For 50 years, James Klokow had believed what his mother told him; that he was responsible for his baby sister's death.
Since he was 3, Klokow said, he believed that his crying distracted mother Ruby Klokow from looking after his 7-month-old sister, Jeaneen. If not for him, he was told his whole life, his mother would have kept the infant from falling off a sofa, smashing her skull and dying instantly.
Now a different story has emerged and his mother, 74, is sitting in a Wisconsin jail, awaiting trial for allegedly killing her daughter in 1957.
"James Klokow has spent his like thinking: 'I was responsible. My mother always told me Jeaneen died because I was fussy.' He finally realized he wasn't at fault," Sheboygan, Wis., District Attorney Joe DeCecco said today.
After watching a television show about cold cases in 2008, James Klokow went to police and asked them to reopen the investigation into his sister's death.
"This wasn't an easy investigation," DeCecco said. "It was very complicated. It was 1957, for crying out loud. All the records were gone, most of the witnesses were gone. One of the original detectives was still alive but couldn't remember the case.
"If not for [James Klokow] believing something had happened and coming forward, we wouldn't have a case," the prosecutor said.
The two-year investigation led to a trove of additional abuse allegations, the exhumation of Jeaneen's remains, questions surrounding the death of another of Ruby Klokow's young children and an alleged confession.
But Ruby Klokow's lawyer has raised questions about prosecuting a case closed more than 50 years ago, based on the testimony of someone who was 2 at the time and the comments of an elderly woman.
A family doctor who did the initial autopsy of Jeaneen concluded that her March 1, 1957, death was accidental. He found Ruby Klokow's actions irresponsible but not criminal.
Two doctors exhumed and examined the body last year. Their report concluded that the baby died of "abusive head injuries" that resulted in a brain hemorrhage. The medical examiners found the injuries were "not consistent with a 16-inch fall from a davenport [sofa] onto a rug covering a hardwood floor, as was originally reported."
With mounting evidence, police went to confront Ruby Klokow. Detectives interviewed the woman at her Sheboygan home last month.
"Ruby initially stated that she had done nothing to hurt Jeaneen, that Jeaneen must have fall off the davenport while Ruby was upstairs with James," the criminal complaint reads.
But, after questioning, "Ruby stated that Jeaneen didn't fall off the couch [and] that she may have been 'a little rough' with Jeaneen."
She told investigators that the children were in two rooms, Ruby in a carriage in the living room and James on a potty upstairs. Both children were crying at the same time and "she was greatly frustrated to have both children screaming and crying at the same time," according to the complaint.
"Ruby stated she may have took Jeaneen out of the buggy and 'may' have dropped her to the hardwood floor. When asked if her actions caused something to happen to Jeaneen, Ruby stated, 'Yeah.'"
The complaint goes on to document extensive allegations of abuse by Klokow against her four children. Her son told police he remembered seeing his mother bash his mentally challenged brother's toes with a hammer.