Updated 02/15/12 – 7:51 p.m.
WORTH, Ill. (CBS) — For two weeks, the body of a 72-year-old woman from southwest suburban Worth lay beneath a foot of debris in the basement of her home.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, police found Margareta Scheibe, 72, dead inside her home at 10840 S. Oak Park Av. in Worth, where she lived with her 46-year-old son.
An autopsy Wednesday afternoon determined she died of heart disease, according to the Cook County Medical examiner’s office.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
The home where Scheibe died was filled with bags of trash, old food and piles of newspapers stacked so high that all the junk could be seen through the window. Scheibe’s body was found underneath all that garbage.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, Worth Police Chief Mark Knolmayer said detectives believe she fell at the entrance to her garbage-filled family room in the home, and that the debris fell on top of her.
Knolmayer said police do not suspect foul play, and said no charges would be filed against Scheibe’s 46-year-old son Frank, who also lived in the home.
“It was almost like two separate living quarters. She lived down stairs and he lived upstairs,” Knolmayer said. “According to his statements, he wasn’t allowed downstairs and he respected her wishes.”
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, veteran police officers said it was the worst case of hoarding they have ever seen. It was so bad inside the home that officers who were called to the home on Saturday didn’t find Scheibe inside.
When another son asked police to conduct a well-being check because he had not heard from her in several weeks, police searched for four hours Saturday, but Knolmayer said they came up empty-handed in part because of the amount of debris in the home.
“He decided to go down there and look — and that’s when he found her,” Knolmayer said.
Asked how someone could be dead in the home for two weeks or more without someone noticing the stench of death, Knolmayer said the smell given off by the piles of debris in Margareta Scheibe’s portion of the home were such that no one would notice.
Knolmayer said that neighbors had called police to the home because of the debris and smell a little more than a year ago, at about the time of the death of Scheibe’s husband, also named Frank. He said Scheibe’s sons did a partial clean-up at that time.
He said the police investigation is closed, and said Frank Scheible will be allowed to live in the home.
One of Scheibe’s three sons told CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli, “It’s very hard to deal with hoarding. She is my mom and I loved her. If I had a dollar for every time I talked to her about this problem, I could buy your TV station.”
According to family members, Scheibe’s son Frank, who had been questioned by police, had served in the military, but served a nervous breakdown after leaving the military.
Neighbors were bothered by the heaps of trash all around the house, spilling outside in both the front and back. Two older-model cars parked in the driveway were also packed end-to-end with garbage.
“When we moved in here, the biggest concern was she had to have her fence, because she was so concerned about people taking her things, and you know, you can see how much stuff she has,” said a neighbor, John, who lives behind her house on the other side of the sagging chain-link fence.
It’s impossible not to notice the garbage everywhere in and around the house, from tattered blankets to broken lawn mowers and scummy plastic buckets. But John said there was something far more disturbing.
“There was a strange small coming, and it was all summer, and a lot of animals – cats, dogs, raccoons, possums – and it wasn’t good,” John said. “We knew something was wrong.”
John said he had a few run-ins with Scheibe.
“She was a hoarder; hoarded a lot of things,” Scheibe said. “She didn’t want any neighbors around at all. If you were in the backyard, she’d come and she’d be watching everything. She was really strange.”
Over the weekend, John saw first responders in white hazmat suits going in and out of Scheibe’s house. But it wasn’t until late Tuesday afternoon that Scheibe’s decomposed body was found inside under piles of trash.
Neighbors say Scheibe’s husband died about a year ago. They knew nothing about the son who was living with her.
John said Scheibe collected the mountains of garbage after her husband’s death.
“She said it was from her husband, and he passed away,” John said, “and he passed away and she knew everything that she had out there.”
Hoarding: A Serious Problem
Several similar cases have made headlines in recent years. In April of last year, Cecylia Opika, 80, was found decomposed in her apartment in the 2000 block of West Morse Avenue in the West Rogers Park neighborhood. Police said both Opika and her son were hoarders.
the past year. In November 2010, 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 back in 2010 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.”
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.”
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.