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A Script of Fear : Repeated Threats by Father of Child Actress Carried to Tragic End

August 07, 1988|JOHN JOHNSON and GABE FUENTES | Times Staff Writers

But unlike other celebrated cases where witnesses turn their backs on abuse, neighbors, relatives, and industry people who knew about the threats in the Barsi household tried to help. One neighbor offered Maria Barsi refuge in her own home. But she refused.

Agent Steps In

Then in May, Judith was scheduled to audition a song for an animated feature. "That's when I realized how bad Judith was. She was crying hysterically, she couldn't talk," said her agent. Hansen had seen enough and decided to step in.

She strongly suggested the mother take Judith to a child psychologist in Encino. The therapist refused to discuss the case, but Hansen said she called after one visit and said, "Ruth, it is extreme verbal, mental and emotional problems with this child and I have to report it to Children's Services."

Children's Services officials also declined to discuss details of the case because of confidentiality laws. But Ray La Motte, a spokeswoman, said Maria Barsi told them she "had a plan of action she felt safe with," and so the agency let her carry it out. That involved eventually separating from her husband.

Hansen said the mother described a different encounter with the caseworker. "She said they weren't doing anything and so she said, 'I guess I'll have to handle it myself.' "

Kleinberg, of the Commission for Children's Services, said there was money in the budget to remove the girl from the home, but that would have separated the mother and daughter. There is a shortage of money to monitor a child who is remaining in the home, said Kleinberg, although it is not clear whether that was a factor in how the case was handled.

An Apartment Rented

Maria Barsi's "plan of action" involved moving to a Panorama City apartment, which she rented in May. She would spend her days there with her daughter, then return home at night.

"The woman had started, she had gotten an apartment," said Palmer. "But she had not taken that child and moved into that apartment. Can we force that woman to do that?"

Hansen urged her to make a final break from her husband, but she kept hesitating, saying in June that she wanted to stay in the neighborhood for Judith's birthday. Then in July, she said she didn't want to lose her home.

"She really loved her home and the things that Judith's career had brought her," said neighbor Eunice Daly. "She didn't want to leave those things."

As for what set her husband off, Palmer said he might have discovered his wife's plan to move out. He also might have found that she was planning a divorce, or that his daughter was seeing a psychologist.

On Monday, July 25, Judith missed an appointment at Hanna Barbera Productions Inc. Hansen said Joe Barsi told her a big car had come and taken the mother and daughter to San Diego.

Palmer believes the pair were killed Monday or Tuesday. On Tuesday night, Barsi told Hansen in a telephone call that he had decided to move out of the home for good, but planned to stick around long enough to "say goodby to his little girl."

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