degrades, witnesses die and records can disappear. The Sheboygan County district attorney acknowledges he wouldn't even have a case if Klokow hadn't admitted to investigators that she caused the baby's death.
No charges were filed after Jeaneen's death in 1957. Ruby Klokow told police the baby had fallen off a sofa while she was tending to a crying James. A family doctor told police the parents were "irresponsible," but he didn't think there was anything criminal about Jeaneen's death.
Another of Ruby's children, Scott, was found dead in his crib seven years later under circumstances that are unclear; no charges have ever been filed in that case.
In Jeaneen's case, an autopsy found Jeaneen suffered two brain hemorrhages, a partially collapsed lung and three scalp bruises. A forensic pathologist who recently reviewed the documents said the severity of the injuries was not consistent with Klokow's explanation.
Post described for the AP how when she was a child, Klokow often tied her and four other siblings to chairs and slapped them. She said Klokow had been thrust unwillingly into a baby-sitting role as a teen.
Post also recalled a night when she had been baby-sitting Jeaneen and her sister and brother-in-law came home drunk, arguing loudly. She said Klokow tore Jeaneen out of her arms and tossed the baby a few feet toward her husband, saying something to the effect of, "Here, catch," Post said. The husband, who died in 2009, made no effort to catch the baby, Post said.
"I don't know if she intentionally meant that or whatever," Post said, her voice lowered almost to a whisper. "That's why I tried to put that way back behind my mind. I blame both of them."
It's not clear how the alleged incident might relate to Jeaneen's death. Post said she never otherwise witnesses her sister abusing her children.
According to the criminal complaint, Klokow told investigators in January that Jeaneen had fallen off the couch but later admitted to being "a little rough" with the baby. She eventually said she had thrown Jeaneen against a sofa, where the baby bounced off and hit the ground, the complaint says. Klokow also admitted causing the infant's death and told investigators she was sorry, according to the complaint.
Those statements made 54 years after the baby's death could be the key to the case.
"Without her statements, her explanations, we probably wouldn't have this case," District Attorney Joe DeCocco said. "A central part of the case is her admission.