HOMETOWN, Ill. (CBS) – Police are calling a southwest suburban Hometown house filled with papers and other trash a “biohazard” after a man they described as a hoarder was removed from the residence last week because of a medical emergency.
Wayne Paetzmann, 73, of the 4500 block of West 87th Street, was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn after the Hometown Fire Department responded to an emergency call at his home Oct. 24, police said.
According to police, Paetzmann’s house, which is part of a duplex, subsequently was deemed uninhabitable because of the “excessive amount of hoarding.”
“It’s something that happens, and I don’t know why,” Police Chief Charles Forsyth said about hoarding. “For whatever reason, it seems to be seniors living by themselves, and they don’t throw anything away. They keep everything.”
Village officials said Paetzmann was divorced and lived alone. He worked part time as a Hometown police patrol officer in the 1970s.
It took three or four days for police to contact Paetzmann’s relatives.
Forsyth said Mayor Kevin Casey agreed to hire a cleaning company, foot the estimated $3,000 bill to clean the house and pass the fee on to the family, which agreed to pay it, he said.
If the bill is not paid, a lien for the money would be put on the home, which is expected to be turned over to the family and be in livable condition after the cleanup.
Although Forsyth refused to describe the nature of the biohazard presented by the condition of the house, Paetzmann’s neighbors said they never saw him take his trash to the curb.
“He didn’t take out the garbage,” Pam Vidale said. “He lived here for 10 years, and I never saw him take out the garbage.”
Pam’s husband, Emil Vidale, said Paetzmann told him he had been very ill and had to go to the hospital.
Paetzmann’s other next-door neighbor, Rick Nass, said he mowed the man’s lawn and shoveled snow for him the past couple of years.
“He was sick, and he was unable to take care of himself,” Nass said. “Other than that, he was a great neighbor, and he was a nice guy.”
Tinley Park-based Allied Cleaning, with its workers donning hazmat suits, is set to clear out the hoarded and hazardous material today and Wednesday.
On Monday, two people who police said were Paetzmann’s relatives were at the house, as was a mover with a pickup truck. The people identified as relatives declined to comment.
Aluminum foil covered the house’s two front windows from the inside. There was a phone book in a plastic bag on the front-yard patio chair and a set of soiled rubber gloves left on the ground right outside the front door.
Other High-Profile Hoarding Cases
This was the latest in several high-profile case of homes being deemed dangerous by hoarders in recent months.
In May, Jesse Gaston, 75, and his wife Thelma, 79, were found trapped in their own garbage in their home at 1508 E. 69th St. The conditions were so severe that firefighters had to don hazmat suits before they could go inside the home.
Jesse Gaston was a retired zoologist, his wife a former schoolteacher and classically trained musician. Officials said they became trapped in a tangle of debris in their home possibly as long as two weeks before they were found.
Jesse Gaston died six weeks after they were found, and his wife was too frail to attend the funeral, according to published reports. She now lives in a nursing home on the city’s North Side.
When crews cleaned out the Gastons’ two-flat, the damage from all the squalor was so severe that there was talk of having the building torn down.
In July, another high-profile case of hoarding made headlines when a woman’s body was found in her home in Skokie. Marie Davis, 79, was found dead in the 5400 block of Foster Street, resting on debris piled so high she was approximately three feet from the ceiling.
Davis died naturally from a heart attack, in spite of the mounds of trash stuffed into the home she occupied for over three decades. Fire crews had to drill a hole in the roof to get into her house.
Dr. Pat McGrath, of Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, is an expert in hoarding. He explained to CBS 2 earlier this year that hoarding is a serious disorder.
“What will happen sometimes is that people will have so much stuff in their home that it starts to get unsteady, and if they bump it the wrong way, it collapses on them,” Dr. McGrath said in May. “It has killed people in the past, actually.”
While pictures of homes with garbage and debris stacked floor to ceiling are hard to fathom, to experts like McGrath, it’s not as rare as you’d think.
Dr. McGrath says what we see as debris, hoarders often view very differently.
“We would see it as junk, but they see it as a part of themselves, or an extension of them” said Dr. McGrath. “It might have something that they’ve touched, it might have their saliva on it. We see that as gross. They see it as, then they’d be throwing away a part of them.”
So they hoard. And McGrath says it’s not because they’re lazy.
“They would like to, in some ways, get rid of some of these things,” he said. “They just don’t know where to start or how to go about it.”
And their brain chemistry is altered by the disorder, so that forcibly removing material from a hoarder can be terrifying.
“It’s a very, very scary process for them to even lose a small piece of paper,” said Dr. McGrath.
If you’re worried that you might be becoming a hoarder, there are a few signs. If you have to start moving around things that are stacked in areas where it shouldn’t be, that could be a sign you’re acquiring too many things.
Also, if you are embarrassed to let anyone come over to your house, that often is a sign that you might be hoarding material.
— The SouthtownStar contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire