Editorial: Beth Decker (AKA Elizabeth Lindenau), an animal hoarder, worked with two non-profits devoted to birds – whistleblowers wanted people to know, but others kept it secret

Not many people knew Beth Decker and Elizabeth Lindenau were the same person. They had no idea Beth Decker, a respected leader in the non-profit world, was really Elizabeth Lindenau, twice accused of harming animals – a lot of animals.  If anyone did an online search for someone named Beth Decker, they wouldn’t find anything amiss.

Yet, Decker was the executive director of Safe Skies Maryland, a conservation initiative focused on human-caused bird mortality issues, when she and her husband were charged in 2019 with 17 counts of animal cruelty. Fifty-nine live and 42 dead animals were removed from the Decker’s Howard County home. It wasn’t the first time she and her husband faced animal cruelty charges.

How did she slip through the cracks?

Lindenau is Decker’s maiden name and the one that appears on all charging documents and court records for the 2012 and 2019 cases, both of which contained several counts of animal cruelty. In the 2012 case, Decker’s husband took responsibility for the crimes and received probation and a fine of $200. Decker was acquitted of 69 counts. 

In 2018, however, Decker’s cover was blown. A whistleblower discovered Decker’s background and told a board member of the Maryland Ornithological Society (MOS). Safe Skies Maryland falls under the MOS umbrella.

This MOS board member is not being named for fear of reprisal.

The whistleblower told the board member everything she knew about Decker/ Lindenau, with links to a 2012 news story about the animal cruelty case and the court records. The board member, in turn, questioned MOS leadership about its relationship with Decker/Lindenau.

The board member and whistleblower exchanged many emails from 2018 to 2020 about Decker and her relationship with MOS. I’ve been given several of those emails and have verified all email addresses.

Although the Decker/Lidenau case was public and publicized, it wasn’t public knowledge that Decker and Lindenau were the same person.

The president of MOS in 2018 was Barbara Johnson, who replied to the board member’s concerns by email: “The MOS executive council discussed the request from (whistleblower) to disclose the information about Beth’s past to partnering organizations, and we do not find it reasonable. It seems unfair that (whistleblower) is asking both not to be identified with this information, but asking MOS to disseminate it. I understand from my conversation with you that (whistleblower) may have been given information which didn’t make it into the trial and the press. But the council will shape its action (or inaction) at this time on the fact that Beth was acquitted. Unsavory as the charges were, there’s no interest in holding a kangaroo court. We’re aware of the potential of organizational embarrassment for our connection with someone having been charged with a crime, and if that comes up we’ll deal with it. But we’re not going to make a judgment which supersedes the court’s. I appreciate the fact that this ugly history puts you in a difficult position, and I thank you for being willing to bring it to our attention. Please know that the EC considered this matter very carefully and was unanimous in its agreement.” 

Decker was allowed to continue with Safe Skies Maryland because she had been acquitted. The MOS chapters, their members, other non-profits devoted to the conservation of birds and so many people—including me—had no idea that Beth Decker was Elizabeth Lindenau.

Those that didn’t know and who were working in any capacity with Decker were unknowingly being used by her to advance her career and/or gain credibility – the silence of others in leadership positions allowed it to happen.

My own contact with Decker began in the summer of 2018, when she asked WNAV to cover Safe Skies Maryland installing Acopian BirdSavers at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources buildings in Annapolis. I did a story about it.

Decker and I continued to be in contact after 2018 for bird related-stories. She reached out to me several times about my bald eagle vs. carbofuran reporting, which resulted in Safe Skies Maryland helping to draft legislation about the carbofuran issue. In presentations I did about my eagle reporting (both online and in person), Decker was on hand to talk about those legislative efforts. She met with lawmakers and it resulted in a bill introduced during the 2021 Maryland legislative session. She didn’t testify for the bill and this isn’t the only legislation she’s been involved with.

I next saw Decker in 2019. She was with Chris Eberly, the executive director of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership (MBCP). Eberly had previously identified Decker as the “chair of our (MBCP’s) Sustainability Working Group through which Bird City Maryland was launched.”

Then came the new accusations of animal cruelty against Decker/Lindenau and her husband. How would MOS react? Decker/Lindenau was central to legislative efforts and work that involved meeting or working with government officials with both MOS and MBCP. By this time, it was another president at the helm of MOS and maybe they’d decide to let the world know?  Maybe now they’d decide to distance themselves from a person who had a history of hoarding animals. 

