TAMPA - When Thomas Gross called 911 on Jan. 9, 2011, and told them he had found his mother's body in the garage of her Lakewood Ranch home, investigators quickly became suspicious. The Manatee County Sheriff's Office has released few details about the death of 77-year-old Ina Gross, but they have labeled the death a homicide and refused to rule out her son as a suspect. Thomas Gross' sister, Ellen Gross Gerth, has gone further than that. She has filed a civil lawsuit against her brother seeing the repayment of a loan and accusing him of killing their mother. The lawsuit creates a rate situation in which someone is accused of murder not by police but by a plaintiff in civil court. The suit says Thomas Gross told his sister he had no involvement in their mother's death but needed money for an attorney to defend himself in case he was accused of her murder. Ellen Gerth loaned him hundreds of thousands of dollars because she believed he was innocent, court documents said. A year later, familial solidarity has turned into animosity.
Gross, 59, has yet to repay his sister, has left the country and "contrary to his representation of innocence ... is guilty of the homicide of Ina Gross," according to the lawsuit Ellen Gerth filed last month in Tampa. The lawsuit does not explain how or why Gerth reached the conclusion her brother caused their mother's death. Gerth could not be reached for comment and her attorney, Mahlon Barlow, declined comment. The lawsuit, though, provides some details on how Gerth moved from supporting her brother to suing him. After Thomas Gross reported the death of his mother, Manatee investigators began compiling a list of potential suspects. A letter from sheriff's detective Stephen Ives, included as an exhibit in the lawsuit, said, "Numerous leads have been followed to their logical conclusions resulting in the elimination of several persons as suspects." Ives said investigators looked at Ina Gross' three children and cleared two of them: Ellen Gerth and her sister, but not Thomas Gross. Days after his mother's death, Gross asked Gerth and other family members "to provide financial support for him and his family to offset his expected legal costs" from his mother's murder case, the lawsuit said. Gross "represented that any financial support given to him would constitute a loan," the lawsuit said. "He complained that he was an innocent victim of the circumstances and would unfairly suffer the resulting burden of the investigation since he was the only person implicated in the homicide investigation." Gerth loaned $310,000 to her brother and gave $104,000 in gifts to him and his family, according to the suit. Gross, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel, sent an email to Gerth on Jan. 24, 2012, to confirm he received the last installment of the loan. "So as to avoid even the slightest appearance that this loan is a gift, which it is not, I shall pay you interest at 3 percent ... payable quarterly, beginning 31 March 2012," Gross wrote. He signed the email as "Your Loving Brother." Gross told his sister he would start paying her when he received money from their deceased mother's trust fund. He received $191,000 from the trust in July 2012, but never started repaying the loan, the lawsuit said. Sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said his agency is aware of Gerth's lawsuit. He said the case of Ina Gross' death is still open. "We continue to investigate the homicide," Bristow said. "In the past, we have identified Thomas Gross a person of interest and he remains so." Thomas Gross is in Israel, has hired an attorney and has refused to speak to detectives, the sheriff's office said. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7920 Twitter@TBORay