Before Jeffrey Baldwin was placed in the care of the grandparents who starved him to death he was a happy little boy who tried to fly like his beloved Superman, his father said as he broke down in tears.
But the five-year-old boy himself was the one who needed saving, and his father admitted Thursday that he was one of many adults who failed to rescue Jeffrey as he wasted away.
A coroner’s inquest into Jeffrey’s death heard for a second day from his father, who lost custody of Jeffrey when he was a toddler. The inquest has heard that the Catholic Children’s Aid Society documented various alleged incidents of domestic violence between Jeffrey’s parents.
The boy and his three siblings were put into the care of their grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, first by children’s aid societies then permanently by the courts.
Both had previous convictions for abusing Bottineau’s children from a previous relationship, but the Catholic Children’s Aid Society did not discover those files in their records until after Jeffrey’s death in November 2002.
But before Jeffrey was locked in his room, forced to mop up his own urine and feces and so severely starved that at the end of his life he couldn’t lift his own head, he was an active boy who always wanted hugs and kisses, his father Richard Baldwin said.
“Jeffrey was my world,” he said. “He was my little man. He had beautiful, curly hair.”
Jeffrey was once very energetic and loved Superman, Baldwin said.
“He wanted to fly,” Baldwin said. “He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up (as Superman) for Halloween one year...He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel.”
But once Jeffrey was in his grandparents’ care, the only hugs he got were probably from his parents, Baldwin said, on the visits they would make whenever Bottineau would deign to give them access.
Baldwin told the inquest Wednesday that the last time he saw his son alive was a couple of months before the boy’s death. He didn’t look well and was “very small,” Baldwin said.
In fact, when Jeffrey died he was severely stunted in height and weighed just 21 pounds — about the same as he did on his first birthday.
Thursday at the inquest, a lawyer representing Jeffrey’s surviving siblings pointed Baldwin to a police interview from a few months after Jeffrey’s death, in which he said the last time he saw his son alive was actually mere weeks before his death.
Jeffrey looked like one of those “Ethiopian children” that he had seen on TV, Baldwin told police in that 2003 interview.
The siblings’ lawyer, Freya Kristjanson, questioned Baldwin about why he didn’t call someone, anyone, if he knew how frail the boy was, to the point where both she and Baldwin were crying and the inquest had to take an early lunch break.
“You know, looking at what Jeffrey was like by October, that unless someone did something, Jeffrey would die,” Kristjanson asked.
“I didn’t think he was going to die,” Baldwin said. He asked Bottineau about Jeffrey’s health and she told him, “Don’t worry, he’ll bounce back,” Baldwin said. He should have pressed her or called the authorities, for the sake of his son, Baldwin admitted Thursday.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry, I took him to the doctor. I’m on top of it,” he said. In fact, the inquest has heard, Jeffrey hadn’t seen a doctor since he was 1 1/2 years old.
“I should have questioned it and that’s where I failed,” Baldwin said. “I failed my son.”
Bottineau and Kidman were convicted in 2006 of second-degree murder in Jeffrey’s death and are serving life sentences.
At the time Jeffrey died there were six adults living in Bottineau and Kidman’s house. Two of their daughters lived there with their partners.
The inquest heard this week from their daughter Tammy Kidman and her former partner Mike Reitemeier. Kidman said she didn’t notice as Jeffrey wasted away because she “didn’t pay that much attention.” Reitemeier said he noticed Jeffrey’s slow decline and was “bugged” by the boy’s treatment, but didn’t want to “create friction” by reporting it.
The couple’s third daughter, Yvonne Kidman, was the mother of Jeffrey and his siblings. She left home as a teenager after throwing hot tea at a sister during an argument, the inquest heard, and gave birth to her first child with Baldwin at age 17.
She is set to testify Monday after Baldwin’s testimony concludes.
Baldwin said he didn’t want to call the Catholic Children’s Aid Society about Jeffrey’s treatment because they were the people who had taken his children away from him. As to why he didn’t call the police or some other authority, he said, “I don’t know. I was scared.”
The inquest is expected to determine whether enough changes have been made to the child protection system in the 11 years since Jeffrey died, or if there are more improvements that can be made to ensure no other child suffers his fate.