A DARKNESS HAD SETTLED over Geraldine Cherry decades ago, before her large family was torn apart, before her long stretches in hospital rooms and prison cells, before those sudden, violent seconds that left her without eyes.
Cherry's history of erratic behavior stretched back to her childhood, court records show, and although some of her 14 remaining siblings across the United States had lost track of her over the years, some said they'd never imagined she'd be left alone with an elderly roommate.
"My mom put locks on the inside of her door because of Geraldine," said Cherry's sister Brenda Cherry-Hamilton, 48, of Ohio. "I was scared to death of her."
But Cherry, 50, did have a roommate, a 70-year-old grandmother and longtime waitress from South Philly who struggled with schizophrenia for most of her adult life. A series of strokes had debilitated Kathleen McEwan to the point that she couldn't feed or dress herself. She no longer recognized her family, not even the grandson she once kissed and caressed as an infant. She certainly couldn't defend herself.
McEwan and Cherry lived together in a Roxborough apartment, under the care of Resources for Human Development (RHD), a large, nationwide, nonprofit social-service agency headquartered in Philadelphia. On June 10, about 6 a.m., medics from Fire Rescue No. 5 responded to the Parker Place apartments for reports of an unconscious woman and found McEwan, lying face up in bed, her years of suffering seemingly over. McEwan was pronounced dead five minutes later, and taken to a funeral home in Willow Grove.