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Abandoned by his caregiver, George May was left to die

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of May 9, 2013)
Photo of George William May Jr.

When Catherine May passed away in July 2010, George William May Jr., then 79, was left alone in his Marbrisa home:  After 52 years of marriage, no one to care for, no one to talk to, no companion.

There were increasingly foggy memories of friends and family, of love and laughter and birthday celebrations at the Ocean Grill in better days.  But as May slipped further into dementia, there were only empty rooms and empty hallways.

Close relatives were out of state, busy with lives of their own. His only daughter was about an hour away, but she'd been estranged from the family for years. Even his wheelchair-bound wife’s long-time caregiver no longer came to the house.

May, described as a "sweet man" by those who knew him at Holy Cross Catholic Church, no longer was himself.  In January 2011, Dr. Leslie Huszar determined through a CT scan that May “had suffered significant brain tissue loss.”

“In Dr. Huszar’s opinion, George May was incapable of making sound judgments on his own behalf. Dr. Huszar advised at the time of the examination of George May, George May was confused and made delusional statements,” court records state.

Like many on the barrier island, May had the financial wherewithal to remain in his home.  But the retired corporate pharmaceutical buyer needed to be reminded to take his heart medication. He couldn’t shop for groceries or cook adequate meals. He really was no longer in condition to live on his own.

On May 28, 2011, Indian River Shores public safety officers found May slumped on the floor, unable to get up or stand by himself.

 So a call went out for help. A reputable local firm, Nightingale Private Duty Nursing, owned by the highly regarded Visiting Nurses Association, assigned a licensed certified nursing assistant or CNA to come to May’s home and care for him.

What went very wrong, according to court documents, was when that CNA, Gina Albrecht, showed up at the door of 311 Marbrisa Drive in June 2011.

At first, things seemed to go OK.  But then May underwent knee replacement surgery and entered a rehab hospital.  He was checked out of the rehab facility – against medical advice, according to court records – not by a friend or relative, but by Albrecht.

Albrecht, the records say, convinced May to hire her directly. It was not until some weeks later, at the St. Helen Harvest Festival in the fall, that May was seen by a Nightingale nurse being pushed around in a wheelchair by Albrecht.  A total breach of policy, Nightingale terminated her. 

In the months that followed, Albrecht systematically began to isolate May from friends and relatives, according to court records. The Mays had moved to the Vero Beach area in 1975, attended Holy Cross Catholic Church and established friendships over the decades.

But Albrecht changed May’s home telephone number. A friend of 20 years who wanted to make sure his buddy was OK could no longer reach him. Even neighbors got worried, requesting a welfare check on May after they saw strange people frequently coming and going.

Pawning her husband Ryan Albrecht off as “the butler,” Albrecht moved him and the couple’s two daughters into the Marbrisa home. With money allegedly pilfered from May’s accounts by forgery and fraud, Albrecht ordered an additional bedroom built on the home and the kitchen remodeled.

The steady stream of contractors and workers, when interviewed by investigators, told of the two unemployed Albrechts lounging about the house living off the vulnerable May – Albrecht sharing a bedroom with May, and Ryan Albrecht idly swilling beer.

Albrecht freely disclosed to those contractors – and also to the lawn guy, the pool guy and the neighbors – that May intended to bequeath her his home in exchange for her caretaking duties and companionship.

When the relationship took a romantic turn, she bragged about that too, like a “giddy” teenager, according to one witness. She even had an engagement ring. She said May was going to adopt her daughters, so they could collect survivor benefits from Social Security when he died.

The fact that Albrecht’s husband was living in the home didn’t seem to deter her from using a lie to mine May’s savings, his investment income, his monthly Social Security check and his very homestead. The story she told to whomever had the stomach to listen was that she would get a quickie divorce from the assumed father of her children and marry the octogenarian.

Van Barker, the May’s long-time pool serviceman, told investigators that “Albrecht said George May called (her) his ‘little trophy wife’ and that May was set to leave his house and money to Albrecht, and that May was going to set up a college fund for Albrecht’s daughter.”

Workers who were in the home day in and day out described May’s limited mobility in late 2011 – that he had a hard time getting around the house, and had to pull or drag himself, holding onto counters or furniture – and that was a year before his health seriously deteriorated.

Statements to investigators by May’s doctors and other healthcare providers show that May not only had a heart condition, but was prone to severe swelling and to dehydration if not closely monitored.

Albrecht, meanwhile, apparently needed to blow off some steam from time to time after all that caretaking, according to court records. She did so at two Seminole casinos in Hollywood and Coconut Creek, about two hours away down I-95 in South Florida. Her casino debit card was used in the slot machines on seven different trips to the casinos. Dates of the 2011 trips were Sept. 8, Sept. 18, Oct. 19, Nov. 15 and Dec. 15.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Albrecht which led to her arrest on 10 felony charges, the malevolent caretaker and the fake butler even stooped so low as to use their children in the ruse to gain control of May’s life and his finances.

According to statements given under oath by two employees of PNC Bank, “Gina Albrecht related to Mercedes Martinez and Jennifer Schirard that her daughter had a special gift. This gift was her daughter’s ability to see spirits and she could see and talk to George May’s deceased wife, Catherine May. The daughter stated it was OK for George May to be with Gina Albrecht and their relationship was OK.”

The bank workers told investigators that Albrecht said “George May seemed relieved Catherine May approved of their relationship.”

 In March 2012, Albrecht took May to downtown Vero Beach attorney Darryl Jacobs – not to his own long-time attorney – where a new will was drawn up. Gina Albrecht was made trustee of his estate, and thereby gained control over May’s remaining assets that hadn’t already been squandered, including the Marbrisa home.

