POLSON — A Polson man has been charged with stabbing his mother who had dementia to death and hiding her body in her home.
In charging documents, defendant Garrett Edward Vaska is accused of stabbing his mother — Philista St. John — in late August and hiding her body in her 10th Avenue West home in Polson.
Prosecutors say Vaska stabbed his mother multiple times with a knife, causing her death, then concealed her body by wrapping her in garbage bags and blankets and hiding her in one of her bedrooms.
Prior to St. John's death, Tribal healthcare workers cared for the woman who suffered from dementia and diabetes. The Tribal healthcare workers were working to place her in an assisted living facility as her health was deteriorating.
The charging documents say her son, Garrett Vaska, was living in an outbuilding on the property and was not capable of meeting her needs as a caregiver.
A nurse with the Tribal Health Department visited the woman on Aug. 28, 2023, and attended to her needs at her residence as usual. However, the following day, the nurse visited the home again and found it locked, which was not normal according to witnesses.
The nurse returned to the home on Aug. 30 and was met by the defendant. The nurse told authorities that Vaska was rude and slammed the door in her face. The nurse said she did not see the victim that day.
The nurse returned to the residence the following day with a worker from the Montana Medicare Department and Vaska opened the door. Vaska told them his mother's brother took St. John to their Tribe in South Dakota. When they inquired how to contact his uncle, he slammed the door. The workers did not see the victim that day.
The workers were concerned for St. John's health and safety and requested a welfare check at the home.
A Polson police officer visited the home on Aug. 31 and knocked on the door, but no one answered. A neighbor told the officer he would often help St. John and attempted to open the front and back doors, which were both locked. The neighbor indicated this was highly unusual as the St. John left her doors unlocked.
On Sept. 6, Tribal Health workers again requested a welfare check on the woman's home after they found out St. John did not have any surviving brothers in South Dakota.
A Tribal officer responded to do a welfare check and when he arrived, there was no response. The Tribal officer noticed an open window and requested additional backup. While he waited, the defendant emerged from behind the residence.
The officer told Vaska he was there to do a welfare check. The officer asked if Vaska's mother was in the house, and he said yes. The officer asked Vaska why he told Tribal health workers were no longer needed. Vaska then said St. John had passed away and told officers she had been dead for a few days and that he didn't have money for a funeral.
Vaska told the officers he was intending to take her home to South Dakota where their Tribe would assist with funeral expenses. Vaska told officers he placed St. John in one of her bedrooms.
The officer then placed Vaska under arrest for an outstanding warrant.
CSKT Tribal Police and a Montana Highway Patrol trooper conducted a sweep of the home and found St. John's body had been placed in garbage bags and covered with several blankets. A coroner was requested.
Due to suspicious circumstances, a search warrant was obtained. Polson police detectives found several pillows saturated with substantial quantities of dried blood where the body was located.
The detective advised investigators that the amount of blood on the pillows did not appear consistent with natural death. Investigators found blood on a mattress and walls near the bed.
St. John's body was taken to the Montana Crime Lab for an autopsy which showed that it appeared St. John had been stabbed several times, including in the head and chest. A small piece of what appeared to be a broken knife tip was located in St. John's skull.
The final autopsy report showed the cause of death was homicide.
A search warrant for the residence found several knives that had broken blades at the tip, one of which appeared to have possible dry blood on it.
A handwritten note was found in the defendant's outbuilding that said "I couldn't do it anymore. Nobody would help and I couldn't do it anymore she wouldn't (unintelligible handwriting) I killed her. Nobody knew and no one cared. I'm sorry everything I have goes to (unintelligible handwriting) my daughter."
Vaska has been charged with felony deliberate homicide and felony tampering with/or fabricating physical evidence.
His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 28 in Lake County District Court.