Posted: Monday, April 9, 2018 – 9:22 PM
By Laura Coleman
While the pain of childbirth is said to be one of the most excruciating experiences a woman can go through, the pain of losing a child is surely even worse. For Jo Anna Korngute Hall, that tragedy became reality last year when her daughter Natalie Hall died at the age of 24 in Beverly Hills following an overdose. An outgoing, affectionate young woman who was beloved by many (over 600 people attended the funeral), Natalie’s mother has tirelessly sought justice following the death of her daughter.
On Tuesday, Jesse Abell, 27, who was arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter on June 21, 2017 for his role in Natalie’s death four months prior on Feb. 17, is scheduled to be sentenced in Los Angeles Airport Courthouse. Abell, who has been housed at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic since his arrest for Natalie’s death, is expected to be remanded to a treatment facility as his ultimate legal punishment at Tuesday’s hearing.
It’s a small glimmer of justice says Korngute Hall; after all, there is nothing anyone can do to bring Natalie back to life.
“I’m so devastated. My life was all about her,” Korngute Hall said. “She touched so many lives. She was such a light and brought so many people together. She was funny, crazy, wacky, silly. She was happy and beautiful and full of energy. She never sat still. She just had something about her that was comical and she brought people together.”
Last September Korngute Hall filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Abell, who procured and helped administer the fentanyl that killed Natalie, and Randi Marla Curtis, the owner of the Beverly Hills residence on the 300 block of South Reeves in which Natalie died. Curtis is the aunt of Matt Curtis, who along with Abell was with Natalie in the hours before, during and after her death.
“To me the biggest crime is they just didn’t save her. They just let her die,” Korngute Hall said. “Natalie OD’d. The first time they brought her back. They should have kicked her out at that point. She passed out. Went to sleep. Woke up and said I want more. Who would give somebody more when they’d just OD’d? I mean, they had a possible death on their hands and then they stupidly gave her more.”
According Korngute Hall, who pieced together what had happened through text messages on Natalie’s phone, the police investigation, and exchanges with her daughter just before she died, Natalie went over to the Curtis residence a few hours after midnight on Feb. 17 looking for a friend to “cuddle” with. She was supposed to have had a date that Thursday evening when she left her mom’s house around 10:30 p.m. on the 16th, but the young man ended up cancelling. That rejection, Korngute Hall believes, likely triggered her daughter’s feelings of abandonment related to her father’s departure when she was still a young child.
When Natalie arrived at the residence in the early morning hours she eventually ended up smoking fentanyl with the two young men. According to the coroner’s report, Natalie died from an acute fentanyl overdose.
Natalie appears to have also hit her head at some point, and Korngute Hall alleges that not only did the two men fail to take the hit seriously, which caused internal bleeding, but were negligent in not calling 9-1-1.
For hours, Korngute Hall said, her daughter lay dead while the two men failed to do anything. She alleges that that both Matt Curtis’s father and grandmother were in the residence at the time of her daughter’s death.
“Natalie just wanted to cuddle,” Korngute Hall said.
Born at Cedars-Sinai on Dec. 13, 1992, Natalie had always been a highly original, creative individual. Yet she battled demons inside her, a victim of her own biochemical lottery. Still, throughout it all, there was an incredible kindness that pulsed through Natalie.
Since the time she was a teenager, Natalie had struggled with addiction. She finally got treatment at 19 and following a three-month stay at Creative Care, she was sober for almost four years, the first of which was spent in a sober living facility before coming home. About four months before her death, a brief relapse prompted her mother to send her to rehab once again. Natalie was more than 100 days sober at the time of her death.
On the afternoon of Feb. 17 when the time that Korngute Hall was supposed to have picked up Natalie on Reeves with a change of clothes, as her daughter had asked when she texted her mother shortly after she had arrived at the Curtis residence, passed without a word from her daughter, she began to be concerned. Korngute Hall started calling her daughter – again and again – with no response and all phone calls going straight to voice mail.
“By 4 o’clock I knew something was wrong,” she recalled. “Natalie would never not answer her phone.”
She then called Natalie’s friends asking if they had heard anything or knew something; no one did. Frantic, Korngute Hall drove to Reeves, not knowing the exact address where her daughter was, and began knocking on doors and shouting her daughter’s name in the street. No one knew Natalie. Korngute Hall then called the Beverly Hills police, who referred her to the Los Angeles Police Department since she live north of Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills Post Office. LAPD was dismissive, telling her that Natalie was probably just doing what any typical young woman in her 20’s might do; not be accountable to her mother at every minute. That Friday night, alone, Korngute Hall lit the Shabbat candles, praying that her daughter was safe.
