Two weeks ago David Vanzo brought his elderly mother, Caryl, into a bank in Plymouth, Minnesota to make a cash withdrawal in her name. Caryl didn't say anything during the transaction, and bank employees would later tell officials her feet were dragging the floor and that they "couldn't tell if she was breathing." Seven hours later David reported her dead.
Did David's mother, hours away from death, ask her son to take her to the bank for an $850 withdrawal? Or did David, perhaps inspired by the hilarious 1989 classic Weekend At Bernie's, prop his mother's corpse up in the wheelchair and try to fool people into thinking she was still alive? That's what the authorities are trying to figure out.
David denies the accusations, and told local news reporters, "My mother and I had an agreement. I took care of my mom for years," and, "I'm the good guy here, not the bad guy." But one of the Vanzos' neighbors who saw them leaving in a taxi that day said, "I don't know if she was just unconscious or not alive."
Moving dead weight is hard, and it just gets harder as the body gets stiffer. Noted death blogger Megan Rosenbloom of Death Salon (and occasionally VICE) helped me try to sleuth my way through the plausibility of the accusation. "It's possible that if the person had just died you could get them into a wheelchair before rigor sets in, which usually takes 2-6 hours," she told me.
In a front porch interview, David said, "I loved my mother very, very, very much. I gave my life to keep my mother alive. Look at my eyes."
Well, go on, look at his eyes:
Police found Vanzo in the home she shared with her son, lying in bed, in a robe, with poop-covered boots on. Consequently, the local Fox affiliate says the investigation concerns elderly abuse and potential financial exploitation, and not the non-crime of going out in public with a dead body in a wheelchair, a thing that shockingly is not illegal or even dangerous. I checked.
Rosenbloom pointed out to me that "it's much more dangerous to your health to be around the living than the dead," adding that "only in rare cases of special infectious diseases [like] Ebola or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease does the disease persist in a dead body long enough to potentially infect the living."
Currently, no cause of death has been given, but police don't suspect foul play.
While that's a relief, police told reporters that when they got to the Vanzos' house they were "overwhelmed by the stench of urine and feces," and when he was interviewed by reporters David admitted that he hadn't changed her that day.
David had been involved in suspicious financial matters relating to his mother before. Authorities had questioned him about a reverse mortgage worth $118,000 that his mother didn't know about, and withdrawals of $47,500 and $25,600.
When he went to the bank with her on the day she died, the amount he took out, $850, was hardly coke-and-strippers money. According to Vanzo's testimony, the previous large amounts were withdrawn to help his mother. To some extent, it's hard to doubt that he's telling some version of the truth. Caring for an aging relative at home may be less expensive than a nursing home, but it's not cheap, and it's a full-time job.
Best case scenario, it just sounds like it was a job Vanzo was awful at.
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