48-year-old twins found living with dead mother charged with murder

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by Tiffany Craig & Courtney Zubowski / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on April 11, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 13 at 5:58 PM

HOUSTON – Twin brothers were charged with murder Tuesday after police said they were found living with the decomposing body of their 89-year-old mother.

Edward Larry Berndt and Edwin Christian Berndt, both 48, were arrested Monday afternoon at the home they shared with their mother in the 8400 block of Glenscot.

According to police, neighbors had called for a welfare check on Sybile Berndt after they didn’t see her for several months.

"I had called her and left messages and she never returned messages," said a neighbor, who did not want to be identified. "So, I called Adult Protective Services and they asked me to go ahead and phone in a welfare check and I did."

Jim Scott, another neighbor, said nobody knew what was going on.

“The boys never made any initiative to contact anybody, so they never knew anything was wrong,” he said.

According to court documents, when detectives arrived at the scene and knocked on the door, Edwin Berndt looked out the window but didn’t answer. Police said a few moments later, he came out of a side door and told them that everyone was fine, and they didn’t need anything from the police.

But when the officer insisted that she needed to see his mother, she said Berndt let her in.

That’s when she found Sybile Berndt’s body, lying face-down on the floor in the foyer.

The smell was unimaginable, and there were insects crawling all over the corpse.

"I’ve been a cop for 17 years and this is the first time I’ve dealt with anything like that," said HPD Homicide Investigator J.R. Johnston.

Police said the dead woman was wearing a nightgown that was pulled up under her arms and no underwear.

The brothers told police their mother was injured in a fall on January 10. They said they left her on the floor for three days without providing medical attention, food or water.

Mrs. Berndt died on January 13, the day after her 89th birthday.

The twins later told investigators that they were watching the BCS National Championship game on January 10 when their mother came in, "ranting and raving." At some point, she fell, and didn’t get back up.

They said the first day, she was conscious and able to talk, but she didn’t ask for help.

They decided to leave her on the floor, because they couldn’t afford to provide her with medical treatment, according to police.

But police said they found bank statements in the house saying Sybil Berndt had $700,000 in her account.

After she died, the brothers said they left her there because they couldn’t afford to bury her, and they didn’t call police because they didn’t want to go to jail.

According to neighbors, the brothers had always lived with their parents. Their father passed away a few years ago.

Neighbor Scott said he hadn’t seen the twins in a while, but he noticed their yard was getting unkempt.

"They were letting the yard go a little bit more than they usually did so I figured they were out of town," said Scott.

But last week, he saw both the men in their front yard.

"I hollered at ‘em -- ‘I haven’t seen you guys in a while, doing alright?’ ‘Yeah we’re doing fine,’" Scott recalled.

He said when he asked about their mother, they said she was fine, too.

Scott said the brothers did not look like their usual selves.

“In the past I have never seen them with beards.  Mama kept their hair trimmed.  Apparently, they just let it grow after she was dead,” said Scott.

Jeff Guillory, who lives a few doors down from the Berndts, said it’s common knowledge that the twins are mentally disabled.

"If they didn’t actually throw her down and kill her, how you gonna send ‘em to prison," Guillory said. "They just need help."

Scott agreed.

"Even a very green public defender would surely be able to pull up mental illness or not capable of understanding what they were doing," he said.

The twins were being held in jail without bond Tuesday evening.

Relatives of the twin brothers stopped by the home Tuesday night, and a candle could be seen burning in memoriam near the front steps.

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