Chex mix, rope, diaper found in 70-year-old's throat

A view inside the entrance to the Roxborough apartment complex where authorities now say that Geraldine Cherry, 50, murdered roommate Kathleen McEwan, 70. ABI REIMOLD / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A view inside the entrance to the Roxborough apartment complex where authorities now say that Geraldine Cherry, 50, murdered roommate Kathleen McEwan, 70. ABI REIMOLD / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: June 22, 2012

Behind a door in a dark hallway of a rundown Roxborough apartment complex, a blind woman told a social worker that she "did something" to her elderly roommate, and that something turned out to be incredibly disturbing.

Chex Party Mix, a lotion bottle, a piece of a diaper, a candy wrapper and 10 inches of rope.

Geraldine Cherry, 50, admitted that she took all those items and shoved them down her roommate's throat, killing her, according to an arrest affidavit.

At first, Kathleen McEwan, 70, appeared to have died June 10 of natural causes, face up in her bed.

It wasn't until an undertaker noticed something in McEwan's mouth as he was preparing her body that the heinous way she died came to light.

"We pushed her tongue in and a rope popped out," said Brian Hurst, a staffer with John J. Bryers Funeral Home in Willow Grove. "I was never expecting it to be a homicide."

Hurst, who also found a candy wrapper, immediately contacted the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office, who didn't believe Hurst's story until he texted a picture of the rope to them. While examining the body, the medical examiner found the rest of the items lodged inside McEwen and ruled her death a homicide.

Cherry was arrested Wednesday at the Parker Place apartments on Parker Avenue near Ridge and charged with murder. She is being held without bail and has a preliminary hearing July 11.

The relationship between the roommates isn't clear, but Hurst said that McEwan was a special-needs resident of the apartment and had been placed there by the nonprofit social-service agency Resources for Human Development (RHD), headquartered in Philadelphia.

A woman at the Parker Place apartments referred all comment to a representative of RHD when a reporter knocked on a basement apartment Thursday. That man did not return a phone call for comment.

The affidavit said that a few days after the slaying, Cherry told a woman who works for RHD that she "was a bad person" and "did something." On Monday, police interviewed Cherry, who then allegedly admitted to shoving the items into McEwan's throat.

Cherry, according to the affidavit, also admitted to some unspecified "violent acts in her past."

The few people at the apartment complex who knew of the roommates said they had only been there about a month. Cherry, who is blind, was vaguely familiar to one man walking in with groceries Thursday night.

"She was short, she wore pink a lot. She used to walk around with one of those red-and-white canes," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "She hadn't been here very long."

Parker Place residents said RHD had moved in many people with "special needs" within the last month and one said there was not enough supervision over the new tenants. Resident Eugene Walker said some of the tenants placed by RHD often knock on his door.

"They're bringing people here who might need to be in a mental institution," said another resident, who asked not to be identified. n

Contact Sean Carlin at 215-854-5926, carlins@phillynews.com or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.

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