Munchausen’s by Proxy: A Primer by Mark J. Blotcky M.D.
She is an east Texas nurse who, investigators say, told several whopping lies.
To some, Ellen “Elle” Rupp-Jones claimed that her first husband had died in combat while she was pregnant, the stress causing her to lose the baby. To others, she was an Air Force veteran who’d served in Iraq and was a cancer survivor, according to court documents.
But the most harmful lie, investigators say, involved her 7-year-old daughter, Dani, and has now landed the 36-year-old mother in jail.
Rupp-Jones was arrested Thursday morning in Anderson County on a Tarrant County warrant accusing her of injury to a child with serious bodily injury. She is accused of falsely claiming that Dani had severe diabetes and repeatedly injecting the girl with unneeded insulin.
Dani was removed from her mother’s care by Child Protective Services in January after allegations of medical child abuse first surfaced and now resides with her father in Tarrant County. Since her removal from her mother, the affidavit states, the girl eats a normal diet and does not need insulin.
Rupp-Jones is a registered nurse at the Palestine Regional Medical Center. She is on administrative leave and hospital officials said they are cooperating with authorities in their investigation.
In cases of medical child abuse, also known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, experts say caregivers often exaggerate or create medical symptoms in a child in order to gain attention.
With her lies, an arrest warrant affidavit alleges, Rupp-Jones garnered attention as well as donations for a diabetic alert dog for her daughter. She was twice featured on an east Texas news station.
Debbi Cole, Dani’s great aunt, said she believes Rupp-Jones needs “medical help.”
“I think she is sick and has some deep issues that (have) to be resolved,” Cole told the Star-Telegram. “ We feel that there is a lot about her that we don’t know about.”
The mother and Dani had been living in Frankston, southeast of Dallas in Anderson County, but had come to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth in mid-January after first visiting a hospital in Tyler.
Michael Weber, an investigator with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, began investigating after an endocrinologist at Cooks shared concerns that he believed Rupp-Jones had given Dani unneeded insulin in order to present the child as hypoglycemic, or having low blood sugar.
Blood tests done at Cooks showed Dani’s blood sugar level was slightly low with an elevated insulin level — a sign of potential insulin poisoning, according to an arrest warrant affidavit written by Weber.
The endocrinologist told Weber he’d also grown suspicious of Rupp-Jones after she told him during their first meeting on Jan. 18 that she was in the Air Force reserves, had served active duty in Iraq, spoke fluent Farsi, and had diabetes herself.
The endocrinologist, who had previously been in the military himself, knew you could not have diabetes and serve in any branch of the service. Weber later confirmed with military officials that Rupp-Jones had never served in the military.
Rupp-Jones had also told the doctor that her daughter had been diagnosed with diabetes by an endocrinologist in Louisville, Kentucky, but inquiries to that endocrinologist by Cook staff members found no such testing had ever been performed there, the affidavit states.
Giving insulin to a child who does not have diabetes “would cause a substantial risk of death, even if administered by a nurse,” the endocrinologist told Weber.
When Weber first spoke with Rupp-Jones, the mother told him that Dani had been diagnosed with maturity-onset diabetes of the young in Louisville and that she and others had given Dani insulin due to doctors’ orders, the affidavit states.
Weber obtained medical records from numerous medical facilities and doctors known to have previously treated the child. None of the records showed a positive diagnosis of diabetes. The only test that did come back as positive was a fasting diabetes test, the affidavit states.
The test could easily be manipulated by the suspect by simply feeding the victim or giving her a shot of glucagon, the affidavit states.
A review of the records by doctors also showed Rupp-Jones had provided false medical histories to doctors, including that her daughter had previously had meningitis, the affidavit states.
A father’s suspicions
Dani’s father told Weber that he had never witnessed his daughter have any seizures, low blood sugar or other symptoms when he and his new wife would keep Dani and his older son every other weekend.
The father told Weber “that he had questioned the diabetes diagnosis with the suspect previously and that it upset the suspect greatly when he did,” the affidavit states.
The father also told Weber that his ex-wife is “extremely attention seeking.”
Another ex-husband of Rupp-Jones told Weber that she had also told him a number of things he didn’t believe.
That included that she’d had cancer while pregnant with his child and that the baby was later born still-born via C-section. The ex said Rupp-Jones even sent him altered ultrasound pictures but their medical insurance records never showed any mention of pregnancy or a C-section.
That ex said she also told him that she had been married to a soldier who died while she was pregnant and the stress caused her to lose the baby. She also claimed she had used the man’s frozen sperm to later become pregnant with Dani. Suspicious, he tracked down the man’s obituary — which showed the soldier had been engaged to someone else at the time of his death.
When later asked about the soldier, Rupp-Jones admitted to Weber in February that she was trying to make her life more exciting. She told Weber that she had dated the soldier while in high school and they were “pretend” married at that time.
“I lied about my life to embellish my life a little bit better,” the affidavit quotes Rupp-Jones as telling Weber. “Sorry that my life is so (expletive) stupid and boring and nonchalant that I have nothing.”
When told by Weber that was attention-seeking behavior, she replied,”For me maybe, but I don’t need anything for my daughter.”
Fundraisers for Dani
On the GoFundme page, Rupp-Jones wrote that while her daughter looks like a “normal happy go-lucky six year old” to everyone, on the inside she is “very sick” with a rare form of diabetes called MODY.
“She can go from a rapid pace of extreme highs and extreme lows in a matter of minutes,” Jones wrote. “This is terrifying as a mother.”
Jones wrote that while a continuous glucose monitor reads her child’s blood sugar levels in real time and she has a team of family and friends constantly looking over Dani, “we are still hitting walls.”
Jones said a service dog that specializes in diabetes costs $10,000 to $25,000. The GoFundMe page had raised $1,355 of its $8,000 goal as of Thursday.
“I wish I had the kind of money to outright buy her the dog. But on a nursing salary — I sadly don’t,” she wrote.
In addition, KLTV — an east Texas news station — had aired two stories in November, first on Jones’ efforts to raise money to buy the dog and, days later, on the family’s wish coming true.
A friend of the victim’s told police that a fundraiser held at her church raised more than $4,000 to help purchase a support dog for Dani. The friend said, however, she later learned Rupp-Jones had been withdrawing money from the ”Paws for Dani” bank account for everyday expenses, whittling it down to less than $2.
Weber also talked to the woman who gave the Labradoodle puppy to Rupp-Jones. The woman said Jones had put down $200 for the puppy, which was valued at about $1,600, but that the woman had donated the rest of the cost after hearing about Dani’s medical problems. The woman said Pupp-Jones had told her that she had PTSD from serving in the military and had trained dogs as part of her service.
Rupp-Jones was being held in the Anderson County Jail Thursday afternoon. Bond is to be set by a Tarrant County magistrate, according to the warrant.