DALLAS CITY — Veronica Loveless clapped her hands and cheered whenever a motorcycle roared past. She gave the mail carrier the same, gleeful ovation.
Her neighbors in this small, northern Illinois town just across the Mississippi River from Iowa were accustomed to seeing the cheerful, 55-year-old mentally impaired woman happily waving at traffic.
She stood on the sidewalk near the ground-level door of a federal housing apartment she shared with her husband of 31 years, Robert Loveless. She spent hours each day coloring in a coloring book, feeding ducks in a nearby pond and listening to Elvis records.
But behind that apartment door, Robert Loveless called his disabled wife “a stupid retarded bitch,” according to a 24-page report by an investigator for the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services. He didn’t work and spent her Social Security disability check on himself. He paid more than $500 from her monthly stipend to buy a laptop computer and an Internet hookup to watch pornography.
The investigator’s report, which included statements from state-paid caregivers, federal housing officials, relatives and other people who knew Veronica and Robert Loveless, gave this picture of her daily life in June 2009:
Her husband used her money for himself. He bought a queen-sized bed but made his disabled wife sleep on a dirty sofa in the living room. Veronica wore threadbare clothes. The apartment was so filthy a housekeeper hired by the state to help clean it could not keep up.
As for Robert’s earnings, the report cited Social Security records that showed he’d received only $2,250 during the course of his life. He was always in the same lounge chair, chain-smoking and watching pornography, according to the report.
The report is an essential part of the way the system in Illinois is supposed to work to protect the disabled. But in Veronica’s case, the OIG found out too late to save her.
The agency investigated Veronica’s living conditions during 21⁄2 months ending in September 2009. Findings of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation were “substantiated” in the report against Robert Loveless, who denied any wrongdoing.
The findings were enough to get Veronica removed by court order to the safety of a nursing home, but by the time the OIG got involved, Veronica was suffering from advanced colon cancer that had spread throughout her body and was not treatable.
A state-paid caregiver discovered on June 30, 2009, that Veronica was bleeding heavily from her rectum, and a hospital nurse called the OIG’s state abuse hotline.
“By Robert Loveless’ own acknowledgment he knew his wife had severe bleeding from her rectum for over a year and a half and failed to seek medical assistance,” the report stated. If he had reported it when he first discovered that she was bleeding, her cancer might have been treatable, the report concluded. A large, bleeding rectal tumor was found that was surgically removed.
During the year and a half that Robert Loveless ignored his wife’s bleeding, caregivers employed by a private company hired by the Illinois Department of Human Services were in almost daily contact with her. Yet they failed to call the OIG hotline even though they would later tell the investigator that they had observed Veronica’s abuse and neglect for months, according to the report.
“None of that damn stuff is true,” Robert Loveless told a reporter during a telephone interview from his home in Muscatine, Iowa. “That’s lies. All lies.”
“It’s not my job to take care of her,” he told the OIG investigator. Veronica told the investigator she didn’t think the bleeding was important.
It wasn’t until Veronica was hospitalized for severe bleeding that something strange about her behavior raised suspicion of the unthinkable: Was this mentally impaired woman who spoke in childlike phrases being prostituted?
It had been this behavior that prompted an emergency room nurse to call the OIG hotline on the day Veronica arrived at the hospital.
Emergency room physician Dr. Michael Holder’s medical report included the notation that Veronica, “showed sexually explicit behavior at inappropriate times.”
Holder told the OIG investigator that he and his nurses were shocked when Veronica stripped and jumped onto a table and got on her hands and knees. But it was her eerie silence that was particularly unsettling. At first, they had simply stared in disbelief.
Holder wrote that after they got her to lie down and covered her with a sheet, Veronica said, “All safe now.”
During her time in the hospital, her strange behavior of taking off her clothes was noted in numerous medical reports.
Each time Veronica climbed back onto her hospital bed, she assumed a position on her hands and knees showing her bare buttocks. She wouldn’t move or speak until coaxed by a doctor or nurse to lie down and cover herself. Each time they got her to relax and lie flat, the hospital reports stated she would say the same thing: “All safe now.”
Hospital staffers noted that her determined silence when on her hands and knees would disappear when she finally agreed to lie down. The affable, gentle Veronica would then return.
This behavior had been observed by tenants and workers at the federal housing project in Dallas City for several years, according to the OIG report.
Maintenance men at the apartments where she and her husband lived told their supervisor that when they went to the Loveless apartment to make repairs, Veronica would strip off all her clothing and run into a bedroom.
On one occasion, she took off her clothes and then got down on the floor on her hands and knees in what clearly was a submissive sexual position. Once in that position, she wouldn’t move or say anything. She remained silent. The workers quickly left and told the apartment manager.
Residents of the housing complex complained for at least three years that Robert Loveless was prostituting his wife at area taverns, according to the OIG report, an accusation he denied.
The apartment manager said the former owner of an area bar came to her office one day with a fistful of fliers he took from the windshields of his customers’ vehicles and angrily demanded that she stop one of her tenants, Robert Loveless, from distributing them.
The flier said that Robert Loveless was seeking graphic sex but made no mention of his wife. It gave the number of the apartment he shared with Veronica.
The manager said she and her assistants had heard for several years that Robert Loveless was prostituting his wife, but, because she had no proof, she didn’t contact police.
The OIG investigator notified the Dallas City Police Department, according to his report.
Dallas City Police Chief Dennis Hilliard said he never received a request to investigate from the OIG and had never heard of Veronica Loveless.
Hilliard said if he had been informed by the OIG of the existence of the report, he would have investigated. He is the town’s only full-time police officer.
“I have never heard of this woman,” he said. “If I would have known about it, I would have addressed it quickly. We don’t want stuff like this going on in our community.”
He said he will attempt an investigation even though the case is three years old.
A peaceful end
Veronica had a daughter and three sons, but she and her husband lost custody in 1995 when the children were young. She also had four brothers and a sister. Robert Loveless discouraged them from visiting, relatives said.
After the state moved Veronica to a nursing home, relatives would visit often. They took Veronica for walks in the park and on rides to get ice cream.
Veronica’s sister-in-law, Janet Reighard, visited often. Reighard said she tried to get the court to allow Veronica to move in with her and her husband and five children.
Talking about Veronica was so painful that Reighard, holding back tears, asked reporters whether she could have a break and just tell about Veronica feeding the ducks.
Tossing bits of bread crust to mallards at a pond near the nursing home was one of the few happy moments in Veronica’s life.
“After she got to the nursing home, that’s what she liked to do, just sit there and feed the ducks for hours,” Reighard said.
Reighard said it was still possible prior to 1995 when Veronica lost custody of her children to “have a pretty normal conversation with her. But after that, she went off the deep end.”
Reighard said relatives didn’t really know what was going on during the years she lived with Robert Loveless.
“Does the truth set someone free? Or does it bring a hopeless, sinking feeling?” Reighard asked. “That’s how Veronica must have felt prior to being removed from such a horrible environment, knowing that all those people knew what she was going through and did absolutely nothing until it was too late.”
Veronica died July 9, 2010, a little more than a year after she entered the nursing home. She was buried at East Linwood Cemetery, a half mile from the pond where she fed the ducks.
All safe now.