That summer, after the legalities were taken care of, May was hospitalized and then cared for at Consulate Healthcare in Vero Beach, a rehabilitation facility. Albrecht was listed as the contact person. When Tom Lambertson, Consulate’s director of social services, called Albrecht to pick May up when it was time for him to go home, records show Albrecht refused.

“Gina Albrecht told Tom Lambertson she was not able to take care of George May because she had two little kids to take care of,” court records state.

But then May himself made contact with Albrecht, and he returned home with her – against the advice of family and friends.

Dr. Melissa Dean at Consulate Health Care referred May to Nurse On Call for home-health services. May was evaluated on Aug. 10, 2012, by a nurse. He was determined to be at great risk for falls, and to be in need of assistance with daily activities.

“The assessment indicates George May is likely to remain in fragile health and have ongoing high risks of serious complications and death,” court records state.

The nurse told investigators that Albrecht was at the home, and was informed of the assessment and the instructions.

“Gina Albrecht was also instructed to ensure George May was kept well hydrated because of George May’s history of dehydration . . . George May was not able to prepare even light meals for himself and required meal setups due to physical limitations.”

On subsequent visits, no one came to the door when nurses showed up. May twice on the phone refused services. Other phone calls were not returned.  After 14 days, May’s contract with Nurse On Call was closed.

It’s unclear who was caring for May when Seminole Gaming records show Albrecht went back to their casinos on Aug. 25 and Aug. 31, just weeks after May was released from the hospital and assessed by Nurse On Call to be in “fragile health.”

Then despite his extremely vulnerable condition, Gina and Ryan Albrecht and their children moved out of the Marbrisa home and back into their Vero Highlands home sometime between Oct. 8 and 12, according to Gina Albrecht’s own statements made to law enforcement.

May was found dead in his bed on Oct. 24. Based upon Albrecht’s statements about when she, Ryan Albrecht and the children moved out between Oct. 8 and 12, the 81-year-old May was alone, helpless and left to starve to death in his home for somewhere between 12 and 16 days.

According to court records and to sources close to the case, he was found in only his underwear, on a bed soaked with his own urine. “George May’s spine was visible through his abdomen . . . George May’s internal organs were visible through his concave abdomen,” court records state.

There was no telephone in the bedroom, only a portable telephone charger stand. The telephone handset itself was found in the living room, the battery dead.  In an apparent, futile last attempt to seek help, his legs were found hanging over the side of the bed.

After May was dead, Albrecht called the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department saying she hadn’t seen or heard from May in a week and a half to two weeks.

But security records show multiple entries through the Marbrisa security gate – one on Oct. 16, one on Oct. 17, one on Oct. 18, one on Oct. 20 – and finally two entries on Oct. 24, the day Albrecht called police asking them to check on her “fiancée” who she’d abandoned about two weeks before.

Did Albrecht go back through the Marbrisa security gate and into the house on more than one occasion not to help May – to give him food or water – but just to check to see if he was dead? Or is there another explanation for the gate codes being used? Presumably prosecutors will ask this question when the case goes to trial.

The Indian River County Medical Examiner’s report remains sealed at this time, but it is cited in the April 29 criminal complaint submitted to the judge to obtain arrest warrants for Albrecht. The scene was one that horrified, and continues to haunt even the most seasoned investigators on the case.

“Medical Examiner Dr. Roger E. Mittleman found the cause of death is neglect resulting in malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia, with the contributing factor of dementia. He found the manner of death to be homicide,” court records state.

May’s 5’8” frame was basically a skeleton, weighing only 101 pounds when police found him. No traces of his daily medications for heart disease, high blood pressure or nausea were found in his body during the autopsy.

On Oct. 26, two days after May was found dead, a search warrant was served on the Vero Highlands home of Gina and Ryan Albrecht. Investigators found a tin of marijuana under the couple’s bed and arrested both of them for drug possession.

The home at 311 Marbrisa Dr. was sealed as a crime scene for an extended period of time, but in January, Albrecht as trustee for May’s estate transferred the deed to the home into her name. As recently as last month, sources say,  she contacted Wesley Davis Auctions to sell the home, but was thwarted in that effort due to a protest of the 2012 will pending in probate court.

When Albrecht was arraigned before Judge Joe Wild last week, criminal defense attorney Bobby Guttridge tried to present her as a long-standing member of the community who was not a danger to society and not a flight risk.

Judge Wild set bond at $205,000 plus stipulated that Albrecht must show that whatever cash or collateral she puts up to get out of jail was not illegally obtained – a high hurdle since neither she nor Ryan “the butler” Albrecht had been employed for the nearly two years after they began living off May’s annual retirement income of $67,000 and maxing out May’s credit cards, as court records allege.

Several of the charges Albrecht faces relate to evidence found that she had forged Catherine May’s signature on checks to fraudulently get $21,917 in cash advances from a still-open credit card in the late woman’s name.

Balances of more than $225,000 in George May’s checking and Vanguard Asset Account were also drained by Gina Albrecht over a 15-month period.

At her arraignment last week, when asked about her employment status, Albrecht replied, “Right now, I’m not working. I was helping to take care of my disabled mother,” she continued. “My husband is bipolar and I help take care of him, too.”

As of press time, Albrecht remained in the Indian River County Jail. Ryan Albrecht was present at 311 Marbrisa Drive the morning of May 1 when Gina Albrecht was arrested, but he did not show up in court at her arraignment. Ryan Albrecht has not been charged with any crimes to date.