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Parents Charged With Attempted Murder Of Battered 6-Year-Old

November 3, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ A severely battered 6-year-old girl found in a filthy apartment was clinging to life at a hospital today, and her adoptive parents were charged with attempted murder, police said.

The girl was found naked, bruised and not breathing in the Greenwich Village apartment, said Officer Vincent Daluise, one of the police and medical workers who responded to a call for help Monday morning.

″The girl’s feet were so black, they had to scrape the dirt off them,″ said Aaron Rosenthal, chief of Manhattan detectives.

Joel Steinberg, a 46-year-old lawyer, and his common-law wife, Hedda Nussbaum, 45, were charged with assault and attempted murder, said Officer Peter O’Donnell, a police spokesman.

O’Donnell said Ms. Nussbaum’s occupation was not known. The New York Post today quoted neighbors as saying she was a former book editor.

The girl, Elizabeth, was in extremely critical condition today at St. Vincent’s Hospital, according to spokeswoman Barbara Franzese. The child suffered bleeding in the brain and bruises to the head and spine, authorities said.

Ms. Nussbaum called the police emergency number at 6 a.m., and reported her daughter was choking on food and having trouble breathing, police said.

Authorities who responded to the apartment, in a building where Mark Twain once lived, also found a 16-month-old boy tied to a playpen. The boy, Mitchell, was in good condition, O’Donnell said.

Ms. Nussbaum, who had cuts and bruises around her eyes and a bandage on her nose, told authorities Elizabeth had been injured in an accident. Two physicians at the hospital, however, told police the injuries were consistent with those caused by physical abuse, O’Donnell said.

Both Steinberg and Ms. Nussbaum were not talking to investigators, he said. Police said neighbors told them they had heard ″screams and thumping″ coming from the apartment, but never reported it.

Police had gone to the apartment Oct. 6 ″presumably because the wife was beaten,″ Deputy Inspector Robert R. Ranke told a news conference. He said police ″noticed a slight injury and both were referred to the court,″ but there was no indication then that the children had been abused.