Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cops: Polish Hero Kidnapped Woman To Poland, Spent Her Savings

A Palm Beach couple befriended their 93-year-old neighbor, then kidnapped her to a nursing home in Poland while they spent her life savings, according to a police report.

Police arrested Aron Bell, 80, and Henryka Bell, 59, and charged them with kidnapping, elderly exploitation, grand theft from a person older than 65 years of age and organized scheme to defraud.

The story of how Aron Bell's three brothers helped save thousands of fellow jews is documented in a book and upcoming feature film.

Aron Bell grew up in Poland during World War II and survived the Holocaust by living in the woods after his parents were taken by the Nazis at the age of 11. The story of how Bell and his brothers helped save thousands of fellow Jews is the subject of the 1994 book, "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans," by Nechama Tec. A movie based on the book is currently in production, slated to star current James Bond actor Daniel Craig, WPBF reported.

According to a police report, the Bells befriended 93-year-old Janina Zaniewska and "systematically took over every aspect of her life," including redirecting phone calls and mail meant for her to themselves.

Police said the three lived in a condominium at 44 Coconut Row in Palm Beach, where they originally met and where the Bells began taking control of Zaniewska's finances.

According to the report, a bank manager told police that Henryka Bell brought Zaniewska to her office in April in order to open up an account in which the Bells would have access to. The bank manager allegedly told police that Zaniewska had been in her office two weeks before to open an account and had seemed fine, but when the 93-year-old came with Bell, she was confined to a wheelchair and seemed confused.

Investigators told WPBF that upon opening the second account, Henryka Bell demanded to have Zaniewska's Social Security payments redirected into the shared account. The bank manager said she refused to make the change, but that she later discovered that the couple had somehow been able to make the transaction anyway, according to the report.

Police said that Zaniewska had previously approached bank tellers in the bank and asked them not to give her money to the Bells, but while the couple was with the 93-year-old, they would not let her speak and kept her in a wheelchair.

According to the report, the Bells took Zaniewska to Poland on May 17 and returned without the 93-year-old on June 2. Police said that, with the help of the Polish-American Society Club in Lake Worth, officials located Zaniewska at a nursing home in a remote town in Poland. According to police, a detective called the nursing home and talked to Zaniewska, who told the officer, "Thank God, you found me."

Police said Zaniewska told the investigator that she had been tricked by the Bells and was placed in an "old lady home" against her will. Zaniewska told police that she believed the Bells were stealing her money and that she had thought that she was going on vacation to Poland and did not know she was going to be placed in a nursing home, Captain Elmer Gudger with the Palm Beach Police said.

"In the phone call that we made to her, when she realized it was the police department, she thanked us very much for finding her and made a comment that she thought she was going to die over there in the nursing home," Gudger told WPBF.

Gudger said that the Bells had withdrawn about $250,000 out of Zaniewska's bank accounts and were using the money to pay their own bills.

Authorities told WPBF that federal agents assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Poland attempted to speak with Zaniewska by telephone but were denied by nursing home staff because Henryka Bell had allegedly told the home not to allow the woman to speak with anyone. Police said agents eventually were able to contact the 93-year-old and bring her back to Palm Beach.

Aron and Henryka Bell were denied bail at their first appearance in a West Palm Beach court Tuesday morning. Zaniewska returned to the U.S. last week and is staying temporarily at a nursing home in Palm Beach County, police said.