Three years after her first stroke, Mary Jo English saw her world destroyed not because of her health but by her oldest son. The widower discovered her life savings were plundered by her son Mark English, who gambled it all away.
"My brother was supposed to take care of our mother, not destroy her and steal all of her assets for his gambling habit," says Daniel English. "This was supposed to be her last place to live."
And now six days after Christmas, Mary Jo is expected to lose her home to foreclosure.
Mary Jo purchased her home in the South Hill section of Spokane, Washington, after her husband died. "I bought this house because Mark liked it," Mary Jo says with a slur, a result of her first stroke. The 72-year old woman lost her speech after suffering a stroke in 2006, and with the help of a speech therapist was able to regain her ability to talk.
The following year Mary Jo had another stroke that caused her to lose her sense of taste. That's when Mary Jo, the mother of three adult children, gave her eldest son Mark power of attorney.
But, in 2009, Mary Jo discovered something was amiss after her granddaughter's husband stumbled upon a stash of old mail in Mark's truck. Only then did the family begin to piece together a complex scheme by her son.
For years Mary Jo failed to get any mail. The elderly woman never saw any of the birthday cards her grand-daughters sent to her home address, and the bills that were expected to arrive each month failed to make it to her mailbox. "The girls would ask about birthday cards and I told them, I don't get mail, not even junk mail," says Mary Jo.
But every month Mary Jo wrote a check for her mortgage payment and handed it to her son to mail. Or, so she thought.
Little did Mary Jo know that her son's room held a secret treasure trove of mail.
In his room, Mark kept a four-foot-tall box that was off-limits."He always insisted I stay out of his bedroom and his private stuff," Mary Jo says of son Mark. "He told me not to touch it, and the proof was all in that box," she says.
Mark had stashed away bills, letters and credit card applications to keep his mother from learning he was siphoning off money from her certificates of deposit, savings, and checking accounts to his personal bank account.
A truck driver, Mark was stopping along his routes to feed his gambling addiction, according to his family.
Gambling addiction affects around 4 percent of the population. There are an estimated two million people who are considered pathological gamblers and four to six million people problem gamblers, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Because there are no outward physical signs of a gambling addiction, it is oft-times hard to spot a problem gambler. "The substance they abuse is money and it's very hard to exist in this society without money," says Keith Whyte, an executive director at NCPG. "You can still gamble on credit."
"Recreational gamblers are not preoccupied with gambling," says Whyte. "Problem gamblers are -- they talk about it all the time."
To keep his mother from finding out about his addiction Mark worked to cut his mother off from family and the outside world. A post-office box was set up a mile from Mary Jo's home to receive important mail. When questions about the empty mailbox begin to increase, the landline at Mary Jo's home was removed.