On Feb. 4, 2020, the board member emailed MOS Conservation Committee Chairman Kurt Schwarz: “It has come to my attention that Beth Decker (maiden name Lindenau) is under indictment for animal cruelty charges. I know she was charged several years ago and only her husband was penalized, saying she did not know about the animals that were kept in another house. This time, however, the animals were in the house she is living in also. I really don’t think she should be the Director of Safe Skies MD, representing MOS’s work there. You might want to investigate. 42 deceased animal and 59 live animals!!! This will paint a pretty picture for MOS when the media find out!! There is something seriously wrong with her. Attached is all the information I could find online about the case.  Her trial is set for March 12th.”

Schwarz replied: “I know nothing about this and I am fed up with the continuing character assassination by (organization associated with the whistleblower and (organization associated with the whistleblower).” 

The board member pressed again: “I guess I don’t understand. This is a factual case and has nothing to do with (organization associated with the whistleblower) or (organization associated with the whistleblower). I think MOS should deal with it!!”

Schwarz responded: “It is baseless. And we would be grateful if you keep in confidence. And officials of (organization associated with the whistleblower) and (organization associated with the whistleblower) have impugned the honor of Safe Skies and its founder in the past.”

The board member tried once more: “If baseless, why being accused of 100 animal atrocities? If one of our youth leaders were accused of pedophilia, wouldn’t we step in?” 

Exasperated, the board member cc’d other people at MOS in the email thread.

John McKitterick, who is the current president of MOS responded: “Yes, the description in the court documents is disturbing, but I also trust Kurt. At this moment, Kurt’s statement that the charges are baseless is the only information that is available to me outside of the scant court record. I am not going to jump to conclusions this time, just as we didn’t the last time. And last time, jumping to the obvious conclusion would have been simply wrong. And if, say, an adult member of MOS were charged with pedophilia, I would not jump to conclusions, but rather gather facts from as many sources as possible before acting.”

Decker continued as executive director of Safe Skies Maryland/MOS for more than a year. Although she hadn’t been convicted yet, the information available to the public about both the 2012 and 2019 cases showed a track record of hoarding and cruelty to animals. But few people made the connection between the actions of the bird advocate and the alleged bird abuser. 

In August 2020, Nancy Lawson, who had volunteered with Decker at Safe Skies Maryland, learned of Decker’s double life after being alerted to a social media post, then reading news stories. She told me she distanced herself from Decker and didn’t return calls. 

“Safe Skies is a great organization and I wanted to work with them, but I didn’t want to work with someone that was so antithetical to the mission,” Lawson said.

Lawson kept checking court records and assumed the truth would finally come out. But time and again, the trial was delayed. She also thought Decker had been removed from her position.

In January 2021 and after learning that Decker was continuing to work for Safe Skies Maryland/MOS, Lawson contacted a friend she knew to be “very ethical” who worked for Audubon. 

Angela Moxley, president of Audubon Society of Central Maryland (ASCM), made MOS aware that Decker’s secret was out and action was required. 

ASCM released a statement to me on March 4:

“Audubon Society of Central Maryland (ASCM) became aware of Beth Decker’s arrests for animal abuse and neglect in late January 2021. We began researching the case and also asking which of our partners knew about it, as no one had informed us. 

The suffering and lifelong damage experienced by hoarding victims is heartbreaking. Finding court documents that Ms. Decker/Lindenau was implicated in hoarding on two separate occasions, with both cases involving birds, was alarming. The discovery that multiple individuals knew about both cases was also highly concerning, as we had worked closely alongside Ms. Decker/Lindenau through Safe Skies Maryland for a number of years, collaborating on grants and cosponsoring events.

“During the course of our inquiries, we learned that Ms. Decker/Lindenau had been recently convicted on a majority of counts in the more recent case, from July 2019. In subsequent discussions with Maryland Ornithological Society, the parent organization of Safe Skies, we learned that following the convictions, MOS had removed Ms. Decker/Lindenau from her involvement with Safe Skies. MOS also pledged to ASCM greater transparency and communication going forward.

“ASCM looks forward to working with MOS and Safe Skies to rebuild the trust that is dependent on such transparency and communication, and on timely and appropriate responses to reports of misconduct. As organizations dedicated to conservation and appreciation of wild birds, we should never take lightly allegations of cruelty to any birds. Birds and all wildlife depend on us to be strong partners working together on legislation and other initiatives to address the many threats to their survival. There is too much at stake for us to be anything less.”

