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Jewish World Review May 15, 2000 / 10 Iyar, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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'Evidently he didn't like the way she dusted the house' -- "SHE WAS DUSTING," said Starke County, Ind., Prosecuting Atty. Kim Hall. "She was cleaning the house, and apparently he didn't think she had cleaned well enough."

Hall was explaining the reason that Liliana Ciprianu, 12, was beaten to death with the butt of a rifle on Easter Sunday.

"Evidently her stepfather didn't like the way she dusted the house," said Starke County Sheriff Robert Sims.

He was talking about the same crime. John Dumitru -- the child's stepfather -- is charged with the murder of the child. And, the best that law enforcement officials can determine, the reason Dumitru allegedly did it is that he had been drinking since morning on Easter -- and by midafternoon he became displeased by the job of dusting that the 12-year-old girl had done. Dumitru, the sheriff and prosecutor said, got out his rifle and beat the child with the end of the stock.

We can't even keep up with these stories. The reporters who cover them, the law enforcement officials who are called to the scene, the children's services workers who are assigned to try to protect the boys and girls before something like this happens, the judges and attorneys who deal with the cases in court . . . we can't even keep up. We look into why one child was betrayed by a parent, or a court of law, or a social agency . . . and even as all of us, reporters, police officers, judges, try to find an explanation for the inexplicable, it happens again.

And as the children wait for us to come up with some answers to help them, to save them, another death reminds us of how big this job is, and how completely out of hand it has gotten.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Easter Sunday, law enforcement officers in Starke County received several calls about a disturbance in a house near the city of Knox. An injured woman -- Mariana Dumitru, the wife of John Dumitru -- said that her husband had attacked her, that she had fled from a house on East County Road 150 South, and that her children were still in the house with Dumitru.

Officers hurried to the house. Dumitru was at a front window, police said; they said that he used two of his three younger children as shields to prevent officers from getting to him.

Mariana Dumitru told officers that her 12-year-old daughter, Liliana, had been attacked by Dumitru. Sheriff Sims, fearing for the girl's safety, called for more officers. Sims distracted Dumitru at the front window, while other officers entered the house through a side door.

What they found was Liliana on the floor, her head all but crushed, in a puddle of blood 3 feet long by 1 foot wide.

The child -- a 6th grader at Knox Middle School -- was transported to a hospital, and later died. Dumitru did not resist arrest; when Starke County Sheriff's Detective Ronald Lawson questioned him, Dumitru reportedly said he had been drinking brandy since breakfast time.

"She was his stepdaughter -- the daughter of his wife -- and he didn't get along with her at all," Lawson said. "He wanted her to clean and dust the place that day, and she did it, but he didn't feel she had done the cleaning well enough."

Lawson said Dumitru went into a bedroom, got a rifle, and used the wooden butt of the gun to beat the child in the head, causing "a terrible injury . . . her skull was fractured in several places."

Lawson hesitated before continuing. "It's hard to talk about," the officer said. "I have a 10-year-old son, and this little girl was just two years older than he is, and what was done to her. . . ."

He said Dumitru beat the girl so ferociously that the rifle "broke in two . . . it broke right at the narrow part of the wood, where the barrel of the gun begins. There was blood splattered on the walls . . . it was that kind of an attack. On the gun, where he had beaten her with it, there was blood and strands of her hair. . . ."

Liliana, according to officers who have spoken with officials at her school, was "a bubbly, well-liked girl . . . she never caused anyone any trouble." After her death, though, some of her classmates said they knew she had been abused before; one classmate said that Liliana had spoken of wanting to die because of her "bad life."

The three younger children -- Dumitru is their biological father, and reportedly did not exhibit the same dislike toward them that he did toward his stepdaughter -- were removed from the house after Dumitru was arrested. Because their mother was being treated for injuries, the three children, with nowhere else to go, were taken to the Starke County Jail. Employees cared for them until social workers could arrive.

Dumitru is in jail awaiting trial for murder. Often, inmates who are accused of committing violent crimes against children are separated from other prisoners, for their own protection.

But the Starke County Jail has only one isolation cell, and it is already taken -- by Joseph Grad, the child torturer who kept his 6-year-old son locked and chained in a closet.

The answers to all of this must be out there somewhere. We try to keep up with these cases, all of us try. But then, on a Sunday afternoon, a child is told to dust the house. And someone decides he doesn't like the way she has done her job.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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