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Woman, 92, dies after assault

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CORRECTION

This article originally stated that Margaret Murta and Mary Corcoran were sisters. In fact, the two are not related. The News & Observer regrets the error.

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A housekeeper fatally beat a 92-year-old woman whom she had worked for at a Fearrington Village nursing home and tried to trick police by saying a man did it, Chatham County authorities said late Wednesday night.

Two other elderly women who were also beaten in the Galloway Ridge apartment Wednesday morning were in serious and critical condition.

Barbara Clark, 41, of 275 Toomer Loop Road in Pittsboro, who worked as a maid for two of the women, had been taken into custody, but had not been charged late Wednesday. She sent a swarm of law officers hunting a non-existent assailant, said Maj. Gary Blankenship, Chatham County sheriff's spokesman.

"We're very confident that this is the person who committed this crime," Blankenship said. "We don't think there is another person involved."

Margaret Murta, 92, died Wednesday night at UNC Hospitals, Blankenship said.

Also injured were Murta's friend, Mary Corcoran, 82, and neighbor Rebecca Fisher, 77. All three women suffered blunt head trauma, Blankenship said. Corcoran was in critical condition Wednesday night at UNC Hospitals, a hospital spokeswoman said. Fisher was in serious condition.

Clark is not an employee of the Galloway Ridge facility where the women lived, he said.

In September, a Chatham County sheriff's detective charged Clark with forgery, according to an archived news release on the office's Web site. The release said Clark was accused of stealing and submitting 132 personal checks totaling $12,525 over three and a half years. The checks were stolen from an employer in Chapel Hill, the release said.

Meeting about money

Murta and Corcoran had asked Clark to come to a meeting Wednesday morning to discuss money, Blankenship said. Deputies think they asked Fisher to attend, possibly as a witness, he said.

Soon after deputies arrived, Clark gave statements that led authorities to say they were looking for a male suspect. A few hours later, Blankenship said that was no longer so.

Blankenship later said inconsistencies in Clark's statement made investigators suspicious.

The morning violence shattered many residents' security behind the white rail fence in the bucolic Fearrington Village community, about eight miles south of Chapel Hill off U.S. 15-501. The development's Web site touts upscale shops, gardens and fine-dining restaurants, and says it was inspired by small English villages.

"When we came, you didn't even have to lock your doors," said Peter Smith, who lives in the nearby Bush Creek townhouses.

Emergency alert

Galloway Ridge in Fearrington Village has been open about two years. It has apartments, assisted-living arrangements, long- or short-term skilled nursing care, rehabilitation services and a 24-hour emergency response system, according to its Web site.

Administrators found the women about 10 a.m. when they responded to an emergency alert pendant one of them was wearing.

"Especially with folks of this age, it doesn't take much to cause serious trauma," Blankenship said. "It was pretty traumatic for the staff who came in."

Soon after the call, dozens of deputies and state troopers arrived, and some later began combing the area with a dog team.

Art DeLuca, a retired police chief from Demarest, N.J. who lives in Fearrington Village, said residents were very concerned after the assault.

"Because we're such a community where we feel nothing's ever going to happen ... when you let your guard down, that's when things happen," said DeLuca, coordinator of the community watch program.

Galloway Ridge has its own security staff, with roving patrols. "They have a comprehensive security plan there," DeLuca said. But, he added,"if someone wants to do harm to someone, they'll always find a way of getting into a facility."

Sue Leftwich lives down the hall from Murta and Corcoran and knows Fisher, who is married to a retired minister. Leftwich said she did not hear anything Wednesday morning when the three women were assaulted. She learned about it when a staff person knocked on her door and told her to keep it locked and not to let anyone in.

Leftwich said Fisher, known as Becky, is charming. And Murta and Corcoran, who Leftwich said had lived in Florida for years, are very popular in the building. "They participate in all the activities," such as book clubs and symphonies, she said.

Resident Edith Hammond, 79, said officials were bringing in grief counselors for the residents.

"We're all family here," she said, "and we're pretty upset."

(Staff writers Cheryl Johnston Sadgrove and Meiling Arounnarath, and news researchers Denise Jones, Brooke Cain and Lamara Williams-Hackett contributed to this story.)

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