It is unlikely that this story would have come to light had it not been for several women who spoke up—some named here and others not. That these women whistleblowers were vilified, told to be quiet and ignored by men, in my opinion, is part of this story and it’s reprehensible. It was only when Moxley, who wasn’t beholden to MOS, got involved that this story became public.

I want to know why this happened and I question why these men are still holding positions of power. I want to know what’s being done to ensure whistleblowers get a fair hearing and aren’t automatically assumed to be the enemy. The public, including MOS donors and chapter members, should get a statement from MOS leaders about all of this. This is called transparency, which builds trust. What happened with MOS and Decker surely does not build trust.

I emailed McKetterick and asked if MOS was going to make a statement.

McKetterick responded by email: “MOS will not be issuing a statement to the general public about the Beth Decker situation. We have notified all of our partner organizations about the situation, as well as informing our Board of Directors and local chapter presidents. Beth Decker has been removed as chair of the Safe Skies Maryland subcommittee of MOS and is no longer part of the organization. Carolyn Parsa has been named chair of the Safe Skies Maryland subcommittee.” 

I emailed Schwarz to give him an opportunity to share his thoughts about allowing Decker/ Lindenau) to continue working at Safe Skies Maryland/MOS even after the organization was informed about the 2019 case.

Schwarz responded by email: “I received no notice of the conviction until January, not even in my last conversation with her, which apparently was post-conviction, did she tell me.”

I followed up on March 4: “Were you aware of the 2019 charges before January of 2021? And if you were, did you discourage anyone from speaking up about it? If you did discourage others from speaking up about it, I’m giving you the opportunity to explain that.”

I have not received a response. 

Screenshot of Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership website

How much did the leadership of MBCP know about Decker and when did they know? It was Chris Eberly, the executive director of MBCP, who told me Feb. 9 that MBCP was distancing itself from Decker, but he wouldn’t tell me why. He told me her maiden name.

I’m told by an unnamed source that she told Eberly about Decker’s history in February 2020.

The tie between MBCP and MOS is clear. MOS pays part of Eberly’s salary.

MBCP’s website states, “MOS provides the required non-federal State Wildlife Grant match for the MBCP Director funding.”

There are more questions.

To my knowledge, Eberly is the only paid employee of MBCP.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership with free office space and supplies for the director.

MBCP claims on its website, “DNR (Maryland Department of Natural Resources) provides the primary funding for the MBCP Director through the State Wildlife Grant program.”

However, Gregg Bortz, DNR spokesperson, emailed me: “The Department supports the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership through federal Pittman-Robertson funds. The reference to “State Wildlife Grants” on the MBCP web page appears to be inaccurate; our staff reports that no funds from that source have gone to the Partnership through DNR. The total amount of federal funds DNR has contracted to the Partnership from Nov 2014 through June 2020 is $343,500.”

Yet, for all of this official support, the Maryland Secretary of State’s office “cannot find a record of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership being registered.”

According to the Maryland Secretary of State’s website, “Under the Maryland Solicitations Act, a charitable organization soliciting in Maryland generally must file documents with the Office of the Secretary of State. Registration is required prior to the commencement of solicitations.”

MBCP asks for donations on its website.

On Feb. 19, I asked Eberly if MBCP would be commenting on Decker’s status (because at that point, no one else was). He emailed: “All ties between Beth and MBCP have been severed. We are preparing a statement that will go out no later than Monday. I’d rather not go into any more details via email but am happy to talk on the phone. ” No statement ever arrived. 

I called Eberly, but he didn’t answer and his voicemail was full. On Feb. 23, I emailed him again: “Did I miss the statement released by MBCP or is it running late?” Eberly replied, “You did not miss it. We are waiting for all Board members to review the statement before we release it. I will send the statement to you tomorrow morning. Thanks for your patience.”

To date, I have not received that promised statement from MBCP about its relationship with Decker.

On Feb. 25, I resigned as a volunteer bald eagle nest monitor for the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership. On March 3, WNAV withdrew as a partner of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership. On March 4, I emailed additional questions to Eberly and to MBCP’s Board Chairman, Dave Wilson – there has been no response.

I asked about MBCP’s involvement with Brady Decker too.

According to Brady Decker’s LinkedIn, in which he refers to himself as William Decker, he’s a “Business strategist and problem solver” and from 2017 to currently, it shows he’s the “technology advisor” for Safe Skies Maryland.

Decker’s LinkedIn contact information shows the Bird City Maryland website – Bird City Maryland Falls under the umbrella of MBCP.

