Woman’s Body Found In Squalid West Rogers Park Home

UPDATED 04/01/11 3:12 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The body of an 80-year-old woman was found decomposed in a squalid West Rogers Park neighborhood apartment Thursday.

Police were called to the home in a two-story, motel-style apartment building the 2000 block of West Morse Avenue, and found the woman unresponsive.

Cecylia Opilka was pronounced dead at the scene.

Neighbors who hadn’t seen the woman in “a while’’ called police, who went to the home to perform a well-being check, according to News Affairs Officer Laura Kubiak.

Neighbors last saw Opilka in December and she likely died of natural causes during that month, a Belmont Area police sergeant said.

The three-story townhome was filled floor to ceiling with debris, and both the victim and her son were “hoarders,’’ the sergeant said.

While at the home, the 43-year-old son, Ronald Opilka, was interviewed. While removing his wallet to produce identification, a bag of marijuana fell out and he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession, Kubiak said.

The woman’s body was decomposed, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. An autopsy Friday determined Opilka died of heart disease and her death was ruled natural.

Police will not seek criminal charges against the son because he may not have the mental capacity to realize he should have called authorities when his mother died, the sergeant said.

Ronald Opilka does not have a criminal history, according to Kubiak.

The case is similar to several others in the past year. Most recently, police in southwest suburban Hometown had to declare a house filled with papers and other trash a “biohazard,” after Wayne Paetzmann, 73, of the 4500 block of West 87th Street, had to be taken to the hospital from his duplex house.

Village officials said Paetzmann was divorced and lived alone. He worked part time as a Hometown police patrol officer in the 1970s.

In May of last year, 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 had to be moved to 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 of last year, 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 last 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 of last year. “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 Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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  • Chivi

    My father is having that problem at this time. I am working with the City of Chicago to help get his situation under control. Although my father is trying to work with me, we bump heads when I try to get rid of things. The article above is so true. I am sure there are others out there that probably gave up on the people mentioned above because of the fact that they were not able to help where help was not wanted. These hoarders look at us like enemies not as family members or friends who want to help them. We will see whre this journey with my dad takes me. I plan not to give up but his insults are so degrading sometimes that I just want to walk away but I keep coming back. This time I am not walking away. We are going to finish the job and he will have his house back even if he hates me in the meantime. True article above.

    • Roberta Waker

      Chivi. Would it be possible to get your dad out of the house for a day or two on vacation, to visit friends, or even go to a movie? While I know this wouldn’t be anywhere near the amount of time you would need, it would give you an opportunity to get people to help clean things up and haul it away immediately BEFORE he knows what happened. I know how difficult it can be to work with someone that doesn’t admit they are hoarders or want help. Stay strong and do what you need to do for HIS sake and YOURS. Good luck.

      • KE

        DO NOT..DO NOT.. DO NOT.. do anything of the sort.
        DO NOT throw out anything while the person is not there.
        Consult a specialist.
        The devasstating effects that occur when a hoarder loses his/her stuff can be shocking.
        If you love this individual, talk to a shrink/expert that specializes in hoarding before you throw out anything!
        Also, be aware of the diffferences between a packrat and a hoarder.

  • Roberta Waker

    Where were the neighbors? Didn’t they notice she was missing or that they hadn’t seen her in awhile? If you KNOW someone is a hoarder, make every effort to at least check on them daily. Hoarding is a disease and it needs to be addressed for the sake of everyone involved. I would think the Board of Health, City or Village could take some kind of action to get this cleaned up. If they can’t do anything, MAKE them by passing a law so they CAN.

  • Chivi

    Thanks Roberta. I’ve tried everything to get him out of the house. He is afraid someone is going to break in and steal his things, etc. At this point, he is afraid the City is going to tear it down. The building has hope. I am making the sacrifice to move in with him which he did agree to. We will be moving in in 2 weeks as we clean up a space for us. We will be bumping heads but if we can help save his building it will be worth it. My father is not an affectionate person but I could swear I noticed a slight smile when I asked him if he would let us move in. Wish me luck!!!

    • KE

      Chivi –
      Talk to an expert in hoarding before you move in for the your sake and the sake of your family. (hoarding is a psychological disease and you can not treat it as if you were dealing with a rational individual.) When you were talking about butting heads — this could become literal situation, — resulting with you being at the base of the stairs.

  • Roberta Waker

    KE. I was under the impression that Chivi WAS working with people to help him with his dad’s problem and did not suggest he do it behind his dad’s back without their approval. I certainly hope he is able to work with the people from the City and other organizations to help his dad. It does sound like a pretty serious situation all around, but lives could be at stake if nothing is done. I wish him good luck and will pray that things work out. If you know of anyone that can help; please find a way to let him know.

  • Paul Speredes

    We specialize in cleaning out obsessive hoarder properties in Illinois. We’ve been in the junk removal business for 25 years in the Chicago area! Our record is 13-50 cubic yard dumpsters removed from one 3 flat building!


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