Those crudely crafted cages were seared into our collective minds.
They were the beds of 11 special needs foster children being raised by Sharen and Michael Gravelle in a non-descript house in rural Huron County.
“It was a structure of horror,” one of those children would later recall. “We were all treated like animals.”
Stacy Hansford watched the news from afar back in 2005, even though Sharen Gravelle was her first cousin. She says she made no judgments back then, despite world-wide publicity and accounts of extensive child abuse.
Fast-forward 12 years later, Hansford now worries if her own 93-year-old mother, diagnosed with dementia, is living under similar conditions with Sharen Gravelle.
Hansford is locked in a custody battle for her mother, fighting Gravelle in a courtroom in far-flung Houston, Missouri.
“It’s so hard to look at my friends when they ask me now, `Is your mom caged up like those kids were’,” Hansford said. “I pray in my heart that she hasn’t been.”
After serving two years in prison for child abuse and endangerment, Gravelle divorced and dropped her notorious last name. She’s now known as Sharen Curtis-Timperman.
The state settled a lawsuit with the 11 foster children, awarding them $1.2 million in 2010. The children ranged in age from 1 to 14 when they were rescued from the home.
Efforts to reach Curtis-Timperman were unsuccessful. Her cell phone was not accepting messages. She did not respond to notes and messages left with relatives in Wakeman. Her attorney did not return a call for comment.
The court battle has waged for months, mostly in a Texas County court where Curtis-Timperman relocated with the elderly woman earlier this year.
Stacy Hansford, the couple’s only child, said her mother, Barbara, was married to long-time University of Akron vice president Richard Hansford, who died in 2015 at age 95. The widow’s mental condition slipped afterward, Stacy Hansford said.
The mother and daughter lived together in the same Akron house her parents have owned for nearly 40 years. The house, located in a wooded-setting in Akron, is valued at about $240,000.
Earlier this year, Stacy Hansford said, the home needed extensive renovations and she arranged for her mother to temporarily stay with Curtis-Timperman in Lorain. At some point, Stacy Hansford said, Curtis-Timperman fled Ohio and moved to Missouri, taking along the elderly woman and her six-figure bank account.
“I just couldn’t believe she was doing this,” Hansford said. “She’s taking my mother away. She took her away from all of us. I want her back where I know she’s safe.”
Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall said the custody fight – fairly or not - is taking place in Missouri and despite the dementia diagnosis for Barbara Hansford.
“I feel sorry for Stacy, she’s been taking care of her mother all these years,” he said.
Stacy Hansford said she’s had little to no contact with her mother for several months. That ended when she appeared in a Missouri courtroom early this summer to contest Curtis-Timperman’s attempt to be appointed guardian of Barbara Hansford.
“Finally, I was able to see her and hug her and she knew who I was,” Hansford said. “But it was hard leaving her. I know that, hopefully, I’m going to have her back where she belongs.”
Since then, Curtis-Timperman attempted to have Stacy Hansford evicted from her home. She also attempted to have the water shut off, she said.
“I knew it wasn’t my mother’s doing. It was all Sharen,” Hansford said.
A hearing is scheduled for next month and Hansford, a retired truck driver, has hired a Missouri attorney to argue her case. She intends to travel back to Missouri for the hearing.
“I have my mother’s best interests in mind, containing what’s left of that beautiful mind of hers,” she said. “Sharen doesn’t have that in mind.”