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YOUNGSTOWN SLAYING Kin recall self-reliant woman

By Patricia Meade

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The victim's daughter cried as she looked at candles placed by neighbors.
YOUNGSTOWN -- At 86, Helen P. Koscak, deaf in one ear, likely didn't hear her kitchen door glass shattering from the intruder who bludgeoned her to death.
"I want to stress this: They didn't have to kill her. It was brutal -- senseless," Claudia Frame said, crying into her hands. "They could have done anything in this house -- taken anything they wanted -- and she wouldn't have heard them."
Frame, who found her mother Saturday afternoon in an upstairs bedroom, can't get the image out of her head or stop her hands from shaking. "All I can see is when I flipped her over and pulled back the covers."
The Hubbard woman and her 50-year-old husband, Gordon, talked Monday at the crime scene at 3511 Belden Ave., then left to make funeral arrangements -- instead of plans for her 49th birthday. They described Koscak as a feisty, independent widow who lived alone, loved to crochet, knit and make lace, play bingo, and go shopping and out to dinner.
Frame's husband said he visited his mother-in-law one day last summer and found her spreading tar on the driveway. "She was so hardheaded, wanted to keep her independence," he said, choking up at the memory.
This summer, Koscak broke four ribs and stayed with the Frames for six weeks. During that time, the house on Belden was empty, and no one touched it.
The scene
The two-story beige house in the Brownlee Woods section of the city, built in 1926, is filled with crocheted pillows and afghans. There's a display of colorful china plates in the hutch and a dainty lace tablecloth protected by plastic on the dining room table.
Candles, flowers and notes, placed by caring neighbors, line the front porch railing. "Aren't they beautiful?" Frame said, wiping tears from her eyes.
In the living room, on a table next to Koscak's favorite TV chair, her glasses, cigarettes and crocheting were as she left them. Before going to bed Friday night ("she never stayed up past midnight") she had lined everything up for morning, Frame said.
"I called every night so the last thing she would hear before going to bed was 'I love you,'" Frame said. On Friday, Frame called her mother around 10:45 p.m. and then, when she tried several times Saturday afternoon and got no answer, grew concerned and drove over to check things out.
Holding up a recent photo of her brother Michael Koscak with their mother, Frame broke down.
"How could someone look at this face, laying in her pajamas, and beat her to death?" Frame cried. "She would have been in terror, not knowing what they wanted. Why they wanted her life, I'll never know. Her blood will never wash off their hands."
Detective Sgts. John Kelty and Dave Lomax questioned the Frames on Monday, then continued interviewing witnesses. Two rotary phones removed from Koscak's house and found in a rear yard may reveal fingerprints of the suspect or suspects.
Worried about their mother
Last week, when Frame's brother visited from Florida, they toured a senior citizens apartment complex in Lowellville. They were uneasy about their mother living alone.
"She was kind of mad at us; said she was safe here," Frame said, looking around her mother's tidy house. "I was worried about people who might come into the neighborhood. She didn't want to move until spring, but we weren't giving up. She could have lived [at the senior complex] or with us."
Frame said her brother returned to Florida on Friday and was due back today for the funeral.
As Frame chose her mother's favorite off-white dress for burial, she wondered out loud if the funeral home would be able to have the coffin open. "Oh, my sweet Nana," she sobbed.
Her husband said their boys, Eddie, 17, and John, 13, have been very quiet since the slaying. They don't know what to do, what to say. The younger boy often stayed overnight at his grandmother's.
No one called police
Neighbors who may have seen or heard something significant late Friday night or early Saturday didn't call police.
Kanda Vince, who has lived a few doors away from Koscak's house for nearly six years, said it won't happen again and feels bad that she didn't call. She believes that, because the neighborhood has been so safe -- no car or house break-ins -- no one associated noises they may have heard with a crime.
Vince, 35, said her son heard banging about 3 a.m. Saturday and her husband Tony checked it out but did not see anything. "If we had called police, what would we have said? That we heard someone outside?"
An elderly neighbor who heard someone at her door called her son-in-law, not police, Vince said.
Vince called Koscak a "sweet old lady who would do anything for anyone." The neighborhood is scared, and Vince said she's keeping her dogs in the house.