Daughter of Lakewood Ranch homicide victim speaks of loss, justice

ejohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 6, 2013 

MANATEE -- Every day Ellen Gerth sheds tears for her mother, her best friend, her soul mate.

Ina Gross, 78, was killed Jan. 9, 2012 at her Lakewood Ranch home. The sudden death of the woman who volunteered for animal rescue and homeless organizations, ran an antique business, practiced psychology and supported arts, music, history and politics, left her family and friends with an emptiness.

"I cry for my mother every day; many times a day," said Gerth, who had a special friendship with her mother, speaking with her on a daily basis. "Losing her so suddenly and under such horrific circumstances has inflicted a depth of pain and grief that no one should ever have to endure. But it is a pain that I feel every single day. It is a heartbreak that I struggle with every day."

And although an arrest has not been made in her mother's case, Gerth is confident in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, with which she keeps constant contact.

"I want people to know that my mother's life will not be forgotten and that it has not been forgotten," Gerth said. "These guys are an excellent team of detectives. They are indeed working diligently on this case."

Gerth's brother, Tom Gross, remains a person of interest in the case. Tom Gross, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel, was visiting his mother when he found his mother's body in her garage.

"I am no longer interested in having communication with him," Gerth said of her brother, who called her home about 6:30 a.m.

that January morning to notify her of Gross' death. "I have grave concerns about my brother."

Tom Gross has since returned to Israel, gotten an attorney and invoked his right to not speak with detectives.

"We're still running down leads. We're still heading in the right direction," said Sheriff Brad Steube. "I hate to put months or days or weeks on it, but I'm hoping soon we'll be able to go forward here."

A knife was found on the garage floor where Gross was found, but the sheriff's office has not released a cause of death or the murder weapon in the case.

Detectives have processed a great deal of evidence and are still looking at computer, phone and bank records, Steube said.

As Gerth waits for charges to eventually be filed, she remembers the shock and disbelief she felt when her brother, eight years her elder, called with the tragic news.

"I sensed something was wrong," she said. "Tom then told me that mom was dead; that she had been killed. I believe that I screamed."

Gerth had met her brother and mother in St. Petersburg the previous day. She spoke to her mother on the phone that evening.

"I will never forget that last phone call; it was the last time I would ever speak with my mother again," Gerth said, recalling that she told her mother she loved her.

Now, Gerth, her two sisters and brother are left without their parents. Their father, Dr. Sam Gross, died from cancer a year before their mother's slaying.

"Having justice served for my mother is the most important mission I have in my life," Gerth said. "My father, like me, loved my mother beyond words, and he would expect no less. The circumstances surrounding my mother's death would have broken his heart, just as they have broken my heart."

When she knew her father had an incurable disease, Gerth spent as much time as she could with him, sitting by his side until the end. Gerth did not have that opportunity with her mother.

"My mother died a violent, painful death at the hands of a selfish, heartless person. The person who killed my mother left her in her garage to die alone, to bleed to death on a hard, cold cement floor," said Gerth, who wonders how things may have differed if she had been at her mother's home that night. "I will never understand how someone could commit such an atrocious crime, how someone could be so heartless and unfeeling, and not suffer the pain that this malicious deed has inflicted on all the people who deeply cared for my mother. I will never forgive this person."

Gerth is not alone in the fight for her mother's justice. She has developed strong relationships with friends of Ina Gross.

Gerda Freedheim knew Ina and Sam Gross for 50 years. Ina Gross visited the Freedheim family for Christmas in 2011, just weeks before her death.

"We had the most wonderful time; we laughed and went out," Freedheim said. "She was relaxed. At last, she was coming to peace with Sam's death, which was a tragedy for her."

When Gerth called Freedheim at 7 a.m. on Jan. 9, Freedheim said their lives were "just thrown apart."

"I used to wake up and say, 'Oh my God, what a dream I had last night.' Of course, it wasn't," Freedheim said. "It was just beyond imagining. This doesn't happen to real people; it's only on television."

Now, she and Gerth talk often.

"It's made me bond more closely with Ellen. She needs me and I need her," she said.

Gross' name comes up often when her Lakewood Ranch friends gather. Gross frequented Paw Park with her dog, Nicky. A tree and plaque are there in her memory.

"Every time I go, I just slowly walk toward it and I stop and talk with her," said Marsha Tenret, who was friends with Gross for eight years. "I tell her how much we miss her and how sad I am for what happened to her. It's very sad that somebody took her life away from her and from us. I really and truly hope this case is solved some day."

When summarizing the situation of her mother's death, her brother's alleged involvement and the road to justice, Gerth quoted "The Brothers Karamazov," by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and others. And having no respect he ceases to love."

Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact the sheriff's office at 941-747-3011 or CrimeStoppers at 1-866-634-8477.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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