Local News

Investigators: Financial Problems Spurred Maid to Attack Elderly Women

Posted December 6, 2007 1:07 p.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2007 2:57 p.m. EST

— A maid accused of beating three elderly women so severely in an upscale Chatham County retirement community that one later died had financial difficulties and was once under a court order to stay away from elderly people.

Barbara Turrentine Clark, 41, of 275 Toomer Loop Road in Pittsboro, was charged with one count of murder and two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill after the attacks at Galloway Ridge at Fearrington, off U.S. Highway 15/501 north of Pittsboro.

Investigators said Clark became angry during a discussion about a money dispute with her former employers, Margaret Murta, 92, her roommate Mary Corcoran, 82, and their neighbor, Rebecca Fisher, 77. Clark attacked the women with pepper spray and a cane-like object, authorities said.

Murta, 92, died Wednesday evening at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, and Corcoran and Fisher remained in the intensive-care unit.

Clark's relative told WRAL that she had serious financial difficulties, despite owning her own housekeeping business, Barbara Clark Enterprises, with clients in Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.

Scott Croswell, who employed Clark for 10 years, said she had the reputation of being a good housekeeper. "I thought of her almost like family," he said.

Croswell said his family and neighbors stopped employing her when she was accused of stealing and forging checks from a Chapel Hill family. Croswell said he had recommended Clark to that family.

"The trust was violated," he said. "It was very surprising. It was out of character from what we had seen of her."

In 2001, Clark was convicted of misdemeanor larceny and obtaining property by false pretense in connection with the theft of checks from a 90-year-old man. Clark was working as a certified nursing assistant at The Forest at Duke, an upscale Durham retirement community, at the time.

As part of her sentence, she was ordered "not to work in a position where (she) has access to the elderly's property and possessions."

"She was one of those people you knew was bad news," said Assistant Durham County District Attorney Doretta Walker, who prosecuted the 2001 case.

Chatham County deputies arrested Clark in September on a charge that she had taken, forged and cashed checks for more than $12,000 from a former client of her Barbara's Enterprises cleaning service.

Clark's father, Loman Turrentine, attended a brief court hearing for his daughter Thursday afternoon and said it was the first time he had seen her in a year. Although he said his daughter has struggled to make ends meet, Turrentine said he cannot imagine she would kill for money.

"I am going to ask her did she do it. That is the first thing, of course," Turrentine said. "I just can't believe my daughter would go and bust somebody's head.

"If she tells me she didn't do it, I'll preach it to the end that she did not do it. I just can't believe it."

Croswell also expressed hope that his former housekeeper might not have committed the attacks. "I hope she can get it straightened out," he said.

Fisher, who was listed in serious condition, was well enough Wednesday to talk with investigators about the case. She was in the apartment because Murta and Corcoran had asked her to witness their discussion with Clark, authorities said.

Authorities initially thought a burglar attacked the three women.

"Injuries were sustained around the head and arms of the victims," Chatham County Sheriff Richard Webster said. "It was a very ugly scene."

But deputies found Clark in the vicinity and began questioning her almost immediately after the attack, even as they searched for a man who was supposed to have been seen fleeing the scene.

Investigators said Clark's story didn't add up as questioning went on, and she was arrested Wednesday night.

"I know she needed money. As hard as times are, we all need money. I need money, but I don't go out and kill somebody to get it," Turrentine said.

Clark was being held without bond in the Chatham County Detention Center.