On Decker’s company website, it shows his projects include MBCP and Bird City Maryland.

I’m unsure if MBCP was paying or is still paying Beth Decker (AKA Elizabeth Lindenau) or her husband, Brady Decker (AKA William Decker) for their work.

Eberly is also listed as an employee on the Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council’s website and in that organization’s 2020 annual report.

Eberly is also the president of the Anne Arundel Bird Club, an MOS chapter. (Full disclosure: I’m a paying member of the Anne Arundel Bird Club.) 

When the 2019 charges came to light, it was all women telling men about Decker – some of these women insisting that attention be paid and action taken. These men in leadership positions could have asked Decker to resign, could have removed her from her position, could have warned others, could have taken steps to ensure that, at the very least, their own board members, chapters and partners were aware.

These are organizations that are dependent on donations from the public and in some cases, grants and other funding from government agencies (taxpayer dollars). This is a legitimate public concern. Did these organizations not want to make a statement for fear of cuts to their funding? For fear others would learn they had been used? For fear their donations would suffer? For fear legislation they worked on would be harmed? Were they not concerned about the possibility of more animals suffering/dying? Where were the ethics in keeping all of this a secret and shaming or ignoring others that spoke up? 

I think there’s a difference between those who wanted this information to get out and those who tried to hide it and it goes beyond gender. It’s a question of moral compass. 

It’s the animals—truly innocent victims—that I feel most for. I want people to know this happened. I think people need to read about these court cases. I think people need to know Elizabeth Lindenau is Beth Decker. I also think people need to know what others did to keep this quiet and in doing so, they didn’t just aid an animal hoarder by allowing her to advance her career, while being charged again with several counts of animal cruelty, they hurt the women that were trying to do the right thing by making this known.

According to public records, Beth Decker (AKA Elizabeth Lindenau) and her husband, Brady Decker (AKA William Decker), are living in Georgia.

They are awaiting sentencing in Maryland.

Update – on March 8, 2021 (the day after this blog post was published), MOS posted a statement on Facebook. That’s linked here – https://www.facebook.com/marylandornithology/posts/1350271615307417

Update –

Elizabeth Lindenau, age 49, and Brady Decker, age 47 were sentenced on March 17, 2021 by Howard County District Court Judge Wayne Brooks to 11 counts of animal cruelty each for failing to provide sufficient food, air, space, and necessary veterinary care to numerous birds, dogs, and cats. Decker was sentenced to 90 days (beginning today) with credit for one day time served. Lindenau was sentenced to 90 days suspending all but 30 days to begin June 1, 2021 with credit for one day time served. Both were found guilty in January 2021 of 11 of the 16 charges.

On July 17, 2019, Howard County Animal Control received an anonymous call reporting a horrible stench that was believed to be dog feces coming from the residence at 9466 Hundred Drums Row in Columbia. Animal Control Officers made numerous attempts to contact the residents of the house, but the homeowners refused to speak with or allow Animal Control Officers into their residence. On July 24, 2019, Animal Control obtained a search warrant and went to the residence to serve the warrant. Once given access to the residence, the Animal Control Officers observed a strong odor of dust, urine, and waste in the residence, and the residence was cluttered with household items, in some areas stackedwaist high or higher, making it difficult to walk around the residence. On the main floor of the residence, there was a path to get from one room to another. The Animal Control Officers located 59 live animals inside the residence including 39 birds, 11 dogs, 5 cats, 2 snakes, and 2 turtles, and 42 deceased birds and other small animals in their freezers. Due to the poor living conditions in theresidence, including the bird and snake cages being caked with discarded food and waste, all 59 live animals were impounded by Howard County Animal Control.

Probation for both include three years supervised probation, mental health evaluations and treatment as recommended, no animals allowed in any residence where they are living, and Animal Control to make monthly checks of their residence to ensure they have no animals in their residence. Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Devora W. Kirschner, who is also the Deputy Chief of the SpecialVictims Unit, prosecuted this case along with Assistant State’s Attorney Amy Helbig.

Further reading –

October 2020 decision of the Howard County Board of Appeals

“Howard County Couple On Trial For Animal Cruelty Charges”

“Howard Co. couple on trial for abuse, hoarding dozens of animals”

“Animal Cruelty Trial Begins For HoCo Woman With Pets In Freezer”

“Columbia man files insanity plea in animal cruelty trial”

“Columbia woman, on trial for animal cruelty, blames husband”

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