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Medical examiner identifies remains

by: COLUMBIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - Stephen BahlA body found buried in a shallow grave near Columbia City has been identified as 91-year-old Frieda Bahl, who has not been seen in more than two years.

Her son, Stephen Vincent Bahl, will likely face additional charges when the final report comes from the State Medical Examiner’s Office, said Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison.

Several toxicology and tissue tests are still pending completion, Atchison said. Stephen is expected to appear in court Dec. 19 for a hearing, at which time Atchison hopes to have a final report from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Medical Examiner’s Office told investigators earlier this month the remains were those of Frieda, but said the cause of death was “undetermined,” said Columbia City Police Chief Michael McGlothlin.

Frieda was first reported missing in May, but had not actually been seen since July 2010. Her son, who led police to her body in September, is a suspect in both her disappearance and the death of his father, James Bahl.

Frieda’s body was located in a wooded area off Smith Road in Columbia City, not far from the home where Stephen, 59, had cared for both of his elderly parents.

Stephen was arrested in August and pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally negligent homicide and multiple counts of criminal mistreatment in connection with his father’s death from stroke-related complications in 2009, as well as 20 counts of first-degree theft, six counts of unlawfully obtaining and using food stamps and six counts of unsworn falsification.

When Frieda’s body was uncovered in September, Stephen’s attorney, Paul Aubry, told The Spotlight that Bahl loved his parents and his mother died of natural causes, a statement Aubry expected would be confirmed by physical evidence, the autopsy and witness statements.

The elderly Bahls suffered from severe dementia, relying entirely on their son for day-to-day care, said police investigators and state prosecutors. Neighbors say the Bahls were quiet and kept to themselves. Due to their advanced age and poor health, Frieda and her husband, 91-year-old James, were not often seen outside of the house.

When Frieda was confirmed missing on May 16, officers with search and rescue teams and cadaver dogs scoured the area. The Bahls lived in a secluded house set against a forest stand, right at the edge of a deep ravine — a difficult place to search, McGlothlin said.

The search turned up nothing. Though investigators believed it was highly unlikely Frieda was still alive, they continued to follow up on leads, hitting dead ends, until Stephen led them to Smith Road and his mother’s body.

Meanwhile, during the investigation, officers found evidence to suspect Stephen in his father’s death, maintaining that the son hastened James’ death by not providing adequate food and medical care.

Stephen is currently lodged at the Columbia County Jail.