The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted on Thu, Mar. 13, 2003

Longstreth abused, nurses say

By Anthony S. Twyman and Clea Benson
Inquirer Staff Writers
The Philadelphia Inquirer

W. Thacher Longstreth, a Philadelphia political and social icon for decades, is now a court-ordered ward of Florida as police investigate allegations that the 82-year-old city councilman was physically abused by his fiancee and chief of staff.

Melanie Hopkins, Longstreth's longtime aide, will be questioned by police in Naples, Fla., who are considering whether criminal charges should be filed against her for allegedly slapping the ailing councilman on his arm in front of three nurses.

"I'm investigating did we have a crime or did we not have a crime that occurred," said Police Detective Edward Principe of Naples. "I'm thinking I'll finish it up by next week."

A judge issued an order on Friday making Longstreth, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, a state ward. The councilman was issued a temporary guardian until the court can determine whether a permanent guardian should be assigned.

Reached in Florida yesterday, Hopkins, 62, denied that she abused Longstreth, who, Principe said, did not suffer any serious physical injury.

"I never, ever hit Thacher Longstreth, or anybody else for that matter," Hopkins said. "I love him very much."

According to police, the nurses at the Naples Community Hospital filed criminal complaints with the police and with the Florida Department of Children and Families on Feb. 25, after allegedly observing Hopkins strike Longstreth "at least twice" on the arm.

Hopkins, in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, said that she slapped Longstreth on the hand when he went to grab a nurse. The report said she later changed her story, saying, "I patted his hand and said: A gentleman from Princeton wouldn't do that."

Hopkins yesterday called the newspaper report a lie and said that she is focusing on finding a corporate jet to bring the two of them back to Philadelphia, where she plans to file lawsuits against parties whom she declined to specify. The Florida investigation comes amid new allegations by a home-care nurse who claims that Hopkins abused Longstreth when she took care of him in Philadelphia.

Hortence Jackson, who cared for Longstreth at his Rittenhouse Square home in July and August, said yesterday that Hopkins frequently yelled at Longstreth, refused to allow him to telephone his family, and insisted that he travel with her when he was sick.

"He is living in hell," Jackson said. "The abuse was too much for one person."

Jackson said Longstreth was so frightened of Hopkins that he would shake when she yelled at him and more than once commented that he was afraid Hopkins would kill him.

"If Thacher does something she doesn't like, she yells and screams," Jackson said. "If he does something she likes, she gives him ice cream."

According to Jackson, although the Pennsylvania Department of Aging last year investigated complaints that Longstreth was being abused, the councilman always told authorities that the reports were false.

A spokesman for the Department of Aging said state confidential laws does not allow the agency to confirm or deny whether a case is under investigation.

Hopkins said she was "shocked" by Jackson's allegations. "I can't believe she said that," Hopkins said. "We had such a wonderful relationship."

Hopkins said that Jackson slept in the bedroom with Longstreth and her and that Jackson "could make him behave."

Elliot Curson, a longtime friend of Longstreth's, also defended Hopkins. "I've known Thacher and Melanie for years," Curson said. "I've never seen any kind of abuse."

Longstreth, who has served on City Council for six terms and has twice run for mayor, has missed all of Council's meetings since the beginning of February. The Republican, who is known for his trademark bow ties and argyle socks, decided last month not to seek reelection after his party declined to endorse him.

Hopkins said she had taken Longstreth to Florida to visit her ex-husband, who was recovering from a heart attack. While there, according to Hopkins, Longstreth came down with the flu, which turned into pneumonia. He has been in the hospital ever since.

On Friday, Collier County Judge Ted Brousseau temporarily assigned a guardian to Longstreth after hearing two hours of testimony from Hopkins' lawyer, the lawyer for Longstreth's family, Longstreth's doctors, and others.

Longstreth is in the midst of a tumultuous divorce from his wife, Anne, which has pitted the Longstreth family against Hopkins.

Hopkins claims Longstreth's sons, William, a Seattle physician, and Peter, who heads the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., have interfered. None of the family members could be reached for comment yesterday.

"His family wants him declared incompetent, so they're keeping him drugged," Hopkins said. "The way to keep me out was to charge me."

Brousseau has ordered that a mental-health evaluation be conducted on Longstreth. The judge also wants to make sure an agency will care for Longstreth if he returns to Philadelphia, Principe said.

Brousseau is expected to decide on March 31 if Longstreth should receive a permanent guardian.

Contact staff writer Anthony S. Twyman at 215-854-2664 or Inquirer staff writers Leonard N. Fleming and Natalie Pompilio contributed to this article.

© 2003 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources.