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Neighbors describe mother

by David Cole
| December 9, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Those who know Elisabeth C. Crossley describe her as a chain smoker, and computer and video game junkie who rarely left the apartment she shared with her mom and her twin daughters.

They also describe a mother who was scared of the girls' biological father, and paranoid he might show up at any time, and whose heart never quite seemed to be into raising their daughters.

Carli Ash knew the mother well, having rented an adjacent apartment that shared a wall with the twins' bedroom, and who spent a lot of time caring for the girls when Crossley, 26, needed help. For a time, she saw the girls every other day.

Ash and her husband, Lee Ash, heard the twins constantly screaming and banging on the wall.

The Ashes called police and child protection authorities to get the girls help, they said.

"I don't think police have enough power," she said. "There's so much red tape."

They couldn't stand to see them living in filthy conditions, possibly eating rotten baby formula that just sat around the apartment, and the isolation they were subjected to in their bedroom.

Lee Ash, 40, built a crib for the girls, but they just saw that in a Dumpster later on.

"It hurt my feelings," he said. "I wish they would have given it back, or to somebody else at least."

Carli Ash recalls Crossley making baby formula for the girls, but doing so with a full can of the powdered food and mixing it in a large, old pickle jar - that way she wouldn't have to keep making small amounts as the girls gulped it down.

Carli Ash said Crossley was a southern California "beach bum" before moving up here a couple years ago. She spent time in California living on the streets, and beaches, panhandling for money to live. She said Crossley moved to North Idaho to escape her husband, the twins' father, Scott Crossley, who is believed to still be living in California.

Elisabeth Crossley and her mother, Ruth K. Cassidy, 55, have both been charged with two counts of felony injury to a child. The two have been living with and in custody of Crossley's twin daughters, who turn 2 years old next week.

Police on Sunday found the girls confined to a filthy bedroom with no clothes, blankets or furniture with multiple bruises and infected cuts and scrapes at Cassidy's apartment, at 1201 N. Lincoln Way. Police were tipped off to the girls' living conditions.

Both women are in custody at the Kootenai County jail.

Francis D. Gitzen was Cassidy's boyfriend for roughly three years, and lived with her and Crossley and the twins, before they threw him out in October, he said.

Losing his job might have had something to do with him getting the boot from the crowded 800-square-foot apartment, he said.

He said they didn't get along anymore after he was fired from Sherman Junction Restaurant, where he had worked as a dishwasher and busboy. He's couch surfing now, after trying to establish his own apartment in the complex didn't work out, he said.

Gitzen, 46, said Crossley often wouldn't hear the girls "screaming their heads off" because she would have her headphones on while she was logged on to the Internet.

"She was interested in computers, downloading music, and playing role-playing games online," Gitzen said. "That was all she focused on."

He said she was trying to save money to move to Ohio to be with a man she met online, and planned to leave the twins with himself and Cassidy when she was gone. Crossley never saved the necessary money after quitting her job at Center Partners, he said.

Gitzen said he and Cassidy moved up to Coeur d'Alene from California themselves, because he had a prospective job waiting here.

Crossley followed them, pregnant by Scott Crossley, but also in fear of him, he said.

When she moved to Idaho, it wasn't with her husband, but with a new guy, Phil. He doesn't remember Phil's last name, though he also lived with them in the two-bedroom apartment for a time.

Scott Crossley "was nothing nice," Gitzen said. "He sent her threatening e-mails."

Gitzen and Cassidy would feed the girls, change their diapers, and Cassidy would usually give them baths, he said. Crossley wouldn't do it, he said.

"I think Ruth was exhausted" taking care of the girls, he said.

He doesn't know what happened after he was gone from the apartment.

"As soon as they kicked me out, it was out of my hands," Gitzen said.

Ash, 25, said she got to know Elisabeth Crossley when the twins were almost due.

Once the girls were born, Ash said, "It seemed like she never wanted to be involved."

Crossley seemed overwhelmed, she said.

She describes Crossley as introverted, and said few people, if any, would visit her and Cassidy's apartment. Crossley rarely left the apartment with the girls except to go and make sure social services agencies knew she needed assistance, she said. Crossley manipulated the system, she said.

"I'd give anything to see those girls," Ash said. "I'd be about the only happy face they'd recognize."

'Concerning behaviors'

When Coeur d'Alene police talked with Crossley early Sunday morning, just before she was arrested for what officers believe was severe neglect of her twin daughters, they noticed some "concerning behaviors" from the mother.

At one point she tried to close the door to her apartment on one officer who was following her inside. When another officer came up to the door in response, her response shocked them both.

"He no more than put out his hand and touched her arm, then she screamed and collapsed to the floor in tears," one officer wrote in his report. "She began saying she didn't know I was coming through the door, which was a total lie, since she looked right at me as she shut the door on me."

The other officer said in his report that he wanted to grab her elbow to pull her away from the door. After she threw herself to the ground, and began the screaming, she covered her head, he wrote.

"She said she did not want me to hurt her," he wrote.

After appearing to hyperventilate, Crossley began panting and crying, then ran into the bathroom, the officers wrote.

Cassidy told the officers Crossley might have had a panic attack, according to reports.

Once under arrest early Sunday morning, Crossley began screaming as an officer opened the door to his patrol car to load her inside.

"She said I couldn't put her in the car," he wrote. "She began to hyperventilate between screams and sobs."

She declined medical attention, the officers wrote.

Police also wrote they thought Crossley has some "mental deficiencies or was possibly an abuse victim herself."

The girls were examined by nurses at Kootenai Medical Center after police took them from the house. "(An) emergency room nurse indicated both children exhibited signs of physical abuse from a 'skilled abuser,' who was hurting the girls in locations that would always be hidden by their clothing while in public," one officer wrote in his report.

Police were not strangers to the women's apartment.

Officers had responded seven times for what they called "welfare checks," from November 2009 to September 23. Police visited the place once a month between May and September of this year. The complaint each time was that babies were crying there.

Sgt. Christie Wood said officers checked on the children and determined they had no signs of physical abuse. They had food, clothing and diapers, she said.

"It was noted that the apartment could use a cleaning, but there was no criminal abuse detected," she said. "Officers see dirty houses on a daily basis. They also see poor parenting practices."

Police need to be able to meet a legal definition of child abuse before they can remove a child from a residence, she said.

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