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Man's death a study in the bizzarre

Mutilation, animal cruelty enter case of man found dead in northern Butler County mobile home

Saturday, March 10, 2001

This story was written by staff writer Jan Ackerman, based on her reporting and that of staff writers Karen Kane, Johnna A. Pro and Joel Rosenblatt.

Authorities are being extremely tight-lipped about the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of a 40-year-old man in Butler County.

On Feb. 25, the body of James John Felbaum was found in the bedroom of a filthy mobile home on Smith Road in Marion that he shared with his wife, Tammy Felbaum, a transsexual whose nickname was "Tammy/Tommy." The township is outside Harrisville in northern Butler county, near the borders of Lawrence, Mercer and Venango counties.

A police affidavit indicated that Felbaum's sexual organs had been mutilated, but the Mercer County coroner's office would not say whether the mutilation occurred before or at the time of his death.

Tammy Felbaum, 42, who is facing charges that she abused animals, told police that she believed her husband had ingested her prescription painkillers.

Initially, a doctor in the emergency room at United Community Hospital in Grove City said the victim appeared to have no visible injuries on him and most likely died from an overdose.

But on March 5, Dr. Karl Williams performed an autopsy on Felbaum at Ellwood City Hospital. Blood was drawn for toxicology testing, but the results are not available. During that autopsy, the doctor discovered that Felbaum's penis had been crudely mutilated.

Mercer County Coroner J. Bradley McGonigle isn't saying anything about the mutilation.

"The case is pending," a spokeswoman for McGonigle said yesterday.

At a news conference Thursday, state police in Butler didn't mention the mutilation. Police announced the arrest of Tammy Felbaum for some bizarre activities that involved the killing of deer, hogs, birds and cats.

During a search of the Felbaum mobile home Feb. 26, state police found pieces of surgical equipment and a room in the trailer that appeared to be set up as an operating room. The roof had an examination table, intravenous drip equipment, numerous surgical tools and other medical items, according to a criminal affidavit obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In addition, a neighbor told state police that she had seen bloody rags in the yard surrounding the mobile home.

Tammy Felbaum told medics that James Felbaum had ingested OxyContin, a prescription painkiller. One of those medics said he saw some hypodermic syringes in the bedroom where Felbaum was found.

On a nightstand in that bedroom, police found an empty bottle of OxyContin. The prescription had been filled on Feb. 23 and had contained 60 tablets. The name on the prescription was Tammy Felbaum.

People who knew Tammy Felbaum said she had a long arrest record for mostly petty offenses, sometimes under other names including Tammy Lipnicky or Tammy Lipnicki. She has been married at least six times, according to records in the Butler County Courthouse.

She was very open about her sexual identity, telling people that she was transsexual and was born a male.

Neighbors in rural Marion, which contains a mixture of private homes and mobile homes with large acreages, said she has been a menace since she moved there. They contend that she has threatened to kill neighbors and their horses, has killed her own animals with a baseball bat, and neglected her animals until they starved or froze to death.

"The people on my road are scared to death of her," Susan Badaracco, 54, a neighbor, said yesterday.

At one point, Badaracco said, neighbors went to the Marion supervisors meeting to ask for help in getting rid of Tammy Felbaum, but nothing was done.

Butler County District Attorney Timothy McCune refused to discuss the investigation.

Three days after police removed James Felbaum's body from the mobile home, a humane officer went through the house and found two dogs, seven cats, three finches, a mouse, two turtles and a parakeet. The animals were dehydrated and living in feces.

Clarion County Humane Society manager Rebecca McDonald also said she found what she believed were four premature kittens in a solution in two pint jars.

Neighbors told McDonald that Tammy Felbaum would put live animals in a cage and hang the cage in a tree.

In one application for a search warrant of the Felbaum mobile home, state police said they were looking for narcotics, paraphernalia, medical equipment, written records and books related to surgical operations and human anatomy and for human body parts or tissues.

On Wednesday, a hazardous materials unit dressed in chemical suits and masks entered the Felbaum house and removed what authorities said was chemical and biological matter commonly used for taxidermy. But authorities don't believe that Tammy Felbaum was a licensed taxidermist.

Yesterday, state police held a news conference to assure residents that the area was safe. They also said Felbaum was charged with three counts of cruelty to animals for unsanitary confinement, lack of water and general neglect. She is in the Cambria County Jail serving a sentence for violating a municipal garbage ordinance.

Court records indicate she had been arrested previously for disorderly conduct, theft by deception, defiant trespass and terroristic threats. Under the name Tammy Lipnicky, she was charged in 1992 with manufacturing methamphetamine at her residence in Penn Township, Butler County.

The outcome of these cases could not be determined yesterday.

On April 27, 1993, a Butler officer was called to Tammy Lipnicky's residence on Cove Drive in Butler after a woman reported that Lipnicky said she had ingested 40 pills. When police arrived, Lipnicky turned out the lights and locked the doors. When police broke down the door, Lipnicky threatened to toss a bottle of acid at them and pointed a pellet gun at her head and at a police officer, according to the police report.

James Felbaum was to be sentenced on April 4 for misdemeanor possession of drugs and possession of paraphernalia. Felbaum pleaded guilty to those charges on Jan. 8 before Butler County Judge Marilyn Horan and was to get probation and costs.

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