A man who neighbors say spent many years caring for his elderly mother strangled the 88-year-old woman with a necktie in their home, then attempted to commit suicide several hours later before calling 911, police said Friday. Authorities also said he had secretly spent much of her money during that time.
James Olsen, 56, was ordered held without bail on a murder charge during a bedside arraignment at the Nassau University Medical Center, said a spokeswoman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice. He did not enter a plea.
Olsen, who was hospitalized for self-inflicted slash wounds to his wrist, was represented by a lawyer from Legal Aid, which has a policy of not commenting on pending cases. His next court appearance is Tuesday.
His mother, Ruth Olsen, was found dead inside the Garden City home she shared with her son when he called 911 shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday. Detective Lt. John Azzata, commander of the Nassau County homicide squad, said it appeared she had been strangled earlier that same day. An estimate on the time of death was expected after a medical examiner's autopsy, he said.
Police said a preliminary investigation revealed the son, who is unemployed, had emptied much of his mother's bank account over the years. Azzata said it was not apparent that the woman knew of the financial situation; neighbors said it appeared she had been ill in recent years.
"We do not believe that mom was aware of this dollar loss," Azzata said, adding that investigators had yet to determine the amount involved. "We believe he was conflicted over the amount of money he was spending and didn't want mom to know."
Police said Olsen had two prior arrests for drunken driving, once in 1998 and a second time in 2005.
Neighbors in the tony Long Island community, where nearly every lawn is professionally landscaped, said they would occasionally see Olsen walking with his mother around the neighborhood, but those sightings had become rare in recent years.
Sarah Ewing, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1946, said she used to babysit for the younger Olsen and his two siblings. She said it appeared he was Ruth Olsen's sole caretaker; no nurses were ever seen coming or going from the two-story brick house.
"I think that upset him because he was taking care of her," Ewing said. "He was the sole one taking care of her and I mean that's very upsetting." She described James Olsen as "a very cheerful, nice person; he would always say hello to me."
Ewing's daughter, Margo Almeida, recalled seeing Olsen at a block party several years ago.
"All I know is he really loved his mother, and he really took care of her," Almeida said. "Maybe he just broke down after a while."