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  •   Aron's Mother Describes Abusive Home

    Frieda Singer, Ruthann Aron's mother
    Frieda Singer, mother of Ruthann Aron, talks to Aron's attorney, Barry H. Helfand, at courthouse. (By John Gillis/AP)
    By Paul W. Valentine
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 13, 1998; Page B01

    The mother of Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron painted a grim picture in court yesterday of her daughter growing up in a violent, chaotic, sexually abusive household -- testimony defense attorneys hope will bolster claims that Aron was driven uncontrollably to seek a hit man to kill her husband and a Baltimore lawyer.

    "She was born into my hell, but she moved into her hell," testified Frieda Singer, 78, a diminutive woman who wore dark glasses and wiped occasional tears from her eyes.

    Aron grew up "with a nutty mother and a brutal father," Singer said.

    "I'm the one who should be sitting there," she said, pointing to the defense table where Aron sat motionless, her head bowed and at times resting on the table. "If it weren't for me, she wouldn't be there."

    Ruthann Aron
    Ruthann Aron
    (Bill O'Leary/TWP)
    Aron, 55, a wealthy Potomac developer and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate, is charged with two counts of negotiating a $20,000 contract last spring on her husband, urologist Barry Aron, and lawyer Arthur G. Kahn, who testified against her in a libel lawsuit stemming from her Senate campaign in 1994.

    For nearly an hour, Singer testified before a Circuit Court jury in Rockville, detailing a dark, brutal family history -- from her father's immigration to New York City from Romania to escape a murder rap, to her life among prostitutes and petty thieves in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, to Aron's sexual abuse by her father and her troubled marriage to Barry Aron.

    Singer repeatedly described her father, Samuel, a tailor, as a binge drinker given to violent rages, who would "tear down the drapes and break the rods . . . break the telephone" in their home on weekends, terrifying his wife and other family members.

    "This was a man I wanted to love," Singer told the jury. "But I had to hate him because of what he did to my mother."

    After Singer's marriage to David Greenzweig, a house painter and jack-of-all-trades, Ruthann and her brother, Neil, were born, and the family moved in the 1940s to Grahamsville, in the Catskill Mountains 85 miles northwest of New York.

    But things did not improve, Singer said. They lived in squalor, renting a barn without electricity or a bathroom for some time, she said, while she and her husband worked alternating six-hour shifts 24 hours a day at a diner they owned.

    Her husband, whom she described as a "gofer" for a local crime organization, brutalized her frequently, once knocking out a tooth, Singer said. She said he forced the family to live in filth. "The man never showered," she said. " . . . He had no sense of family."

    Once, she said, she found him fondling Ruthann when she was 8 or 9 years old. "He said it was an accident," she testified. She said Ruthann dutifully agreed, saying: " 'It's okay. It was an accident.' "

    Another time, after the family started making more money, Greenzweig bought Ruthann a horse, Singer said. "She loved it," she said, "but he sold it . . . because he found out it was in foal, and he could make a lot of money on it."

    Singer said she had "one nervous breakdown after another" during those years, creating further chaos in the lives of her two children. "What kind of a home was that to bring them up in?"

    Singer and Greenzweig were divorced in 1982. Singer remarried in 1984. Greenzweig was found slain in 1994 in New York. Two drifters were convicted in the killing.

    Things did not get better when Ruthann married Barry Aron in the 1960s, Singer testified. The marriage soured, she said, Barry Aron was cheating on Ruthann, and Ruthann twice attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription medication. Once on Mother's Day, she said, Barry gave Ruthann a copy of "Final Exit," a book on assisted suicide by Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society USA.

    On brief cross-examination, prosecutors sought to undercut Singer's assertions of a chaotic and dysfunctional family, getting her to acknowledge that Ruthann Aron was vice president of her senior class in high school and thereafter became a lawyer, political candidate and successful developer.

    "I don't know how she got where she is with all that happened to her," Singer said.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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