Girl abused by Florida children’s book author hospitalized with infected wounds, organ failure, deputies say

Husband, wife face multiple charges

Joseph Wolfthal and Jennifer Wolfthal
Joseph Wolfthal and Jennifer Wolfthal (Seminole County Sheriff's Office)

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A Florida children’s book author and her husband are accused of abusing their three adopted children, leaving one girl hospitalized in critical condition, according to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies said the investigation began when an 8-year-old girl was taken to a hospital on Jan. 1. The girl was in critical condition and had to be transported to another hospital, records show.

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The girl was suffering from a staph infection, sepsis, renal and liver failure, open and infected wounds, skin infections, bruising, pneumonia in her lungs and malnutrition, according to the affidavit.

Records show Joseph Wolfthal took the girl to the hospital and when questioned, claimed that the girl had fallen on three different occasions recently and hit her head once on a desk and another time on a toilet, although deputies determined those scenarios were unlikely.

Joseph Wolfthal said he works 10-hour days as an engineer and during that time, his wife Jennifer Wolfthal watches their three adopted children and disciplines them, according to the affidavit.

He said he tried to intervene once when she was disciplining the children and she punched him in the chest and knocked him to the ground, records show. Deputies said on another occasion, she locked her husband in a laundry room as a “time out.”

Joseph Wolfthal added that he’s fearful of his wife.

Jennifer Wolfthal was arrested at her home on Jan. 1, the same day the girl was admitted to the hospital. Deputies noted that the home smelled of ammonia and Jennifer Wolfthal said that was because it had just been cleaned.

Deputies said they removed the two other children, a 9-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, from the home and sought medical care for them as well.

Records show the 11-year-old girl said she didn’t want to go back to live with her adopted parents and any time she was punished, she was told that she “couldn’t stop sinning.” She said she’d be punished for not going to the bathroom at the right time, wetting the bed, not performing squats near her desk as she was instructed and not eating her food, which was usually Bran Flakes cereal, water and vegetable puree, according to the report.

Deputies said sometimes the children would get two meals a day and sometimes they wouldn’t be fed at all until 3 p.m.

The girl also said that she would spend all day writing sentences in her room. Records show more than 1,100 paragraphs were found at the home that read, “My body stays flat on the bed at all times. I was never given permission to move or say anything. Now I get to write about this along with everything else. I’m a fool.”

Ten other additional sayings were also found written at the home, according to the report. Deputies said that the knobs and locks were installed backward on the children’s bedrooms so that the locks were on the outside.

Both the 11-year-old girl and the 9-year-old boy said that each night, Jennifer Wolfthal would pour cold water on them as they laid on their bed, which only had a plastic mattress cover on it but no blanket, authorities said. The girl said she would have to drink water from the puddle near her face so she would have room to breathe since she had to lie in the liquid.

A box fan was placed on the floor to help the bed dry and cover the sound of the children screaming, according to the affidavit. Deputies said Joseph Wolfthal watched what was happening but didn’t stop the abuse.

According to the report, the children were afraid to get up to use the bathroom at night so instead they would wet the bed. They’d also have to ring a bell during the day to ask for permission to use the bathroom, a request that was often denied and followed by written punishments, records show.

The girl said the spankings and punishments she received would leave her with open wounds and so would ask Joseph Wolfthal for bandages but neither parent would tend to her injuries, the affidavit said.

Deputies said the girl broke down in tears when they asked what her daily life was like and noted that she had scars and bruises all over her body and had been hospitalized twice this year alone. She said she hadn’t taken a bath in several months.

Two of the children have since been placed in foster care while the third child remains hospitalized as of Monday and has not been interviewed by authorities. Deputies said the 8-year-old girl is in stable condition and improving but has “a long way to go.”

Jennifer Wolfthal, the author of the children’s book “A Real Friend,” and her husband are facing three counts each of child abuse, neglecting a child and imprisoning a child. They both have since posted bond and been released from jail.


About the Author:

Adrienne joined News 6's digital team in October 2016 to cover breaking news, crime and community interest stories. She graduated from the University of Central Florida and began her journalism career at the Orlando Sentinel.