(Read Pt. 1 here.)
Jeffrey Hamm signed his mother’s name, Marilyn Arlin, without her approval on a $4500 check made out to “Jeffrey Hamm.” It wasn’t a surprise. He’d done things like this before.
For years, he’s stolen TVs, DVD players and jewelry from the modest Boynton Beach home he shared with her.
“The pawn shop owners knew Marilyn by name. She brought them receipts Jeff left around the house. One time she had to buy her own wedding ring back,” said Richard Ruth, Jeffrey’s brother-in-law.
Marilyn learned of the account withdrawal while lying in a hospice bed, which she was admitted to days before Jeff withdrew the funds. Her daughter and sister, who had flown from New York for their final goodbye, spent the last few days of Marilyn’s life comparing documents, checks, letters and lists that contained her signature with hopes that they could get some of the money returned.
“He is good, I’ll give him that,” said Marilyn’s sister, referring to her nephew’s forging abilities.
Jeffrey abused drugs since he was a teenager, starting with pot in high school and escalating to crack cocaine. “I’ve heard many people say that once you start, you can’t grow past the age that you began using… It’s like Jeffrey is still 16,” said Donald Hamm, Jeffrey’s older brother.
Jeffrey’s addiction caused him to miss out on skills average people learn in their young adulthood, according to Donald. “He lacks social skills, relationship skills, working skills, coping skills—basically life skills,” he said.
This is why, his family agreed, Jeffrey never had a lot to talk about and why he always resorted to talking about cats or his computer. It’s why he never had a girlfriend or a job or a home of his own. It’s why he was unable to cope when Marilyn got sick. His solution was to get high at any cost.
Shortly after hearing about the $4500 check, Donald kicked Jeffrey out of their mother’s house. “We didn’t know what else he would take, or what he would do if he were left alone,” he said.
That night Jeffrey slept in the empty hospital bed next to his mother, his scrappy brown hair shielding his eyes from the parking lot lights that shone through the window that Marilyn kept open.
Before Marilyn died she requested that Donald administer the money she planned to leave for Jeffrey, with strict instructions not to give it to him all at one time.
“She was worried that he would spend it on drugs and get himself killed,” said his brother-in-law.
Marilyn never got to say goodbye to Jeffrey. The day after he spent the night next to her in the maroon hospice room with parted curtains, he went on a binge.
“Jeffrey entered hospice high,” said Donald, “and he ran into our youngest brother, James, who just walked out of Mom’s room.” The two brothers argued and Jeffrey stormed out. Two days later, Marilyn died.
“Jeffrey’s addiction affects not only one person, but the whole family. All of our roles have changed,” said Donald. He said that his sister, who he described as being nourishing and filled with love and forgiveness, turned into his mother figure. “I turned into the father. I give him advice and deal with his money. Our father isn’t able to. He just can’t,” said Donald, as though it were an undeniable fact.
“Dad was never there. He’d rather have a drink and not think about it,” said James Hamm, Donald and Jeffrey’s younger brother.
“And James remains the angry brother,” said Donald.
For years, Donald honored his mother’s wishes, giving Jeffrey money only when he saw fit. “It’s hard, though. He knows how to maneuver me,” said Donald.
At a time when he thought Jeffrey was looking for work, he wired the halfway house he was staying at $1500 so he can buy a used car. Within days, the money was gone and so was Jeffrey.
He knew how to maneuver his sister, too. They had a weekly routine, even when he was on the streets. Every Wednesday, Jeffrey would call Lorri’s house phone and let it ring three times before hanging up. Lorri would then use the caller ID so she could call the pay phone back at no expense to Jeffrey.
On a number of occasions when he was living on the streets, she mailed boxes of clothes that she purchased at TJ Maxx, Marilyn’s favorite store, to a local convenient store that she knew he was squatting behind; the owner knew her.
It was he who called Lorri to tell her that Jeffrey was found dead on an old mattress behind the store.
The third and final part of this story will run next week at BTRtoday.com