BLACKSTONE — A mother of four was ordered held without bail Friday on charges related to the discovery of the remains of three infants in her squalid, rodent-infested home, two weeks after four unattended children were removed from the dwelling that is within walking distance of police and fire headquarters.
The woman, 31-year-old Erika Murray, appeared disheveled and expressionless in a brief court appearance as details began to emerge of her double life. Outwardly, she appeared to care for two children, but she also allegedly hid the existence of two younger children she apparently neglected, as she lived in a home where the bodies of three infants decayed inside, investigators said.
Murray’s court-appointed lawyer, Keith Halpern, told reporters after a brief court hearing Friday that Murray apparently suffers from a mental illness.
“Living in that house — who could live in that house who wasn’t seriously mentally ill?” Halpern said.
Murray was charged in Uxbridge District Court with concealing fetal death, permitting substantial injury to a child, witness intimidation, and animal cruelty. Not-guilty pleas were entered on her behalf.
Investigators, who have searched the feces-filled home in search of answers, are trying to determine how the three infants died, as well as their age and gender. No one has been charged with homicide in their deaths.
The four living children — ages 13, 10, 3, and 5 months — were placed in the care of the state Department of Children and Families. The two oldest, a girl and boy, were placed with their paternal grandparents, while the youngest two, both girls, remained at a health care facility.
The two youngest showed effects of profound neglect and isolation, one official with knowledge of the investigation said. The 3-year-old has poor muscle tone, apparently cannot walk, and makes few sounds, while the baby shows signs of not being used to sunlight, said the investigator, who was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Police were first called to Murray’s home, at 23 St. Paul St., just after 4 p.m. Aug. 28 after a woman reported that her young son had asked for her assistance to help his friend soothe a crying baby. When officers arrived, they found the four children alone in a home filled with diapers, feces, and garbage, according to an account given to the Globe by Blackstone Police Chief Ross A. Atstupenas.
A dog and a cat were also removed from the house.
Murray, who arrived home when the police were there, was initially charged with reckless endangerment of a child and was released on her own recognizance after a court hearing.
A spokesman said police investigators believe that Murray is the mother of all seven children, both the four living children and the three deceased infants.
She allegedly told state investigators that she was the mother of all four children, but that she had told family members she was baby-sitting the youngest two. She told authorities she hid the pregnancies from her family by wearing loose clothing. The man thought to be the father of the oldest children, identified as Ramon Rivera III, was flabbergasted to learn he had two other children, the investigator said. Rivera has not been charged.
Atstupenas said authorities returned to the home with a search warrant Wednesday, looking for documentation to verify the children’s identities. After being overrun by insects, investigators came across what they believed to be the remains of an infant tucked in the back of a closet. Because of the discovery, investigators had to obtain a new search warrant, and they returned Thursday. They discovered two more sets of infant remains, and the skeletal remains of cats and a dog were also later found.
‘If people don’t call us with what they believe is something wrong, then we can’t get involved.’
A law enforcement official briefed on the investigation described the remains of the deceased infants as skeletal and said some of the remains were found in a bag inside the house amid trash and diapers.
The official said the state medical examiner will review bone growth of the remains to try to calculate the age and gender to determine whether there are any signs of trauma.
“These were actual, born children,” another official briefed on the investigation said.
Photographs taken inside the home and viewed by the Globe showed trash and belongings strewn throughout the residence. A picture showed one room on the second floor filled with empty gallon milk jugs and soda cans.
“It was really something that was heart-wrenching,” Atstupenas said. “It was something that I couldn’t believe. It’s probably something that I hoped would never happen.”
The chief said he has read news reports that people had detected a smell coming from the home, but said that police never received such calls and that there have been no reports to the Board of Health.
“If people don’t call us with what they believe is something wrong, then we can’t get involved,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Children and Families said Thursday that the agency had “never had an open case with this family.”
The Globe reported Friday, however, that DCF social workers visited the family in 2007. The agency said Friday that it had received a report of possible abuse or neglect at the time but that the report was unsupported and “therefore no case was opened.”
DCF said it has been working with state investigators since Aug. 28.
The images shown to the Globe are a far cry from Facebook posts showing Murray as a doting parent of two school-age children.
Over the last recent weeks, Murray had presented herself in public Facebook posts as a caring, cheerful mother. She took pictures of meals she cooked and the new clothes she bought for her children.
Just days before her children were taken into custody, she wrote: “It was a good day. We got everything the kids needed for back to school . . . . Going to lay down and relax!”
Murray’s two oldest children had attended schools in the Blackstone-Millville Regional School District, said Allen W. Himmelberger, superintendent. The oldest was last a seventh-grader at Frederick W. Hartnett Middle School in Blackstone and her younger brother, now 10, was last a third-grader at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Blackstone. However, Himmelberger said neither child was enrolled this school year, which began Sept. 5.
Blackstone is a small, rural community in Central Massachusetts, south of Worcester and near the Rhode Island border. Murray went to school in nearby Northbridge, where her parents still live.
One of three children, she grew up in an average middle-class family, said a relative, who asked for anonymity. Her father was a diesel mechanic, her mother a housemaker.
“They’re a normal all-American family,” he said.
A relative of Murray, who asked for anonymity because of the case’s sensitivity, told the Globe Murray’s family was mystified by the allegations and that her parents had no idea the two younger children existed. They never went into the home on St. Paul Street.
Since her children were placed in state care two weeks ago, Murray has told her family that her two eldest children were taken away after authorities conducted a marijuana raid of her home. She told family that her partner, Rivera, was caught selling marijuana in the basement.
A woman who answered the door at an address listed for Rivera’s mother said she did not know Murray or Rivera and told a Globe reporter she had the wrong house. Two hours later, two State Police detectives rang the doorbell.
Some Blackstone residents were so concerned about the allegations that they attended Murray’s arraignment to learn what they could about the case.
“Everybody started talking about what was going on in town and why there were helicopters and hazmat,” said Jennifer Johnson, a Blackstone parent. “. . . It makes me sick inside.”
Atstupenas said he was told that detectives finished their sweep of the St. Paul Street house Friday and that town health officials have made arrangements for a company to fumigate the property. The town is also erecting a fence around the home.Maria Sacchetti and Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.