Mother and disabled daughter found dead at home 'refused help from social services'

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A mother and her disabled daughter who were found dead in their home after refusing help from social workers were named yesterday by police.

The bodies of Stephania Wolf, 67, and her 29-year-old daughter Sam were discovered on Saturday. It seemed that in their tiny village of Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire, nobody had realised the tragedy unfolding behind the door of their quaint cottage.

Yesterday, police were carrying out forensic tests to ascertain how Mrs Wolf and her daughter died, but it initially appeared that the mother may have died first, possibly weeks ago, leaving her daughter, who was paralysed from the neck down, unable to fend for – or even feed – herself. "We are devastated. To think what that child went through," said a neighbour.

The tragedy of the women's deaths was deepened by the fact that Mrs Wolf had help available all around her, but refused offers from neighbours, local groups and even social services. Another local person said: "We are a close community. Everyone would have helped but she didn't want it.

"If only she had belonged to one of the local churches people would have noticed she was not about. If you saw her she would smile but she would never have a conversation."

Seemingly "hale and hearty", Mrs Wolf, who is said to have been Swiss, spent most of her days gardening with her daughter beside her in a wheelchair. Neighbours said she could be seen helping her daughter into a paddling pool on warm days.

Occasionally people would see her make runs to the village shop in her specially-adapted van, but most of the time the pair remained behind the doors of the red shuttered cottage they had lived in for more than 10 years.

It was not until a man delivering leaflets on Saturday noticed the post had piled up and flies were around around the door that concerns were voiced. When police entered the property, they reportedly found Mrs Wolf dead in her bed while her daughter was next to her wheelchair in another room.

Yesterday Hertfordshire police said that initial post mortems had proved inconclusive, but there were no external injuries or signs of violence to either of the women. Police were also said to be investigating whether Mrs Wolf may have killed her daughter before taking her own life, or that they both died of natural causes.

"We are conducting forensic tests to establish causes of death, but we are not treating it as suspicious," said a spokeswoman, adding that it could be weeks before it was known exactly how the pair died.

A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council said Mrs Wolf had refused all recent offers of help, including a proposal four years ago to allow her daughter to attend a day care centre. The only thing she agreed to was the fitting of ramps and rails in her home.

One neighbour said Mrs Wolf had become increasingly reclusive and seemed "very depressed".

Some reports suggested that she was last seen six weeks ago outside the local chemist.

The neighbour added: "Stephania gave her life to caring for her daughter. She almost wore it as a burden that her daughter was disabled. She felt she was responsible."