NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Did a mother know that her teenage son was allegedly abusing a small child in their Norfolk home? That question is at the heart of three interviews conducted by detectives after a 4-year-old was beaten to death in November 2018.
Norfolk Police Department detectives interviewed Catherine Seals at least three times after 4-year-old Larkin Carter Carr died while in the care of her woman’s teenage son, Robert Bolsinger-Hartshorn, according to newly-released documents.
Transcripts of those interviews were made public on Wednesday, hours after the 35-year-old mother pleaded guilty to felony homicide and felony child abuse with serious injury in connection with Larkin’s death.
Seals’ defense and prosecutors agreed the period of active incarceration will be capped at 21 years and 6 months, although her sentenced will be ultimately decided by a judge at a Jan. 31 sentencing, the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said.
Robert, 15, is charged with Larkin’s murder. He was 14 when Larkin died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen. Robert will be tried as an adult on a second-degree murder charge in Norfolk Circuit Court pending the outcome of a sanity and competency evaluation ordered for the teenager by a judge on Wednesday.
The interview transcripts shed light on the final months of Larkin’s life, as well as his death.
Larkin and his 3-year-old brother, Tyler, moved to Norfolk in July 2018. They lived with their father, Hank Smith, his fiance, Seals, and Robert. Larkin and Tyler were removed from their mother’s Harrisonburg home after she tested positive for methamphetamine. Officials also tested Tyler’s hair follicles for drugs and detected meth in his system, Seals told police in a November 2018 interview.
“We planned on giving them a home,” Seals told detectives.
Robert and the young brothers got along well at first, Seals said.
But the relationship began to change in August when Seals noticed the teenager was picking on the younger boys. She said she sensed “a little bit of resentment” on Robert’s behalf because her attention was divided among multiple children, according to the transcripts.
Seals noticed Robert was bullying the boys: He turned off the television when they were watching it, took away their toys, pushed them, and — at least once — suspended Tyler from a pull-up bar until the toddler screamed out, terrified.
There were times when Larkin would cry out and say that Robert was “doing something” to him, but the teenager wasn’t in the room when Seals checked on the 4-year-old, the transcripts say. Seals told detectives her therapist and family members suggested Larkin might be reacting to incidents that happened between him and Robert on prior occasions, according to court documents.
Seals said when she asked why Larkin was saying Robert was doing something to bother him when the teenager wasn’t in the room, the 4-year-old would say he was lying. Larkin told several people, “Robbie hits me.” He was “punished for lying,” court documents state.
“Robbie told us about the things he did to those boys from day one, so they probably thought they were going to get more,” police told Seals during one interview. “They were probably living in terror their entire time there.”
Seals told detectives she only left the younger boys home alone with Robert a handful of times in the five months they lived together; however, detectives said they spoke with neighbors who said the teenager babysat often.
Larkin was injured on multiple occasions when Robert was watching him, documents say. The most severe injury happened in September 2018, when Larkin and Tyler had to go to the hospital after police say they were strangled.
In that particular incident, the younger boys were asleep when Seals and Smith left them home alone with Robert. The couple went to Food Lion to buy milk, and while they were out Robert called and said he had to “pull the boys off each other” because they were fighting, according to the transcripts.
When she got home, Seals noticed the boys had “petechiae” — or broken blood vessels from choking — around their mouths. Smith and Seals took the boys to the hospital, where they were treated for strangulation. The couple coached the boys to tell the doctors they choked each other. Smith also told authorities that Robert wasn’t home when the strangulation incident happened because he didn’t want the teenager to be questioned, Seals told police.
“We didn’t want Robbie to be questioned for something we felt wasn’t his responsibility,” Seals told the detectives. “We shouldn’t have left them at home with him. He’s 14. Maybe it was too much responsibility.”
The treating nurse and physician’s assistant didn’t believe that Tyler and Larkin could have caused their own injuries, and reported concerns about the explanation to their supervisor. Child Protective Services was not notified, and Robert later admitted to “engaging in behavior that would have caused these injuries,” according to court documents.
Tyler and Larkin were in Harrisonburg for a supervised visit with their mother in October 2018 when she noticed that both boys had visible bruising on their bodies. She reported the injuries to CPS, court documents state.
Although Seals acknowledged seeing Robert bully Larkin and Tyler, she said she never witnessed him seriously injure the boys. She also said she did not notice any serious bruises on Larkin’s body when she gave him a bath, even though at the time of his death he was covered in between 60 and 90 injuries, according to the transcripts.
Seals told police that Robert viewed himself as a disciplinarian for Tyler and Larkin. He seemed to have a special problem with Larkin because the 4-year-old would ignore him, even when the teenager was doing something nice, like offering him cookies. Seals said that she had several conversations with Robert where she told him to stop trying to discipline the younger boys. She also told police that she stayed home as often as possible so she could keep an eye on all of the children, court documents show.
“So if they were under your watchful eye from the time you woke up, they woke up, vice versa, how was Robbie able to beat them every day?” a detective asked Seals.
“It came out of Robbie’s mouth. He said up to three times a day, every day,” a detective told Seals. “His exact words were, they would irk him, they would get on his nerves, and he would react in the way that he did.”
Larkin was left home alone with Robert on Nov. 9, 2018 while Seals and Smith went to pick up one of her other children for a visit. Robert told police that while the adults were out, he hit Larkin in the stomach with a chair. Larkin threw up blood that afternoon, and wasn’t well for the rest of the weekend. He told Seals that his sides were sore, and he was lethargic, she told police.
“He said he would hit him in the stomach because he knew it hurt,” a detective told Seals in an interview.
On the day of Larkin’s death, Robert was left home alone with the 4-year-old again. He later admitted to police that he got on top of the 4-year-old and hit him in the stomach multiple times with his fists. Larkin became unresponsive, and by the time paramedics got to the house, he was not breathing. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“They couldn’t get away from this abusive relationship,” detectives told Seal during her third interview. “It was on you to intervene. You were the one that had to protect them, and you didn’t. That was the only way those kids had to get out, was a parent, a guardian, some responsible adult, and they didn’t have that, and now Larkin is dead.”
Robert is undergoing sanity and competency evaluations, which will be reviewed by a judge in January.
Smith, the young brothers’ father, is also charged with child abuse in connection to Larkin’s death.