Korngute Hall recalled finally falling asleep after 4 a.m. after having done her best to locate her daughter. When she awoke around 11 a.m., she noticed an Uber receipt on her email showing that Natalie had gone to 300 S. Reeves Drive. She drove straight over and was greeted by the sight of police cars.
“I said, ‘Where’s my daughter?’ And they said, ‘Who’s your daughter?’ And I said Natalie Hall. They said, ‘She’s dead and it’s a crime scene. You can’t come in,” she recounted. “I stayed there outside for hours until they brought my daughter out in a body bag.”
While Korngute Hall insists that her daughter had been dead since the day before, BHPD confirmed that a 9-1-1 call was not made until 12:37 p.m. on Feb. 18.
BHPD Lt. Elisabeth Albanese said that after the Fire Department arrived at the residence, police were immediately contacted and a preliminary investigation was conducted.
“The Fire Department contacted police to respond because the subject was dead,” she said. “During the investigation police determined that the male (Abell) had participated in drug use and administered it to the female.”
Albanese said that from 2014-17 there were on average 37 calls made a year related to opioid overdoses in Beverly Hills; but fatalities are extremely rare. This year there have been just three calls made to BHPD related to overdoses thus far.
“The evidence on the case indicates that Abell was the one who facilitated the purchase of the drugs and helped administered them…[which] makes him criminally culpable for her death,” she said.
It took police another four months to arrest him on that charge, however, due to a more in-depth investigation. Ironically, Abell happened to have been arrested for possession of drugs on Feb. 22, 2017 – just five days after Natalie’s death. He was still incarcerated for that unrelated charge at the time he was arrested four months later for his role in Natalie’s death.
Korngute Hall’s lawsuit states: “Defendant Abell and Doe 1 (Matt Curtis), knew that the decedent (Natalie) overdosed and hit her head at the subject premises and failed to call 9-1-1 or render aid. … As a direct and legal result of the conduct of Defendent Curtis and Does 1 through 5, decedent died.”
Albanese said that the other young man allegedly present at the time of Natalie’s death was not arrested because no evidence was found to support his culpability.
To this day, Korngute Hall said she has never received an apology from Matt Curtis or Abell.
While Tuesday’s sentence will provide some closure, it will of course never truly mend the loss of Natalie from the lives of those who knew and loved her. Nor will it will bring back to life a beautiful, vivacious, loving girl who while searching for her own happiness and wrestling with her demons looked to a boy for comfort who in turn offered her drugs
“Natalie is with us,” said Rabbi Chaim Mentz during the funeral service. “God says I have a plan for you. … Each one of us is chosen to fulfill their mission from above.”
Part of God’s plan for Natalie it seemed was to have her struggle through her addiction and then in turn become a guiding light for those seeking to break free of their own addictions.
“She made a mistake,” Korngute Hall said. “Natalie was a girl who tried so hard and touched so many lives and hearts. She just made a fatal error.”
Following Natalie’s death, entertainer Ruby Rose immediately posted a touching tribute to her late friend, crediting Natalie with her sobriety. Rose was not alone in that sentiment.
“I owe her my sobriety, my life, my love, my career, everything,” said one young woman who spoke at Natalie’s funeral and is among a multitude of speakers who are captured on a moving DVD honoring Natalie’s life.
The speakers tell of how Natalie was an original; a Jewish Pocahontas with freckles; the kind, loving, full of life prima donna; the free spirt; the navigator; the rock star who didn’t play an instrument and the movie star who was never in a movie.
It goes on and on and not for one moment can anyone who watches this compilation doubt that in this young woman’s heart was only a deep desire to help others; even beyond all the work she did at Promises or within the Alcoholics Anonymous community.
“How do you celebrate a life that was cut short at such a young age?” asks one man.
Natalie’s brother, Zack Hall, quotes Prince: “In this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld.”
In the wake of Natalie’s death, several of her friends, including Paris Jackson, tattooed “Stay North” on their bodies as a reminder of their friend’s unique irreverence toward the world below Sunset Boulevard.
Of course, her memory is far more than just a word etched on skin with ink.
“She was my beautiful angel,” said Natalie’s mother. “She will not be forgotten. She was loved by many and she touched a lot of lives. She was a light.”